Sometimes an editorial in the mainstream press can be both amusing and revealing. An excellent example appeared in an editorial entitled “If Virginia Is Going to Legalize Weed, It Should Do It Right,” which appeared in the March 12 issue of the Washington Post.
The editorial pointed out that the state of Virginia is on the right track in moving forward to legalize marijuana. But, the Post points out, it needs to do it “right.”
And what is the “right” way to legalize pot, according to the Washington Post? The “right” way is to take the time to ensure that the state government is able to effectively control and regulate the business.
In other words, we can’t afford to have an immediate free market in marijuana — that is, a market that is entirely free of government control and regulation. After all, how could we be sure that the free market will produce a sound product and protect consumers from unscrupulous business people?
Indeed, the Post makes that point: “Bad pot, potentially including some laced with dangerous and potent substances, might proliferate.”
You see, the government is our daddy. It takes care of us. It watches over us. It makes sure that big, bad bullies don’t take advantage of us.
In a genuinely free society, one based on a genuine free market way of life, government has no role in regulating or controlling what people are consuming, buying, and selling, except to enforce laws against fraud, theft, murder, and the like. That’s what the word “free” in the term “free market” means — a market that is free from government control and regulation. If the government is regulating or controlling a market, then it isn’t a free market.
In a free market, a business that sells a corrupted drug is subject to three penalties: criminal prosecution, a civil action for damages, and bankruptcy owing to a loss of customers. That’s why we rarely see people purchasing poisoned food from a grocery store. It’s in the interests of the grocery owner to sell non-poisoned food. The same holds true for his suppliers.
Not so in an illegal market, like in the drug war. Here, unscrupulous sellers have no reservations about selling corrupted drugs to consumers. They know that the government can’t come after them. They know they can’t be sued. And they know that they won’t be run out of business.
As soon as drugs are legalized, however, those unscrupulous sellers go out of business. That’s because drug consumers gravitate to the reputable businesses — the ones whose reputation is based on satisfying consumers with sound products. If someone is stupid enough to go out and purchase drugs from someone in a dark back alley rather than an established reputable store on the street, then he bears the consequences for his actions and hopefully survives the ordeal to learn a valuable lesson — buy from good businesses rather than from people in dark back alleys.
Thus, throughout the drug war, we have seen people dying from corrupted drugs. That’s because of drug illegality. It’s one of the perverse outcomes of criminalizing what people ingest. The same sort of thing happened when the federal government made the consumption and distribution of booze illegal. How many people die from corrupted booze today? None or extremely few.
I suppose we shouldn’t be too hard on the Post’s editorial board, however. After all, people throughout history have believed that it is essential for the state to take care of people by controlling and regulating their economic activity. It was only when Adam Smith in his treatise The Wealth of Nations advocated a free-market system that people began thinking about an entirely new paradigm — one in which the state is prohibited from controlling and regulating economic activity.
Smith’s free-market idea was a radical system, and it continued to be a radical system when 19th-century Americans adopted it and used it for more than 100 years. It was during the 20th century that Americans unfortunately rejected it and returned to the old paradigm of government control and regulation of economic activity. That’s when drugs were made illegal.
One would think that repealing laws against marijuana would be a rather simple thing to do. Yet, according to the Post editorial, the Democrats in the state legislature have been “wrestling with a bill nearly 300 pages long.” (Republican legislators, not surprisingly, unanimously oppose legalization.) A 300-page long legalization document is what happens in a society where the state is charged with controlling and regulating economic activity.
The solution to the state’s (and the nation’s) drug-war morass? Simply repeal the laws criminalizing the possession, use, and distribution of drugs, leaving such activities totally to freedom and the free market. There is really nothing complex about it.