Pubdate: Fri, 31 Aug 2012
Source: Union Leader (Manchester, NH)
Copyright: 2012 The Union Leader Corp.
Note: Out-of-state letters are seldom published.
Author: John Stossel


Forty years ago, the United States locked up fewer than 200 of every 
100,000 Americans. Then President Nixon declared the war on drugs. 
Now we lock up more of our people than any other country - more even 
than the authoritarian regimes in Russia and China.

A war on drugs - on people, that is - is unworthy of a country that 
claims to be free.

Unfortunately, this outrage probably won't be discussed in Tampa or Charlotte.

The media (including Fox News) run frightening stories about Mexican 
cocaine cartels and marijuana gangs. Few of my colleagues stop to 
think that this is a consequence of the war, that decriminalization 
would end the violence. There are no wine "cartels" or beer "gangs." 
No one "smuggles" liquor. Liquor dealers are called "businesses," not 
gangs, and they "ship" products instead of "smuggling" them. They 
settle disputes with lawyers rather than guns.

Everything can be abused, but that doesn't mean government can stop 
it. Government runs amok when it tries to protect us from ourselves.

Drug-related crime occurs because the drugs are available only 
through the artificially expensive black market. Drug users steal not 
because drugs drive them to steal. Our government says heroin and 
nicotine are similarly addictive, but no one robs convenience stores 
to get Marlboros. (That could change with confiscatory tobacco taxes.)

Are defenders of the drug war aware of the consequences? I don't think so.

John McWhorter, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, indicts 
the drug war for "destroying black America." McWhorter, by the way, is black.

McWhorter sees prohibition as the saboteur of black families. 
"Enduring prison time is seen as a badge of strength. It's regarded 
(with some justification) as an unjust punishment for selling people 
something they want. The ex-con is a hero rather than someone who 
went the wrong way."

He enumerates the positive results from ending prohibition. "No more 
gang wars over turf, no more kids shooting each other. ... Men get 
jobs, as they did in the old days, even in the worst ghettos, because 
they have to."

Would cheaper and freely available drugs bring their own catastrophe? 
"Our discomfort with the idea of heroin available at drugstores is 
similar to that of a Prohibitionist shuddering at the thought of 
bourbon at the corner store. We'll get over it."

The media tell us that some drugs are so powerful that one "hit" or 
"snort" will hook the user forever. But the government's own 
statistics disprove that. The National Institutes of Health found 
that 36 million Americans have tried crack. But only 12 percent have 
used it in the previous year, and fewer than 6 percent have used it 
in the previous month. If crack is so addictive, how did 88 percent 
of the users quit?

If drugs were legal, I suppose that at first more people would try 
them. But most would give them up. Eventually, drug use would 
diminish, as it has in Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs, and 
the Netherlands, which allows legal marijuana. More young men would 
find real jobs; police could focus on real crime.

When the public is this divided about an issue, it's best left to 
voluntary social pressure instead of legal enforcement. That's how 
most Americans decide whether to drink alcohol or go to church every 
week. Private voluntary social networks have their own ways of 
punishing bad behavior and sending more nuanced messages about what's 
unacceptable. Government's one-size-fits-all rules don't improve on that.

"Once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of the government 
to protect the individual against his own foolishness," economist 
Ludwig von Mises wrote, "why not prevent him from reading bad books 
and bad plays ... ? The mischief done by bad ideologies is more 
pernicious ... than that done by narcotic drugs."

If we adults own our own bodies, we ought to get to control what we 
put in them. It's legitimate for government to protect me from 
reckless drivers and drunken airline pilots - but not to protect me 
from myself.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's 
the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."
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