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The Relegalization of Drugs, Part 1


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A member of the Christian Coalition recently telephoned me and said that she agreed with most of what The Future of Freedom Foundation stands for and wanted to support us. She then asked: “What is your organization’s stand on drug legalization?” I responded: “We call for the total legalization of all drugs. We believe that the war on drugs is evil, immoral, and destructive.” She said that as a Christian, she could not send us a donation unless we changed our position on this one issue. My response was quite simple: “As a Christian, I could never support anything but drug legalization.” She did not send her donation.

The United States government has waged its war on drugs for 80 long years. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon, realizing that the war was still not won, decided to wage it more fiercely than ever before. And every president for the past 25 years has made the war on drugs one of his top priorities.

The war on drugs has to be one of the greatest con jobs in political history. It is not surprising that those who benefit from the war — politicians, bureaucrats, and drug lords — support it. What is so disappointing is how the victims of the war — the American people — continue to do so, as well.

If drugs were relegalized, there would be three groups of people who would immediately be put out of work: drug lords, politicians, and bureaucrats. With drug legalization, pharmacies, tobacco companies, and other reputable businesses would be selling marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs. Every single drug lord would be out of business the minute drugs were legalized because the drug lords would not be able to compete against reputable businessmen in a legal, unhampered marketplace.

It is not surprising, then, that drug lords are among the most vociferous opponents of drug legalization. For they are among the three primary beneficiaries of the drug war.

And the same holds true for bureaucrats — DEA agents, police officers, FBI officials, U.S. marshals, deputy sheriffs, assistant U.S. attorneys, and all the other government employees whose jobs bear a direct relationship to the drug war. They have payments to make on mortgages, rent, cars, and other bills. They know that if drugs were legalized, not only would all the bribes and payoffs that drug lords make to these people vanish with drug legalization, their governmental jobs would disappear, as well. Like drug lords, the drug-war bureaucrats would have to find honest jobs in the private sector.

There is another reason that bureaucrats support the drug war even more fervently than drug lords: asset-forfeiture laws. Today, DEA agents, police, and deputy sheriffs stop innocent people on the highways and airports of the United States and rob them of their cash and other belongings — without even charging them with a crime. The booty goes straight into the government coffers (or the pockets of the law-enforcement official) and is used to help fund the salaries and other expenses of the ever-growing drug-war bureaucracy. In other words, law-enforcement officials no longer have to depend totally on the taxing and budgeting decisions of the elected representatives of the people, e.g., the city council. They are becoming self-funding fiefdoms whose money is generated from the cash and valuables stolen from the citizenry. Why in the world would these bureaucrats ever call for the relegalization of drugs?

And the same holds true for politicians. Several months ago, I appeared on a television show cohosted by Ohio Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. I said to him: “It’s not surprising that you congressmen favor the war on drugs. You have been among the biggest beneficiaries.” He said: “I guess you’re suggesting that we’re all on the take.” I said: “No, what I am suggesting is that this has been a tremendous way to get votes, campaign contributions, and more power over the American people.”

For the last 25 years, there has been no surer way to win votes and support from the electorate than for a politician to simply say: “I favor the war on drugs.” Constituents (including drug dealers) have responded with votes and cash. The war on drugs has been one of the biggest winners in political history for politicians. Why in the world would any politician want to kill such a gigantic vote-and-cash cow?

Thus, it is difficult to become too disappointed with drug lords, politicians, and bureaucrats. They are only doing what the rest of us do — acting in their self-interest. The disappointment lies with the American people — for continuing to fall for the con.

And herein lies the great success of another grand government project-public schooling. As every graduate of public schooling knows, students are not taught to think, analyze, challenge, or question. Students are taught “good citizenship,” which means obedience, acceptance, and memorization. Therefore, it is not surprising that the overwhelming numbers of public-school graduates support the drug war. All that a politician must say, in order to get votes, is this: “I’m in favor of the war on drugs because I’m against drugs.” This always makes total sense to the public-school graduate. His immediate, knee-jerk response is: “I’m voting for him. He’s against drugs because he favors the drug war. He’s my candidate.”

