How the War on (Some) Drugs Hurts Non-Users


"The ultimate result of protecting fools from their folly is to fill the planet full of fools." ~ Sir James Russell Lowell

The war on (some) drugs is slavery because one party, in this case the State, imposes what many might think is the “will of the people” or the best approximation of what could be described as the “common good” upon all parties, without regard to the individual decisions each of those parties might have otherwise made. In fact, as Spooner already opined, "Vices are not Crimes" and cannot be, unless the wishes of some can trump the wishes of others when those whose wishes are trumped infringe upon no one.

Just as it would be lunacy to allow the drug user to require drug usage by everyone, it is similarly an infringement for those who do not use drugs to impose their choices upon those who do. In its war on (some) drugs, the State does just that. While that point has been addressed by others who have opined about why the war on drugs is an infringement on the rights of those who wish to use drugs, another question remains. Does the war on (some) drugs hurt even those who are not users? The answer is a resounding "Yes!"

We already know that so-called victimless crimes are crimes against no one but the state. What about those whose only infraction is to live under this pseudo–police state, those who have not actually been targeted by the State for prosecution? They are also victims. The war on (some) drugs hurts non-drug-users in at least three areas:

  • Economic;
  • Societal; and
  • Emotional.

Economically, the drug war causes one commodity, the illegal and supposedly illicit drugs, to be inordinately expensive. This generates disproportionate spending from those who consume this commodity. These people are not "islands" and their spending habits affect those with whom they interact.

In a family where one or the other parent is a drug user, the lifestyle is negatively affected, simply because a vice, a free choice, costs much more than it should. While one could argue that this person could simply change his lifestyle, we are talking here not about the user, but those who do not use whose lives are worse off for no other reason than that the war on (some) drugs skews the market.

Further, the seller of this commodity is rewarded at a higher level than would otherwise be the case. The war on (some) drugs actually takes extra money out of the hands of both users and their families and places it in the hands of those who facilitate the illegal trade. To top it off, the State spends inordinately trying to enforce this attack on freedom, the funds for which, not surprisingly, also come from us. At least the user is getting something for his money! The rest of us pay extra for almost nothing.

From a societal standpoint, the drug war increases the amount of random violence present in the noise level of any community. In the inner city, where (frankly) the career opportunities to distribute drugs present a viable economic option, the attendant violence rises as a direct result. Again, if drugs were legal, the violence goes away. If drugs were legal and the State left the distribution of them to the individual, these same gang-bangers would go from villains to entrepreneur heroes in record time. As Walter Block states so eloquently in Defending the Undefendable, anytime the State makes illegal an item for which there are already willing and plentiful consumers, the amount of violence around the consumption of that item increases inexorably. Unfortunately, but as expected, the State makes bad matters worse!

This violence occurs in several ways. First of all, we have violence from dealers. These people are facilitating the trade of drugs. Secondly, we have violence from the State, i.e., “crackdowns," police state actions, prohibitions, and raids. Simply put, the people causing the large bulk of the drug violence comprise two groups: agents of the state, seeking to control the market and agents of the drug culture, seeking to profit from it. The bulk of society, comprising neither group, is caught in the middle.

Seldom does a week go by when there is not a report of some person whose home is raided by armed thugs – otherwise known as DEA agents or police – seeking to “crack down” on some user or supplier. More often than should be the case in even the most charitable analysis, these agents infringe upon the rights of innocent bystanders as well.

Emotionally, the drug war tears families apart, but not so much because of the vice itself. In fact, history is full of successful, even famous drug users. The use of opiates dates back to the 1800’s. Again, Block’s “Defending” provides context. The illegality necessitates a lifestyle that breeds secrecy and requires interaction with the rancid underbelly of society. This necessary lifestyle negatively impinges upon the non-user and user alike.

If drugs of choice were legal, no one need prowl the slums looking to “score.” Erstwhile gang-bangers could deliver “servings” of crack to the suburbs in minivans! Previous crack houses could become urban recreation centers with all the extra income. We'd have midnight basketball at one end with drive-thru windows for suburbanites picking up a little pot for the weekend at the other! Certainly, we overstate for effect, but the point has hopefully been made.

Finally, let’s not forget the devastating effects around the world. In Latin American countries the artificially high price of drugs and the nefarious U.S. policies have led, over decades, to the formation of local (and often national) guerrilla and terrorist groups, whose funding comes from drug exports. Though there are often many reasons why groups turn to terrorism, if there were no anti-drug policies, they would not have the money necessary to fund their violence.

It is precisely because drugs are illegal that groups such as the FARC and the Taliban in Afghanistan must devote so many resources to the protection of their trade. Indeed, the illegal drug trade is worth $400 billion. Take away the illegal part and these violent groups would have to make a living. The war on (some) drugs creates the drug-terror link, not the other way around.

And What About Freedom?

A particularly illustrative example of how the drug war hurts the non-user occurred not long ago in Thibodaux, La. when narcotics officers barged into the wrong home. From the article, we have this particularly telling passage:

Mike Lefort said he was lying on his sofa when officers broke his screen door Monday night and announced, “Police! Police! Get down!”

“They were apologetic afterward,” said Lefort, 61. “They realized they had made a mistake.”

Lefort added his mother, Thelma Lefort, had a tough time overcoming the initial shock of the police entering her home. The 83-year-old’s blood pressure rose, her son said.

Clearly these people were victimized. How would you respond if a similar event occurred at your home? How would you respond if something like this happened to one of your neighbors? And please, let's not assume, for one minute, that most people – except for these two – are somehow immune from such behavior by the police.

This case begs for a little deeper analysis from the libertarian perspective. Many freedom lovers own, carry, and “enjoy” guns. Few of the loyal readers of sites such as LRC would have a problem with that. What we find, however, is that the inner city, or any place similarly situated to places like Thibodaux, has been systematically purged of weapons.

Generally, the law-abiding in these environments face heavy “advertising” against gun ownership. Many propagandize to them in this way, even those ostensibly most concerned about the safety of the inhabitants. Consequently, and as we already stated, only two groups are armed: the bad guys – gang bangers, druggies, etc. – and the cops.

The inevitable result of this situation on the behavior of the “law givers” is all too predictable. The cops can be much more cavalier about barging in willy-nilly, as this case illustrates. Most mainstream anarcho-capitalists – if there were such a thing – would suggest that people in the inner city should be armed. However, the pragmatist might question that suggestion with good reason.

Clearly, if either of the people in this home had been armed, or sought to defend their home, they’d both be dead or at least wounded. That is exactly what happened in a very similar case only a little while ago. The dead 92-year-old woman was simply defending her home against an unexpected entry of those imposing the drug war on any in their path. As such, those who dwell in some neighborhoods can legitimately be called prisoners of the state, able neither to defend themselves from the cops or the bad guys!


Do not be fooled. Prohibition never ended, although there are a growing number of ex-police officers – members of a group called LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – who also realize that it should end. Instead, the State just found something new with which to exert command and control. Those who used to be called bootleggers are now your corner dealer; instead of rum-running we have folks delivering trunk-loads of nickel bags.

Worse yet, the exact same scenario that played out during the times of Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel plays out all over America weekly, with almost identical results. Those ostensibly sought by the agents of justice continue to enjoy relative freedom and high income from supplying a rather pedestrian commodity while the police state grows and grows. The virulent roots of that police state weaken the foundations of freedom for all while barely causing discomfort for those it supposedly seeks to control and penalize.

And for what?