Libertarians are wrong on drugs

While conservatives and libertarians share many policy preferences on the spectrum of the right, here's one area where we differ. And it's a big one.

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SOURCE: John P. Walters, Politico

The libertarian commitment to freedom should absolutely be acknowledged and, in a time of growing state control, defended.

Libertarians and social conservatives both resist an intrusive central government, but they differ over exactly what constitutes “intrusive” policy, especially when it comes to private behavior.

Nowhere is this divide more obvious than in the war on drugs. Social conservatives are troubled by drug abuse, especially among the young, and believe that government regulation of certain substances is necessary to curb behavior seen not only as self-destructive but also incompatible with a strong and free community. Libertarians, on the other hand, argue that the heavy-handedness of the nanny state, and the law-enforcement abuses likely to accompany it, present a greater threat to freedom than the prohibited behavior itself. As Milton Friedman put it, “the present system of drug prohibition … does so much more harm than good.”

The libertarian commitment to freedom should absolutely be acknowledged and, in a time of growing state control, defended. But, when it comes to drugs, libertarians have yet to grasp just how much drug abuse undermines individual freedom and erodes the very core of the libertarian ideal.

Many libertarians argue that the state should have no power over adult citizens and their decision to ingest addictive substances—so long as they do no harm to anyone but themselves. Hence, there should be no laws against using drugs, and over time this self-destructive behavior will limit itself.

But this harmless world is not the real world of drug use. There is ample experience that a drug user harms not only himself, but also many others. The association between drug use and social and economic failure, domestic violence, pernicious parenting and criminal acts while under the influence is grounds for prohibition even if we accept no responsibility for what the drug user does to himself. The drug user’s freedom to consume costs his community not only their safety, but also their liberty.


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