Blog Post

Why Conservatives Should Want to End the Drug War

James Carli

The issue of drug policy reform is well-understood among commentators and activists on the left. The stark facts that drug use is roughly equal among all racial groups yet brown and black people bear the brunt of drug law arrests and incarceration is glaringly a violation of civil rights and social justice, two buzzwords common among the progressive set.

But drug policy reform is also a very conservative issue, and an issue that conservatives should rally behind. There are three overwhelming and compelling reasons why this is so.

  1. Economics. First and foremost, to fight the war on drugs, US government bureaucrats, in all of their infinite wisdom, have thrown literally a trillion (trillion, with a T) dollars of taxpayer money at the issue over the last 40 years, and have had no productive or demonstrable benefits as a result. Drugs are still easily available, cheap, and potent, levels of drug production worldwide have arguably not decreased, and nothing of value has been created. There have been no conventional measures of success achieved, yet drug war zealots at the DEA and some within the halls of Congress seem to think that if we only threw just a few more (millions? billions?) of your tax dollars at the problem that maybe we might actually achieve the dream of a “drug–free world.” But this has proven out of reach, for there has always been, for the history of humanity, and will more than likely always remain until the end of time, the desire to achieve altered perception. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, the desire to experience altered perception may be as innate and natural of a human drive as the sex drive or even hunger. Throwing taxpayer money at fighting a natural urge makes as much sense as when Victorian England persecuted people for masturbating (spoiler: it didn’t work).Where there is a demand, there will be a supply, and no amount of taxpayer–funded intervention can dissuade, subvert, or otherwise halt these fundamental laws of economics.
  2. Liberty. The notion that the state can deprive you of your freedom because of personal choices you make about your body has no place in a free society. It is a slippery slope, for if the state can knock down your door to take your drugs, what is to stop them from knocking down your door to take your guns, or to put you in a cage for expressing a contrarian opinion? People who choose to use drugs arrive at that decision for an infinitely wide spectrum of reasons, and nobody on earth (especially government bureaucrats) can possibly understand the factors in your life that make you want to achieve an altered state. Some people use drugs when they feel good, some to help them manage stress. Some people use drugs to help them wake up in the morning, and some to help them get to sleep at night. Some people use drugs and have no problem with them, and some people use drugs and get addicted. All of these points are health and psychological issues, so having the state step in to judge you as a criminal because of how you address variables in your life that only you understand is a fundamental violation of our liberty and principles as a free society.
  3. Community and family values. You know what’s best for you, your family, and your community. When there is disharmony in your home, you need to do what is best to address the problem. What you don’t need is some outsider interfering and telling you what the problem is, how to fix it, and possibly sending someone from your home to jail for a long time, just because he or she is from “the government.” That does not fix the disharmony. In fact it sews even more discord, and breeds an unhealthy and destructive resentment for the authority which interfered. The criminalization of drug use has waged immeasurable harm to the fundamental fabric of families and communities, harm which has the result of increasing community distrust and engendering an environment more susceptible to crime, poverty, and despair.

A number of prominent conservative thinkers and leaders share this assessment of the failure of the war on drugs, including, but not limited to, Milton Friedman, William Buckley, Grover Norquist, George Shultz, Frank Carlucci, and Rand Paul. Furthermore, faith leaders and clergy are now starting to come out in support of ending the drug war. Once primarily concerned with reintegrating parishioners into society after a prison stint, faith leaders are now beginning to question why otherwise good members of their flock are being incarcerated in the first place.

The drug war is terrible economics, violates fundamental liberties, and destroys families and communities, and that is why ending the drug war is a conservative position.

James Carli is the Coordinator of Development Communications and Research at the Drug Policy Alliance.

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