The War on Drugs Is Far More Immoral Than Most Drug Use

Conor Friedersdorf
The Atlantic
April 4, 2013

 

Russell Diercks smokes marijuana inside of Frankie Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia, Washington on December 9, 2012

Russell Diercks smokes marijuana inside of Frankie Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia, Washington on December 9, 2012. | REUTERS/Nick Adams

In the Washington Post, Peter Wehner advises the Republican Party to reassert itself as the anti-drug-legalization party. “One of the main deterrents to drug use is because it is illegal. If drugs become legal, their price will go down and use will go up,” he writes. “And marijuana is far more potent than in the past. Studies have shown that adolescents and young adults who are heavy users of marijuana suffer from disrupted brain development and cognitive processing problems.” Of course, no one is advocating that adolescent marijuana be made legal. And does Wehner understand that prohibition creates a powerful incentive for upping drug potency?

But rather than focus on mistaken arguments common to drug prohibitionists, I want to address a relatively novel claim: “Many people cite the ‘costs’ of and ‘socioeconomic factors’ behind drug use; rarely do people say that drug use is wrong because it is morally problematic, because of what it can do to mind and soul,” Wehner writes. “In some liberal and libertarian circles, the ‘language of morality’ is ridiculed. It is considered unenlightened, benighted and simplistic. The role of the state is to maximize individual liberty and be indifferent to human character.”

So take a look at the guy in the photo and make your choice: Is it more moral to let him smoke, or to forcibly cage him with thieves, rapists, and murderers?

What he doesn’t seem to understand is that many advocates of individual liberty, myself included, regard liberty itself as a moral imperative. I don’t want to ridicule the “language of morality.” I want to state, as forcefully as possible, that the War on Drugs is deeply, irredeemably immoral; that it corrodes the minds and souls of those who prosecute it, and creates incentives for bad behavior that those living under its contours have always and will always find too powerful to resist. Drug warriors may disagree, but they should not pretend that they are the only ones making moral claims, and that their opponents are indifferent to morality. Reformers are often morally outraged by prohibitionist policies and worry that nannying degrades the character of citizens.

Perhaps I should be more specific.

See the man in the photo at the top of this article? It isn’t immoral for him to light a plant on fire, inhale the smoke, and enjoy a mild high for a short time, presuming he doesn’t drive while high. But it would be immoral to react to his plant-smoking by sending men with guns to forcibly arrest him, convict him in a court, and lock him up for months or even years for a victimless crime. That’s the choice, dear reader. So take a look at the guy in the photo and make your choice: Is it more moral to let him smoke, or to forcibly cage him with thieves, rapists, and murderers?

Read the full article: The War on Drugs Is Far More Immoral Than Most Drug Use