If a candidate says: “I favor drug legalization,” the public-school graduate immediately concludes: “I remember what I memorized in public schools. A person who favors drug legalization favors drug abuse. I hate him. I’m going to vote against him.” In other words, no thinking. No questioning. No analysis. Instead, reliance on what was memorized in public schools.

Thus, it is not surprising that even though the drug war has been a manifest failure in terms of its purported goals, American public-school graduates continue to support it. Drug abuse is worse than it was 25 years ago. There are more drug dealers than ever before, despite the arrests of thousands of them during the past several decades. Taxes continue to soar to pay for the war. Seizures of assets are skyrocketing. Laws that invade privacy are multiplying. Gang wars are getting worse. Drug-war deaths continue to rise. Penitentiaries are overflowing. Bureaucracies are expanding.

And the public-school graduate continues to repeat his mantra: “I’m in favor of the war on drugs because I’m against drugs.”

We must ask ourselves a question that, unfortunately, is somewhat uncomfortable to the advocates of public schooling. Why do so many people choose to engage in self-destructive activity? After all, look what has happened in the last 90 years to the American people: the state has seized them at the age of six years old and forced them into government institutions to receive government-approved doctrine. Every school child from the first grade on up is told by every single one of his government-approved schoolteachers what the rules of good citizenship are. And one of these rules is: “A good citizen doesn’t take drugs, because drugs are harmful.”

So, the state has the individual in its grasp for a large portion of his waking hours throughout his early years. And the state uses this opportunity to mold the minds of these people. And their minds are molded to believe: “Drugs are bad. I will not use drugs.”

Yet, the exact opposite has happened! Thousands of public-school attendees and millions of public-school graduates end up taking drugs! In fact, the problem is apparently bad enough to warrant an ever-expanding war on drugs.

Of course, public-school officials would argue: “No, the problem doesn’t lie here. It lies at home.” Well, then we have to ask: Why is this so? Didn’t all those parents attend public schools? When public schooling was established at the turn of the century (at about the same time the war on drugs began), didn’t the state say: “Let us have your children and we will turn them into healthy, responsible, caring adults?” Well, they’ve now had control over four or five generations of people. Why is there so much dysfunctionality in American society — sufficient dysfunctionality to require a war on drugs that never ends?

Yet, rather than try to get at the root of the problem (i.e., why do people engage in self-destructive activity?), the public-school graduate believes that the problem is simply that drugs are available. If we can eliminate the availability of drugs, voilà! — the problem is over! Or even if we cannot eliminate the supply of drugs, the drug-war proponent says: “It’s just a simple matter of saying no to drugs.” Or as Bob Dole would put it: “Just don’t do it.”

How simple! Why didn’t we think of that before now? Golly — all we have to do is just keep arresting those drug lords to reduce the supply of drugs; all we have to do is keep saying “Just don’t do it” to the American people. And the public-school graduate says, “Yeah. I remember memorizing that. We gotta keep going with this war on drugs. We’re gonna win no matter what.”

The reasons that people engage in self-destructive conduct are extremely complex. Why do people ingest such drugs as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and cocaine? There is no way to give a blanket explanation. One explanation is simply that it makes them feel good. Another is that there is some psychological dysfunction operating inside that person that manifests itself in an addiction or other self-destructive conduct. If we remove the substance or activity to which the person is addicted (drugs, gambling, sex, work, or whatever) against the will of the person, is that going to cure his internal disorder? Any psychiatrist will tell you that that isn’t going to accomplish anything. The disorder will simply manifest itself in some other self-destructive way.

Ultimately, the only way a person can kick his habit is by doing the hard work to change himself. This is why government efforts to end drug abuse have been such a failure — every one of them tries to forcibly impose change on a person. This is why groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have been so successful — because they cater to people who are trying to change themselves in constructive ways.

But this still doesn’t explain why so many Americans engage in drug abuse and other self-destructive conduct. Certainly, most of the internal problems are rooted in the upbringing they had in their families. But there can also be societal dysfunctionalities. This brings us back to public schooling.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.