February 6, 2018

Why the libertarian view on drugs has issues (for me)

A while back I proposed an alternate way to stop the flow of drugs into America. It's not a solution to the scourge of drugs in the country, it's part of the solution.  The drug problem is complex and includes prescription opioids, domestically produced drugs, and the underlying problem is actually demand, not production.  I promised at that time I would get back to my non-libertarian rationale for opposing illicit drug consumption.  First, let me outline the logic of the libertarian view of drugs as I understand it.

Is this the future you want for your country?
Government allows the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.  In a truly free and liberated society government should not prevent people from making choices, even if those choices are self-destructive.  Cigarettes and alcohol can be self destructive, and in the case of cigarettes it's pretty much inarguable that they are.  So why should illicit drugs be any different?  The caveat that libertarians allow for, is that as long as those choices do not harm anyone else then and only then should it permissible.  For example, murdering someone is not allowable because even though it is a free choice, it harms someone else.  Parking in such a way that it blocks someone else in is an individual freedom too, but it interferes with someone else's freedom to leave their parking spot.  In other words the government should only protect it's citizens from external threats or from each other, but not from themselves. That is up to and including the option for suicide I suppose.

There are problems with this logic as it applies to drugs, not the least of which is that switching to an unfettered allowance is to let the genie out of the bottle in such a way that it cannot be put back in.  Should there be dire societal consequences, they cannot be undone, or at least without a herculean effort.  When prohibition was implemented it was not long before it was reversed (13 years, which sounds like a long time but to reverse a Constitutional Amendment with another Amendment that is startlingly quick).  The point is the attempt to undo a freedom, once available, is a futile effort.  Yes alcohol was always available, but it provides a suitable analog.  Cigarettes, as damaging as they are will not be made illegal in our lifetime.  Similarly drugs, once legalized will not simply be made illegal again if they prove to be too detrimental to society as a whole.

More likely is the slippery slope argument - once a milder illegal drug is legalized there will be pressure to expand it to more, and harder drugs.  While there is plenty of evidence in our slide towards liberalism or even more aptly, political correctness, that there is indeed a slippery slope, I won't resort to that argument.  I have others.

The one argument that people make is that because drugs are illegal it contributes to crimes - murder and theft, for example.  The argument is that legalizing drugs will remove these problems.  The reverse is actually true.   Alcohol is legal and we still have alcohol-related deaths that are not just those who were drinking.  Cigarettes are legal and while second-hand smoke may or may not have killed anyone, it certainly, until recently, affected non-smokers.  I can attest to that personally.  Guns are legal and innocent people get shot and killed all the time.  And people still use illegal guns.  Why would some people not continue to use illegal drugs?  They might be cheaper.  Some people might not be able to get the legal drugs because they cannot afford their addiction and will still resort to crime to get what they need.

Simply legalizing drugs does not make these things go away.  And indeed, they may increase the instances of addiction and that could easily in turn increase these secondary effects of crime as more people become addicted, escalate and soon cannot afford their addictions.

The other effect that legalizing drugs has on society is the medical need to cope with the addicted. There are costs in ameliorating an addicted subset of the population. Not just the direct costs of rehabilitation, but also the opportunity costs.  If we have to divert medical expertise from cancer research to address the problem of burgeoning addiction, we could delay or miss the chance to cure cancer (for example). Doctors are not an unlimited resource - that was part of my argument on Obamacare.  Medical advances and treatment of the non-addicted are just another way that legalized drugs harm those who are not directly affected by the change in the law.

All of those issues are enough without even discussing the societal and familial impacts of decaying moral standards and families imploding because one drug user has upended the fabric of the family.

All for what?  So some people who want to do so can get high?  It's wasted potential, and morally its something we should guard against, not embrace. To embrace legalization of drugs, any drug, is nothing more than deluded Utopian thinking.
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