Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 574, June 13, 2010

"America didn't have a drug problem
before it passed drug laws."

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Some Random Thoughts About the War On Drugs
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribut to The Libertarian Enterprise

It is not my purpose in this essay to debate the merits or demerits of drug use, a question that should properly be left to the individual.

It is irrelevant—and often a matter of sheer conjecture and unsupported opinion—whether drugs in general, or any drug in particular, happen to be good or bad for the individual or for society. In an era in which most of the world—especially government and the media—was hoaxed into believing in global warming, it would be wise to be suspicious of science offered in support of government policies.

Even if drugs are fully as destructive as they are usually claimed to be, it is morally wrong—and demonstrably more destructive—for government to deprive people of their unalienable, individual, civil, Constitutional, and human right to make an utter mess of their own lives. Since human beings are inclined to learn more from the mistakes they make, rather than from their triumphs, the right to fail, for individuals and groups alike, may be even more important than the right to succeed, and it must be fiercely protected at almost any cost.

Those who argue that an individual's drug use affects others—the drug user's family, for example, or his friends, his employers, his co-workers, his lodge brothers, or little children starving in India or China—are attempting to deprive those people of personal choices that they should be free to make, concerning their association with the drug user. Even children should have the right to disassociate themselves from a parent whose drug use threatens their wellbeing.

Moreover, while we may love certain people in our lives, and they may love us, that doesn't make us their property any more than it makes them ours. Each and every individual is the owner and sole proprietor of his own life, and nobody who understands history and human nature wants to live in a society where that principle is not upheld.

While employers have an understandable interest in forbidding drug use on the job, they have no right to dictate what an employee does on his own time. Current testing policies enforce company preferences off the job as well as on, and should either be modified or discontinued altogether.

Exactly the same restrictions should apply to schools.

Importantly, there is nothing in the Constitution—by which, under Article 6, Section 2, officials at every level of government are obligated to abide—that authorizes the banning of any substance or enforcing that ban with the threat of injury, incarceration, or death. The lawful powers of the federal government are enumerated in Article 1, Section 8, and they do not include forbidding drugs or any other substance. Politicians early in the 20th century understood this, and passed a Constitutional amendment allowing them to outlaw alcohol. No such amendment has ever been passed, or even proposed, with regard to drugs.

Given the number of turf wars, drive-by shootings, corrupted police and other officials, and invasions by police of the wrong address that are closely associated with the War on Drugs, it should be clear by now that drug laws and the attempt to enforce them cause vastly more destruction to individuals and society—and consume much more time, energy, and money—than the drugs in question ever did. We owe the existence and character of the police state which has sprung up all around us largely to government excesses in the name of the War on Drugs.

The production, processing, transportation, sale, possession, and consumption of drugs is, in fact, a Ninth Amendment right, exactly like the production, processing, transportation, sale, possession, and consumption of bread. All laws contravening the Ninth Amendment are unconstitutional and therefore illegal. Every agency and individual responsible for enforcing these laws is therefore an unappehended criminal.

America didn't have a drug problem before it passed drug laws. While drugs were consumed by large numbers of people—the number of women habituated to the opium found in laudanum was, no pun intended, staggering—they were, for the most part, easily able to live their lives, do their jobs, and raise their families pretty much the way we do today. None of that changed until legislation was passed generously handing the drug trade over to criminals and criminal organizations, removing commercial safeguards of uniformity and sanitation, cruelly endangering the lives and freedom of drug users, and generating all kinds of associated crimes of violence and the risk of disease and death.

Interestingly, the first turf wars, drive-by shootings, corrupt police and other officials, and invasions of the wrong address occurred, not in connection with drugs but with alcohol prohibition, an historic period that doesn't appear to have taught anybody anything.

Advocates for one drug or another often claim that their drug is less dangerous to individuals and less damaging to society than tobacco or alcohol. This "Do it to Julia" tactic—which George Orwell warned us about in 1984—is less than productive. What each of us must demand consistently is freedom for all to make important choices in our lives, rather than have them made for us by the government and the kind of sick, twisted, broken individuals who use it to control others because their own lives are so repulsive and unbearable.

Especially in this era where we can no longer trust science to be truthful, there is no reason tobacco and alcohol—or other drugs—should be regulated or taxed differently from any other product. The motivation to do so is punitive, essentially religious in character, and therefore forbidden under the First Amendment which states, in effect, that public policy is not to be made on the basis of religious beliefs.

Advocates for drugs like marijuana often point out that if it were legal, it could be taxed, as a sort of bribe offered to the government to leave them alone. This is the submissive behavior of a slave mind-set, and it has no place in the struggle for individual liberty. Taxation—of any kind—is theft, a far greater wrong than using dugs.

Criminals should be tried and punished on the basis of what they did, rather than how they were when they did it, or what they used to get that way. If we can outlaw drugs because they sometimes cause some people to injure or kill others, then, given the history of the last thousand years, between the violent and ugly excesses of Christianity and Islam alone, we should be able to outlaw religion for the same reason.

Many individuals in government don't seem to understand the laws of economics. Most of them—aside from those in Congress—seem to be concentrated in the area of "drug enforcement". They often brag at news conferences that their interception of drugs between producer and consumer has raised the "street value" of the drugs, meaning that the drugs are now scarcer than they were. What these statists stubbornly refuse to acknowledge is that this only increases the market incentive to cash in on those higher prices by making up for the artificial scarcity.

Can they really be that stupid? Or do they understand cynically that the livelihoods of thousands of police officers, administrators, bureaucrats, and politicians depend heavily on never actually ending the illegal traffic in drugs? The drug war, in fact, is a kind of corrupt, evil game played endlessly by so-called "law enforcement" and traffickers, in which both profit obscenely at the irreparable expense of the Productive Class in particular and Western Civilization in general.

Simply repealing drug laws at every level of government would save tens of billions of dollars every year, money that is badly needed now for America's economic recovery, money that shouldn't be wasted on an effort that has not only gone on for decades without positive results, but which has made the situation vastly worse than it was to begin with.

Repealing drug laws would remove the risks involved with producing and distributing drugs, bringing "street prices" crashing down (it's estimated that a "spoon" of heroin would cost about a quarter in the free market), thereby eradicating any incentive that criminals might have to compete with legitimate businesses, and greatly reducing—if not eliminating altogether—any economic reason to "push" drugs on children.

Choices about drugs and drug use must be left to the character of the individual, or, all choices having been made for them, we will inevitably end up with individuals who have no character at all. And concern for "the children", which is often an excuse for the most atrocious of authoritarian policies, must be left in the hands of their parents.

The alternative is chaos, insanity, and ruin.

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Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

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