#457: Common Cause

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #457 – Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Today the Los Angeles Times printed an OPED you may wish to forward
to your conservative friends.

You may forward this FOCUS Alert. You may also email any FOCUS Alert
from this webpage http://www.mapinc.org/focus/

Please also consider writing a letter to the editor about this OPED.

Professor Miron’s Cato Institute study is on line at


Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)

Page: A23, the OP-ED page

Copyright: 2010 Los Angeles Times

Contact: http://mapinc.org/url/bc7El3Yo

Author: Jeffrey A. Miron


Conservatism and Opposition to the Drug War Should Go Hand in Hand.

For decades, the U.S. debate over drug legalization has pitted
conservatives on one side against libertarians and some liberals on
the other. A few conservatives have publicly opposed the drug war
(e.g., National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.), but most
conservatives either endorse it or sidestep the issue.

Yet vigorous opposition to the drug war should be a no-brainer for
conservatives. Legalization would not only promote specific policy
objectives that are near and dear to conservative hearts, it is also
consistent with core principles that conservatives endorse in other contexts.

Legalization would be beneficial in key aspects of the war on terror.
Afghanistan is the world leader in opium production, and this trade
is highly lucrative because U.S.-led prohibition drives the market
underground. The Taliban then earns substantial income by protecting
opium farmers and traffickers from law enforcement in exchange for a
share of the profits. U.S. eradication of opium fields also drives
the hearts and minds of Afghan farmers away from the U.S. and toward
the Taliban.

Legalization could also aid the war on terror by freeing immigration
and other border control resources to target terrorists and WMD
rather than the illegal drug trade. Under prohibition, moreover,
terrorists piggyback on the smuggling networks established by drug
lords and more easily hide in a sea of underground, cross-border trafficking.

Legalizing drugs would support conservative opposition to gun
control. High violence rates in the U.S., and especially in Mexico,
are due in part to prohibition, which drives markets underground and
leads to violent resolution of disputes. With the reduced violence
that would result from legalization, advocates of gun control would
find it harder to scare the electorate into restrictive gun laws.

Legalization could ease conservative concerns over illegal
immigration. The wage differences between the United States and Latin
America are a major cause of the flow of illegal immigrants to the
U.S., but an exacerbating factor is the violence created by drug
prohibition in Mexico and other Latin American countries. With lower
violence rates under legalization, fewer residents of these countries
would seek to immigrate in the first place.

Beyond these specific issues, legalization is consistent with broad
conservative principles.

Prohibition is fiscally irresponsible. Its key goal is reduced drug
use, yet repeated studies find minimal impact on drug use. My
just-released Cato Institute study shows that prohibition entails
government expenditure of more than $41 billion a year. At the same
time, the government misses out on about $47 billion in tax revenues
that could be collected from legalized drugs. The budgetary windfall
from legalization would hardly solve the country’s fiscal woes.
Nevertheless, losing $88 billion in a program that fails to attain
its stated goal should be anathema to conservatives.

Drug prohibition is hard to reconcile with constitutionally limited
government. The Constitution gives the federal government a few
expressly enumerated powers, with all others reserved to the states
(or to the people) under the 10th Amendment. None of the enumerated
powers authorizes Congress to outlaw specific products, only to
regulate interstate commerce. Thus, laws regulating interstate trade
in drugs might pass constitutional muster, but outright bans cannot.
Indeed, when the United States wanted to outlaw alcohol, it passed
the 18th Amendment. The country has never adopted such constitutional
authorization for drug prohibition.

Drug prohibition is hopelessly inconsistent with allegiance to free
markets, which should mean that businesses can sell whatever products
they wish, even if the products could be dangerous. Prohibition is
similarly inconsistent with individual responsibility, which holds
that individuals can consume what they want – even if such behavior
seems unwise – so long as these actions do not harm others.

Yes, drugs can harm innocent third parties, but so can – and do –
alcohol, cars and many other legal products. Consistency demands
treating drugs like these other goods, which means keeping them legal
while punishing irresponsible use, such as driving under the influence.

Legalization would take drug control out government’s incompetent
hands and place it with churches, medical professionals, coaches,
friends and families. These are precisely the private institutions
whose virtues conservatives extol in other areas.

By supporting the legalization of drugs, conservatives might even
help themselves at the ballot box. Many voters find the conservative
combination of policies confusing at best, inconsistent and
hypocritical at worst. Because drug prohibition is utterly out of
step with the rest of the conservative agenda, abandoning it is a
natural way to win the hearts and minds of these voters.

Jeffrey A. Miron is a senior lecturer and director of undergraduate
studies at Harvard University and a senior fellow at the Cato
Institute. Miron is the author of “Libertarianism, from A to Z” and
blogs at jeffreymiron.com.


Prepared by: Richard Lake, Focus Alert Specialist www.mapinc.org