The War on Drugs is ineffective at limiting access to dangerous drugs and, instead, empowers dangerous gangs that make incredible fortunes on the black market for these illegal drugs.
The War on Drugs has imprisoned millions of non-violent people. This is unfair to these people and also uses up resources that would be better spent prosecuting and imprisoning people who are violent.
The War on Drugs is largely responsible for the militarization of police forces in America. It has pitted police against citizens and this is unfair to both. Police need to be able to focus on protecting the American public from violent offenders and fraud.
Lastly, Libertarians believe that it is immoral for the government to dictate which substances a person is permitted to consume, whether it is alcohol, tobacco, herbal remedies, saturated fat, marijuana, etc. These decisions belong to individual people, not the government.
Because of all of these things, Libertarians advocate ending the War on Drugs.
An article by Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winning libertarian economist, entitled “An Open Letter to Bill Bennett,” which had appeared in the September 7, 1989, issue of the Wall Street Journal.
As the federal government’s so-called drug czar at that time, Bennett was charged with enforcing the drug war. Friedman beseeched him to bring an end to the drug-war insanity. The article is well worth reading today. It is a perfect indictment of the war on drugs, even though written more than 30 years ago. Friedman wrote:
Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore. Of course the problem is demand, but it is not only demand, it is demand that must operate through repressed and illegal channels. Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces so that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault.
Drugs are a tragedy for addicts. But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike. Our experience with the prohibition of drugs is a replay of our experience with the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.
That wasn’t the first time Friedman advocated an end to the drug war. Back in 1972, the year after Nixon declared his war on drugs, Friedman wrote an article entitled “Prohibition and Drugs,” which appeared in the May 1, 1972, issue of Newsweek. That article is also well worth reading today. Friedman wrote:
Legalizing drugs would simultaneously reduce the amount of crime and raise the quality of law enforcement. Can you conceive of any other measure that would accomplish so much to promote law and order?…. In drugs, as in other areas, persuasion and example are likely to be far more effective than the use of force to shape others in our image.
What right could be more basic, more inherent in human nature, than the right to choose what substances to put in one’s own body? Whether we’re talking about alcohol, tobacco, herbal cures, saturated fat, or marijuana, this is a decision that should be made by the individual, not the government.
Drug-related crime (which is over 85% of all crime) is caused not by drugs but by drug laws that make it expensive and a monopoly of criminals. This stance isn’t “approving” of drugs; it’s just realism, prohibition doesn’t work. In addition to the significant financial strain, the worst hazard of the drug war may be the expansion of police powers through asset forfeiture laws, “no-knock” warrants and other “anti-drug” measures. These tactics can’t stop the drug trade, but they are making a mockery of our supposed Constitutional freedoms.
Libertarians would leave in place laws against actions which directly endanger the physical safety of others, like driving under the influence of drugs, or carrying a firearm under the influence.