Forming an Exit Strategy for the War on Drugs

For over six months now, I have been saying that Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York should be the Democratic Party presidential nominee in 2016, and I stand by this opinion. Recently, Cuomo has voiced support for a plan that would allow New Yorkers to possess small amounts of marijuana if they so choose. I personally have mixed feelings about this plan. On the one hand, arresting someone for carrying a few grams of marijuana is ridiculous. A crime, by definition, involves directly hurting a person (or in some cases an animal) through force or fraud. Discrimination in employment should be a crime, because it forcibly denies someone a job for very unjust reasons. Acts of environmental degradation should be banned, because they have a very tangible effect on the ecosystem. Possessing and consuming marijuana, in and of itself, only directly harms the user. Hence, I view this proposed change in New York’s law as a step in the right direction. However, I do not think that it goes nearly far enough. If we subscribe to a principle that sane adults should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as it does not directly hurt other unwilling parties, then any prohibition on possession of marijuana, regardless of the amount, is wrong. Thus, if someone makes the highly foolish decision to possess fifty pounds of marijuana in their home or sell it to a willing adult buyer, they have a right to do so. Please understand that I am not advocating drug use. Drug use, along with smoking, has been shown to have a myriad of negative health effects. Furthermore, while drug use itself only hurts the user, it can inhibit said person’s judgment and lead them to engage in behavior that does hurt other people. This does not justify banning it. After all, that would be a very slippery slope—imagine if we ban everything that might lead to criminal behavior—but it should make someone think twice before using drugs. What about other, deadlier drugs such as cocaine and heroin? A lot of proponents of pot legalization back off when it comes to “hard drugs.” Yet again, despite the sheer foolishness of using such drugs, banning them is incompatible with individual liberty. In a society with maximized individual freedom, people do not just have the right to make the most of themselves. They also have the right to make stupid decisions and ruin their lives as a result. America has spent billions of dollars pursuing people for buying and selling drugs for personal recreation. Is it any surprise that during Ronald Reagan’s Administration, when the War on Drugs was ratcheted up, the national debt not only exceeded one trillion dollars for the first time ever, but actually tripled? Obviously, the swollen debt incurred under Reagan’s watch was due to a variety of factors, but disastrous drug policy certainly did not help. Think of how the national debt might be reduced if we stopped spending money arresting drug users and dealers, stopped imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, and began collecting tax money from drug businesses? I should include a very important caveat here. Drugs should never be legalized for minors. Anyone who sells drugs to kids should be arrested. However, there are plenty of things that are legal for adults but not for kids. Adults can drive cars, buy tobacco cigarettes, and consume alcohol, while kids cannot. Should we ban driving, alcohol, and tobacco for all Americans in order to protect children? On the subject of driving, I have heard concern expressed that drug legalization will lead to people driving cars and flying planes while high. This argument is easy to dismiss. People sometimes drive or fly planes drunk. That is a distinct crime and does not need to be dealt with by banning alcohol. (America tried that one time, and it did not work.) Likewise, driving a car or flying a plane under the influence of drugs can easily be dealt with as a distinct crime. Finally, we must understand that banning a product does not erase it from existence. Whether it is alcohol, illegal guns, or drugs, people will find a way to still keep producing and selling forbidden products as long as there is a demand for them.

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