Radley Balko on drug prohibition

January 28, 2014

Radley Balko, our new Washington Post colleague, has an important piece on “Drugs vs. the Drug War.” You can use it as a nice, quick, go-to source for several arguments against drug prohibition. Radley’s article argues that the War on Drugs undermines the very conservative values that conservatives often claim to be promoting when they argue against drug legalization or decriminalization:

To the extent that conservatives still defend the drug war (and there are fewer and fewer willing to do so), this is usually the way they go about it. Their argument is that drug use enslaves drug users with addiction, and that were drugs to be made legal, we’d all be robbed of the benefits of living in a populace of responsible citizens. Use and addiction would be common, thus shredding the moral fabric (or some other vague metaphor) that binds us all together. These arguments have been rehashed again since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington. . . .

I think there’s good evidence that this is wrong on its face. . . . But even if we accept the argument that legalization could lead to widespread use, significantly more addiction, and whatever itinerant harm comes with both, these arguments almost always fail to acknowledge the catastrophic harm inflicted by drug prohibition itself. If we’re truly concerned about policies that “degrade human nature,” “damage and undermine families,” and “deprive the nation of competent, self-governing citizens,” it seems like we should consider not only the effects of illicit drugs themselves, but also the effects of prohibiting them.

. . .

If conservatives like Gerson and Frum are truly concerned about income inequality, income immobility, social disorder, erosion of the rule of law, disrespect for for public institutions, and the dissolution of the family, it seems they should at least address the drug war’s contribution to these problems. Instead, when contemplating solutions to these problems, reforming or ending the drug war is usually the first option they take off the table.

As they say, Read the Whole Thing.

Sasha Volokh lives in Atlanta with his wife and three kids, and is an associate professor at Emory Law School. He has written numerous articles and commentaries on law and economics, privatization, antitrust, prisons, constitutional law, regulation, torts, and legal history.
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