legalize drugs

by eddems
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Is it irresponsible for libertarians to favor legalizing marijuana?


QUESTION: How can you promote legalization of pot, and consider yourselves responsible adults?

MY SHORT ANSWER: Don't confuse promoting legalization of something with promotion of its use. That's the trap that Prohibitionists got themselves into with alcohol earlier this century.

marijuana leafAfter alcohol became illegal in 1920, the horrific consequences of Prohibition quickly became apparent. People died from the poisons in black market "bathtub gin." Organized crime thrived; shootouts and turf battles endangered innocent bystanders. Police were corrupted by bribes that dwarfed their pay. The homicide rate doubled.

Consequently, many of the very people who clamored for Prohibition began lobbying for its repeal. For example, the wealthy philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler and a staunch supporter of Prohibition at the start, wrote in 1932:

"When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before."

After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the murder rate promptly dropped; people stopped dying from bathtub gin. Police went back to protecting the public, rather than the mob.

The lesson from Prohibition was clear: alcohol may be bad, but prohibition is worse. The same is true today with drug prohibition: the War on Drugs actually kills more people than the drugs themselves. (For details, see Chapter 15 in my book Healing Our World, available from the Advocates [latest 2003 edition] or as a free download [older 1992 edition] at

The responsible approach is to end prohibition of marijuana and other drugs -- so that we may focus our resources on helping those who are willing to trade their health for a high.

Alcoholism is now treated as a medical problem, not a criminal offense; consequently, Americans are drinking less today than they did during Prohibition.

If we want to end the drug problem, we must first end the even more dangerous War on Drugs.

LEARN MORE (suggested reading from the editor):

"Alcohol Prohibition Was a Failure," a Cato Institute policy analysis by Mark Thornton. Excerpt: "National prohibition of alcohol (1920-33) -- the 'noble experiment' -- was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America. The results of that experiment clearly indicate that it was a miserable failure on all counts. The evidence affirms sound economic theory, which predicts that prohibition of mutually beneficial exchanges is doomed to failure.

"The lessons of Prohibition remain important today. They apply not only to the debate over the War on Drugs but also to the mounting efforts to drastically reduce access to alcohol and tobacco and to such issues as censorship and bans on insider trading, abortion, and gambling."