Why Libertarians Are Right about Drugs

John P. Waters is your typical Republican social conservative. He wants to lock people in cages—to be raped, assaulted, abused, humiliated, and have their health, finances, family, and reputation ruined—for possessing, buying, or selling too much of a plant or substance the government doesn’t approve of.

But Waters is not just any Republican social conservative; he is a former U.S. “drug czar.” From December 2001 to January 2009, Waters was director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and a Bush administration cabinet member.

This means that he held an evil office in an evil administration. An administration that started two foreign wars, waged war on the bill of rights at home, increased the federal budget every year, practically doubled the national debt, expanded Medicare beyond Lyndon Johnson’s wildest dreams, achieved the first trillion dollar deficit, and destroyed the free market to save it. And an office with a mission that couldn’t be found in the Constitution with an electron microscope, x-ray vision, night-vision goggles, or the light from a solar flare or an atomic bomb blast. War, Empire, and the M... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $16.00 Buy New $9.95 (as of 10:55 EST - Details)

Waters is now the chief operating officer of the Hudson Institute, a D.C. think tank. But although he hasn’t been the nation’s drug czar since 2009, he is still making ridiculous ravings about drugs and the drug war.

His latest missive is “Why Libertarians Are Wrong About Drugs,” as found in POLITICO magazine.

Well, since I am a libertarian, and since I have written many things about drugs, including a book and a great many articles since the book was published in 2011, I feel compelled to answer his brief article with a brief response.

Since the opening sentence is a lie, I’m not optimistic about the rest of the article.

Begins Waters:

Libertarians and social conservatives both resist an intrusive central government, but they differ over exactly what constitutes “intrusive” policy, especially when it comes to private behavior.

Social conservatives do not “resist an intrusive central government.” They welcome one—as long as it is managed by socially conservative Republicans. They helped to greatly strengthen one during the Bush years; for example, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 that criminalized the purchase of over-the-counter allergy-relief products like Sudafed.

The opening sentence in his second paragraph is a lie as well: “Nowhere is this divide more obvious than in the war on drugs.” The divide between libertarians and social conservatives is evident almost everywhere you look: education, health care, the welfare state, the warfare state, the federal budget, pornography, gambling, the Constitution, prostitution, foreign aid, Social Security, the EPA—even chocolate milk.

Waters goes on in his second paragraph to say that “social conservatives are troubled by drug abuse, especially among the young, and believe that government regulation of certain substances is necessary to curb behavior War, Christianity, and... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $4.00 Buy New $9.95 (as of 10:55 EST - Details) seen not only as self-destructive but also incompatible with a strong and free community.” On the other hand, libertarians “argue that the heavy-handedness of the nanny state, and the law-enforcement abuses likely to accompany it, present a greater threat to freedom than the prohibited behavior itself.”

This implies that libertarians are not troubled by drug abuse—even if it involves the young. This is absolutely false. Libertarians full well recognize the potential negative effects of drug abuse on the drug abuser’s health, safety, finances, family, job, etc. They just don’t believe that the heavy hand of government is the solution to any problems resulting from drug abuse. They believe that the solution is to be found in family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, religion, treatment centers, and ministers.

What Waters says in this paragraph that libertarians argue is exactly correct, but he is not giving his readers the complete picture. He adds in his fourth paragraph:

Many libertarians argue that the state should have no power over adult citizens and their decision to ingest addictive substances—so long as they do no harm to anyone but themselves. Hence, there should be no laws against using drugs, and over time this self-destructive behavior will limit itself.

This is also true, except for the fact that all libertarians argue such things, not just “many.”

Real libertarian arguments for drug freedom are much broader and much more detailed. Here are three libertarian statements about the drug war from my book The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom:

The libertarian case for drug freedom is consistently straightforward: There should be no laws at any level of government for any reason regarding the buying, selling, growing, processing, manufacturing, advertising, use, or possession of any drug for any reason.

It is neither the job of government nor the business of any individual to prohibit, regulate, restrict, or otherwise control what a man desires to eat, drink, smoke, inject, absorb, snort, sniff, inhale, swallow, or otherwise ingest into his body. The War on Drugs Is a ... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $2.53 Buy New $5.95 (as of 10:55 EST - Details)

Clearly, the financial and human costs of the drug war far exceed any of its supposed benefits. Clearly, the drug war violates the Constitution and exceeds the proper role of government. And clearly, the drug war is a war on personal freedom, private property, personal responsibility, individual liberty, personal and financial privacy, and the free market.

The statement by Waters in his third paragraph that libertarians “have yet to grasp just how much drug abuse undermines individual freedom and erodes the very core of the libertarian ideal” is so ludicrous that I don’t even need to comment.

I have never read anywhere that Waters was in favor of alcohol prohibition. What, you ask, does this have to do with what he writes about drug prohibition in “Why Libertarians Are Wrong About Drugs”? It actually has everything to do with it. To see the folly of what Waters says about drug prohibition, I have substituted the word “alcohol” for “drug” the five times it occurs in the fifth paragraph of his article:

But this harmless world is not the real world of alcohol use. There is ample experience that an alcohol user harms not only himself, but also many others. The association between alcohol use and social and economic failure, domestic violence, pernicious parenting and criminal acts while under the influence is grounds for prohibition even if we accept no responsibility for what the alcohol user does to himself. The alcohol user’s freedom to consume costs his community not only their safety, but also their liberty.

Like most drug warriors, Waters makes an arbitrary distinction between drugs and alcohol that does nothing but weaken his case. If he actually favored alcohol prohibition, then perhaps we could take him a little more seriously.

Waters is wrong. Libertarians are right about drugs.

Libertarians are right about the drug war costs far exceeding its benefits.

Libertarians are right about the drug war corrupting law enforcement. The Other Side of Calv... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $17.96 Buy New $24.00 (as of 10:40 EST - Details)

Libertarians are right about the drug war destroying personal and financial privacy.

Libertarians are right about the drug war violating the Constitution.

Libertarians are right about the drug war unnecessarily swelling the prison population.

Libertarians are right about the drug war needlessly clogging the judicial system.

Libertarians are right about the drug war militarizing the police.

Libertarians are right about the drug war hindering legitimate pain treatment.

Libertarians are right about the drug war destroying the Fourth Amendment.

Libertarians are right about the drug war eroding civil liberties.

Libertarians are right about the drug war making criminals out of hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding Americans.

Libertarians are right about the drug war wasting billions of taxpayer dollars.

Libertarians are right about the war on drugs failing to keep drugs out of the hands of addicts, prisoners, and children. Against the State: An ... Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. Best Price: $4.96 Buy New $9.95 (as of 11:05 EST - Details)

Libertarians are right about the war on drugs violating property rights.

Libertarians are right about the war on drugs increasing the size and scope of government.

Libertarians are right about the war on drugs hampering the free market.

Libertarians are right about the war on drugs assaulting individual liberty.

Libertarians are right about the war on drugs unreasonably inconveniencing retail shopping.

Libertarians are right about the war on drugs having no impact on the use or availability of most drugs in the United States.

Libertarians are right about the war on drugs ruining more lives than drugs themselves.

Libertarians are right about the war on drugs negating personal responsibility and accountability.

Libertarians are right about the war on drugs being a war on freedom itself.

John P. Waters is not only wrong, he is an enemy of a free society.