Thirty years ago when I started FFF, I could light up the telephone lines whenever I appeared on a radio talk show calling for drug legalization. People were absolutely shocked and outraged over such a suggestion, especially when I would say that hard drugs like cocaine and heroin should be legalized. Many people would call in to attack me.
Not so today. Drug legalization in on the table of discussion and debate. Moreover, many states have legalized or decriminalized possession and distribution of marijuana.
Now, in a statewide vote Oregon has taken the matter one step further. It has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs, including cocaine and heroin. It’s not full legalization, which is the ideal from a freedom standpoint, but it’s a giant step in finally ridding our nation of the scourge of the drug war.
More than 100 organizations supported the Oregon measure, including the Oregon Chapter of the American College of Physicians, Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon School Psychologists’ Association, Oregon Academy of Family Physicians, and the ACLU.
The Oregon vote goes to show the power of ideas on liberty. If libertarians had become despondent and depressed 30 years ago over the prospect of ending the drug war and given up advocating drug legalization, that would have made the progress reflected by Oregon much more difficult. By sticking to their guns and continuing to make the case against this immoral and destructive program, libertarians were able to get people to begin thinking about ending it.
The experience shows the importance of adhering to principle to achieve other aspects of liberty.
What has long befuddled me is the reluctance of many libertarians to take the same position on the welfare state that they take on the drug war. With the drug war, they don’t hesitate to say: “End it now. Legalize it all.” No gradual phaseout. No concern over leaving people who are dependent on drug war largess in the lurch. They publicly make the case for just repealing all drug laws, even if, as a practical matter, it doesn’t often end up like that, as with Oregon.
Not so with the welfare state, however. Many libertarians are absolutely scared to death to call for the immediate end of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, education grants, and other welfare-state programs. They think that calling for immediate repeal of these programs will lose them credibility among the general public. Or they honestly believe that people would die in the streets if you ended these programs today, even though they don’t believe that with respect to immediate repeal of drug laws.
If we are to achieve the genuinely free society, it is imperative that we libertarians continue making the principled case for liberty, all across the board. If we only make the principled case for liberty on drug laws and display a lack of faith in freedom when it comes to the welfare state or other infringements on our liberty, then our chances of achieving the genuinely free society diminish.
Freedom works. It works across the board. It is not something to be feared or mistrusted. It is something to embrace and advocate without hesitation. As we see in Oregon with respect to the drug war, adhering to principle is the best way to get our nation back on the right road — the road to liberty, peace, prosperity, and harmony.