A Libertarian Perspective on Drugs, Drug Use and Anti-Drug Laws.
At the core of libertarianism is the desire to uphold human dignity. There is nothing more dignified than giving every mentally sound individual an opportunity to make their own decisions. This includes decisions on whether or not to take drugs – especially recreational drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana and others. In most countries in the world, taking these drugs is illegal, and therein lies the problem.
There are by some estimates around 40 million occasional users of illegal drugs in the United States alone. The greatest majority of these are everyday, peace-loving people. They use it in the privacy of their homes, and do not bother or endanger anybody. Many “successful” people have used (and some still privately use) illegal drugs. President Obama himself admitted smoking Marijuana, which he described as: “less dangerous than drinking alcohol.”
The bottom line is that there lots of people who choose to use drugs for recreational purposes. And there’s nothing wrong with that. As long as they are choosing to use them out of their own free will, they should have the right to do so. As long as they do not endanger anybody, why should it be anyone else’s business? Mr. Thomas Jefferson wrote that everyone should have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If an individual’s happiness entails recreational drug use, they should by all means have the liberty to pursue it.
The only problem is that recreational drug use is currently illegal in most countries in the world. There are hefty punishments for those who violate these anti-drug laws. The laws themselves are well-intentioned. They are supposed to protect people against addiction; protect others against violence committed by those under the influence of drugs, and prevent criminal gangs from profiting off drug money. However, most anti-drug laws are having the opposite effect. The anti-drug laws, to borrow a phrase from Austrian satirist Karl Kraus, are “the disease which they purport to be the cure.”
The approach of using laws to restrict recreational substance use has been tried before with alcohol. And it failed miserably. In the 1920s, the Prohibition Laws made alcohol use illegal. The result was similar to what is happening with drugs today. The Prohibition made alcohol scarce, and thus more expensive. Criminal gangs took over the distribution of alcohol; and gang shootouts rocked the streets, killing gang members, innocent passers-by and law enforcement officers. Meanwhile, people began brewing alcohol in unregulated, unhygienic conditions, leading to numerous cases of deaths from drinking poisoned alcohol. And despite the numerous police raids, arrests and imprisonments, people still did not stop drinking alcohol.
Basically, using punitive laws to intimidate people into stopping substance use does not work. It did not work with alcohol, and will not work with recreational drugs. The libertarian approach advocates for a repealing of all anti-drug laws. Any law which prohibits an individual from voluntary drug use should basically be repealed. As long as an individual is of sound mind and above the age of consent, they should be free to use any drug as they choose. This is exactly what a repeal of the Prohibition in 1933 accomplished. Overnight, all the alcohol peddling gangs disappeared, the streets became safer, and hardworking, law-abiding citizen began enjoying good quality, safe alcohol.
A similar approach has been successfully carried out with drugs in Portugal. In 2001, the Portuguese decriminalized all drugs. In essence, they made the use of any kind of drug no longer criminal. Basically, any adult could take any drug of their choosing. Rather than prosecuting drug addicts, they opted to offer them rehabilitation. When the decriminalization was announced, there was an up cry from those who feared an unprecedented spike in drug use. The exact opposite happened. In 2011, the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction revealed that drug use had actually fallen by half in ten years since the passing of the law.
Portugal’s story is a perfect debunking of the popular myth that anti-drug laws prevent drug use. They don’t. By making drugs scarce and expensive, they give drugs a “cool factor” which encourages drug use and ultimately abuse. When drugs are easily available, they lose the sense of distinction. When drug rehabilitation rather than prosecution is the norm, chances of addiction are reduced. Therefore, the best way to reduce the public health costs of recreational drug abuse is abolishing laws which criminalize drug use. This is the approach currently being debated in countries like Chile, Mexico, Jamaica, UK, Australia and many others.
The libertarian approach of legalizing drug use can have positive spin-offs for law enforcement and national security. In May 2014, the director of the FBI, James Comey, revealed that the agency was grappling with whether to hire cyber-security experts who smoke marijuana. According to FBI policies, people who have used drugs in the last three years are ineligible to be hired. Mr. Comey noted that the agency was missing out on otherwise intelligent, highly skilled and talented individuals whose only problem is that they use marijuana. As such, the agency was having a hard time keeping up with the increasing sophistication of cyber criminals. The FBIs problem is symptomatic of a dilemma faced by many law enforcement agencies. The anti-drug laws are curtailing efforts to hire competent individuals to help in upholding more sensible laws. Repealing such laws would open up opportunities for the FBI and other security agencies to hire competent and capable individuals to bolster their ranks.
In a nutshell, libertarian views on drugs, drug use and anti-drug laws can be summarized as follows. Drug use is an expression of personal liberty. As such, any adult person should have a right to take drugs as they please. Anti-drug laws, although well intentioned, are misconceived. They not only limit the personal liberties of honest, hardworking people; they also create an atmosphere in which criminal gangs thrive from illegal drug sales. Therefore, to guarantee the freedom and safety of individuals, and society in general, all laws banning drug use should be repealed. As perfectly demonstrated by Portugal, decriminalizing drug use can actually have the net effect of reducing the rate of drug use. Ultimately, the truest expression of dignity is giving people responsibility for their lives. Letting each person decide for themselves whether or not to take drugs is the perfectly human thing to do.