Why Do We Have Drug Laws?

If you look back in American history, you’ll note that those living a century or so ago enjoyed freedoms that Americans of today don’t have.  Government played a much smaller role in our lives.  There were no “drug laws”, (no prescription laws either) and Americans were one of the freest peoples on Earth back then.  Of course there were some Americans who didn’t like people having all these freedoms, and they could make a “case” that these freedoms created problems for society that government laws and regulation could “fix”.  (Guess that idea has been around as long as civilization has)

The consumption of alcohol was widespread and public drunkenness was common.  It was common for husbands to drink up a portion of their relatively meager paychecks of the time, leaving their families to try to “stretch” what left until the next payday. (Part of the cost of alcoholic beverages is government taxes.)  This was part of the drive to correct what was seen by many as a serious social problem of the time.  The eventual result was Prohibition.  Which came about then through the writing of an Amendment to the US Constitution.  Back then the government didn’t have the power (or felt that it didn’t) to do something like Prohibition without first amending the Constitution.  Not like today where the federal government believes it can do almost anything it wants by just passing a bill through Congress and having the President sign it.  But back then the federal government actually felt itself limited by the Constitution.  So the passage of the 18th Amendment first had to take place before Prohibition could take place.  Which of course made it possible to outlaw the drinking of alcoholic drinks.  Which supposedly would then”fix” all the problems that the drinking of alcoholic drinks was supposed to cause.  Turned out of course that the consequences were considerably different from what had been hoped would happen.  Which is usually the case when something like this is done given the nature of how attempts to outlaw things many people enjoy generally fails to produce the results hoped for by the advocates of those  who favor passing such laws…*

*I suggest here that avocation of such laws violates the basic concept of freedom in which you honor your neighbor’s freedom as long as your neighbor honors yours.  Laws are based upon the use of force, a violation of Libertarian principles, even if you yourself are not the “aggressor”.  The fact that you have a policeman commit aggression against your neighbor instead of doing it yourself does not alter the fact that you are responsible for your actions and the consequences of your actions.

The consequence was that those who still wanted to drink alcoholic beverages were now willing to pay out extra money to be allowed to drink.  In effect, “demand” was there for alcoholic beverages, and when “demand” exists, “suppliers” will appear to satisfy that demand.  The fact that something is “outlawed” doesn’t always mean that the law will be followed.  Especially if it is an unpopular law that a sizable minority of people hate.  The consequence was that the criminal element quickly took advantage of Prohibition and started supplying the alcoholic beverages that people were willing to buy even if it was against the law.  For organized crime, Prohibition was like a shot of cocaine.  It wasn’t that difficult to obtain alcohol, or to import alcoholic beverages from outside the USA.  Canada was a major supplier as were other nations such as those of the Caribbean.  The net result was that given the popular demand for alcoholic beverages, and the amount of organized crime at the time, the enforcement of Prohibition became difficult and expensive.  Enough so that when FDR was voted into the White House, one of his first acts was to get Congress to repeal Prohibition!  Which was quickly done because the cost of enforcing Prohibition, and the political pressures to repeal made it something most Americans were willing to support.  Oddly enough, this experience didn’t teach some people the folly of doing things like this again!  As soon as Prohibition ended, some people proposed doing the same thing with drugs.  No doubt with the idea that there were far fewer users of “drugs” and the problems associated with Prohibition wouldn’t apply to controls over the sort of drugs that were the most prone to abuse.  Also, as it was  a way to also provide employment for law enforcement at a time when local and state governments were cutting back due to falling revenues.  If there weren’t all that many criminals left to pursue, creating new “criminals” through drug laws was a way to create “jobs”.  Not just for the police, but all the way through the justice system.  Today, of course our drug laws are one of the ways of creating employment, as the more criminals you have, the more jobs you can create in law enforcement, the justice system, and the corrections system.  For those who have jobs because of our drug laws, having drug laws is a great thing since the jobs are of the source that is generally fairly well paid, is usually unionized with good benefits, and unlike business employers, the government generally tends to keep people on through bad times as well as good times.  After all, the criminals are still out there, which assures jobs in law enforcement, the justice system, and the corrections system.  Then the drug laws also provide jobs in the criminal organizations that supply the drugs, so there is really a lot of “job creating” going on here for everyone! The only problem is that the money to pay all these people, build prisons, and everything else has to come from those who pay taxes.  Plus the “overhead cost” involved in collecting taxes.  So our “War on Drugs” is by no means “free”, but actually costs us perhaps as much as $200 billion dollars a year.  I’m certain we could find better uses for this money than “fighting” a “war” against what amounts to something that is a “crime” only because the government says that it is…  Like a lot of our laws, the taxpayer is the real “victim” in all this.  First, the taxpayers have to pay for the law enforcement, the justice system, the corrections system.  The USA on a per capita basis has more people in prison than any other nation on Earth.  And on a basis of total numbers of prisoners, we even now beat out countries like China ( four times our population).  Then the taxpayers also frequently end up the victims of the “street crime” caused by drug addicts who will do most anything to obtain money to satisfy their addiction to these same drugs.  Too, there are “turf wars” where criminal gangs fight out gun battles to settle which group is going to be allowed to sell drugs or transport drugs, or whatever.  In Mexico there is an actual “war” going on between “drug cartels” as to who gets to be the one to smuggle drugs into the USA.  The death toll from this is in the tens of thousands and may very well eventually spread to the USA itself in the future!  How many more innocent people will die because of our “War on Drugs”?  This “war” to some extent is now world wide!

The simple fact is that regardless of how much personal harm is caused by “drugs”, the harm to society is far greater.  We are spending over a hundred billion dollars a year on law enforcement, justice, corrections just to deal with the consequences of our drug laws.  We are simply repeating the same “folly” that we experienced during Prohibition, except that the problems are now world wide.  In effect our drug laws and those of other countries have created a world wide criminal element in reply, one that is bringing a great deal of problems and suffering not just to the USA, but all over the world.  Part of the money spent by drug addicts here in the USA ends up back in Afghanistan where the money is spent on weapons and explosives to kill US and allied soldiers there.  In a way we are financing our own worst enemies, supplying them with the money to continue their war against the US and the “West” in general.  The terrorists in the Middle East are getting dollars from American addicts to help carry out their terrorist attacks on us!

With drugs, as it was with alcohol earlier, we have become the source of our own economic and social destruction.  Whatever bad things happen to people because of “drugs”, we are simply making things worse yet by our futile attempts to outlaw them. We are “losing the war on drugs” both here in the USA, and in the rest of the world too!

The only solution is to call an armistice and seriously rethink our policies on drugs.


About muskegonlibertarian

77 year old retired owner of a security guard agency. Member of the Libertarian Party.
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