Why Drug Decriminalization is Central to Liberty
This past week alone I’ve seen two attempts by mainstream conservative pundits to stigmatize liberty by portraying it as some obscure liberal ideal. It goes like this: somehow liberty is great, but the drug stuff takes it too far. They suppose that freedom is a value that must be reined in by the government, because if we go too far with that dangerous idea – like in the area of drugs – society could be negatively affected if the state stopped regulating certain drug commerce. That there would be no negative effect on society if the state regulated drug commerce, is presumed.
The first attempt I noticed to frame the debate in this way was at the International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, D.C. Ann Coulter, the author of Mugged, was invited as a speaker and to give her opinion on this growing segment of liberty-minded conservatives.
She misinterpreted ending the war on drugs as: “[they] just want to legalize pot” and claimed that the attraction of this view is due to their nature. “They are “p*ssies,” she not-so-delicately proclaimed. Coulter considers decriminalizing drugs an act of camaraderie with liberals. See the clip: here.
The second was a clip I watched from Glenn Beck’s show on “The Blaze” website. Interestingly “blaze” is also a term used in the consumption of marijuana (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=blaze). But he wasn’t much interested in that kind of blaze. Beck ought to be commended for at least inviting the discussion to his show. Since leaving FOX News, we’ve seen a more liberty-minded trend in his thinking and even in his self-identification. Hopefully this continues; if there’s hope for Beck, maybe there’s hope for America to stop looking to the state for protection from every kind of “evil.”
He started off his segment asking, “Which one of you guys says ‘legalize drugs now?'” Beck seemed to present a dilemma that somehow “people are not responsible for themselves,” and that the state would need to wean them off their drugs before such a policy could be considered.
Not Drug Legalization
The drug “problem” is one of the most common justifications for growing the size of government. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen free-market ideas ridiculed as the result of too many “bong hits.” The first point that needs to be made is in the terminology of the debate: “legalization” is incorrect. Our desire is not to legalize drugs, as to do that would imply a state-sponsored stamp of approval. Limited government implies that we want the state to shrink, and in the context of the drug war it is the desire to “decriminalize” illegal drugs.
Individuals who are offended by the New York mayor’s ban on large Pepsi drinks should be equally offended by the federal government’s ban on marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc. Conservatives who claim to desire limited government, should be the first to see the connection.
Drugs Are the Gateway Thug to Statism
“The drug war has been used to destroy our freedom.”  This isn’t a quote from the ALCU or Dr. Ron Paul, but from a 1994 interview with conservative Presbyterian theologian R.J. Rushdoony. He understood that the drug war had been used for the federal encroachment of individual liberties. He recognized that “the drug war has been so deadly to the freedom of the people…” and the federal government has justified each encroachment with the evil of “drugs” as the fear-mongering excuse. Rushdoony continues, “In the name of seizing drugs a man’s car, boat, plane, house or whatever can be confiscated, even if not a trace of drugs are found.”
Rushdoony was born in 1916 and went on to study at the University of California at Berkeley. His college years were right at the end of Prohibition, thus he was familiar with the federal government’s massive failure to restrict the use of the “drug” alcohol. He saw the violence that Prohibition had inspired. Al Capone and the organized crime of the 1920s were his contemporaries. His newspapers told stories of the crime that plagued Chicago – he recognized the destructive nature and unintended consequences of the social experiment of Prohibition.
In the 1994 recording, Rushdoony and the interviewer joke that one day the state might make “ice cream” an illegal drug. That intrusive reality has hit, and Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban is “law,” as are so-called sin taxes on junk food in other places. Once the state is granted license to legislate arbitrary standards for certain consumables, it retains absolute authority with no limit to its appetite for power. It is then only a matter of time before tyrannical cola policies spread to the federal level.
Most Advocates Don’t Use “Drugs”
The only time I’ve used a triple-beam scale is in chemistry class. I am not affiliated with any anti-drug war advocate who currently uses illegal drugs, and I don’t know any who would take up pot, cocaine, or narcotics simply because those substances were no longer banned by the federal government. There is a drug abuse problem in our country, but it largely exists due to use of substances currently legal to obtain. Big Pharmaceutical continues to develop new drugs that may receive the Food and Drug Administration’s stamp of approval, but they have listed on their labels side effects similar to those produced by “illegal” drugs. Doctors routinely prescribe drugs that have very serious side effects, including homicidal/suicidal behavior, side effects which don’t occur in many banned substances. The effect on society of the irresponsible prescriptions being given to people for depression or ADHD is a question we are not allowed to ask.
We have the perception that our prescription drugs have undergone rigorous trials to scrutinize safety, and that we are made aware of all the possible side effects. We even believe that the FDA would prevent such drugs from hitting the market if they were harmful, yet the opposite has proven true. The FDA-approved Prozac may help alleviate depression in adolescents, but also raises the risk of suicidal behaviors.
Our War on Drugs is a losing battle. We criminalize certain stigmatized drugs, and then embrace even more harmful drugs. At the center of the drug war we see a thirst for power, not public safety.
Why Do We Care?
Conservatives can easily recognize that our rights come from our Creator. The same Creator Who gives us those rights gives us the definition of justice. The Creator’s justice is neither harsh nor antiquated, because the Creator’s rights are neither harsh nor antiquated. We also talk a lot about the U.S. Constitution because we understand that this is a tool we can use to defend those Creator-granted rights from men and governments who want to take them away.
The drug war represents the most vicious, government-funded attack on constitutional rights we face today. While I neither advocate nor condone the use of mind-altering, behavior-altering, or mood-altering substances, I believe that our view of the war on drugs should be perceived within the same scope as the war on Pepsi, which can lead to diabetes and other physical ailments if consumed too much.
Drinking Pepsi and eating McDonald’s French fries may be unhealthy, mind-altering, behavior-altering, or mood-altering activities, but a move to ban these would be a farce. Statists use the possibility of these negative effects to their benefit. As Rushdoony pointed out, the drug war has been an excuse to confiscate tax dollars and to legitimize seizure of personal property.
The decriminalization of drugs is NOT a fringe issue for those who want to please their liberal, stoner friends. It is central to the foundation of liberty. Our Lord has said, “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shall not covet.” Nowhere in the Bible will one find an exception granted for the civil government to steal or covet. The drug war has fabricated an excuse for the prohibition of drugs, much like it did for the prohibition of alcohol, and for many of the same reasons. It’s a tough case to make for why pot is criminal and why Zoloft or Paxil are not, if one is honest in this debate.
In order for the rest of the philosophy of liberty to stand, we must stand opposed to ANY and ALL arbitrary laws of the State.
The Real Solution to Drugs:
The only thing to bring the drug problem under control is faith for living – R.J. Rushdoony
Rushdoony understood and taught that basic to a free society are men who desire to be self-governing. Self-government presupposes freedom. For this to be possible, regeneration must precede liberty. If Christians want to end the drug war, stop watching FOX News and start evangelizing. If individuals want to stop drug abuse, then they need to start teaching the dangers of drugs with as much fervor as those who are so passionate about their anti-sugar or anti-GMO message.
Yes, the free market works for ideas, too. If you truly believe in the truth of your message, it will sell. Believing in limited government starts and finishes with understanding that our rights come from our Creator, not the state, and He decides the parameters of our liberty. Anything else leads to tyranny.
1. Rushdoony, Scott, Murray, Easy Chair Series, The Drug War, Recorded July 6, 1994.
2. Rushdoony, Law & Liberty, Ross House (1984), 78.
Steve Macias is a Reformed Christian and the executive director of Cherish California’s Children. http://www.cherishca.org
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided full credit is given.