America loves to declare war. On drugs. On terror. On poverty. And, probably soon, on climate change. One wonders how long it is until the federal executive (without the support of Congress) simply declares war. Who knows what on? Just war. On everything. Americans like war.
The war on drugs is perhaps the most spectacular failure of America’s domestic policy since prohibition. It is the worst failure of British domestic policy in perhaps even longer. And yet, the masses continue to bleat for more “war on drugs”. Just not on cannabis. That shit’s funny, after all, and not nearly as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco.
The “war on drugs” is a sham properly called the war on some drugs. Because a war on some drugs it is. If you want to smoke a cigarette or get outrageously pissed, then you are free to do so. On the other hand, if you have the unmitigated temerity to smoke a joint in your living room, then you’re a criminal who must be incarcerated for up to fourteen years.
The war on some drugs is an affront to the concepts of moral autonomy and individual sovereignty, which I value above all other ethical concepts. The question is essentially this: Who should dictate what I as a sovereign individual can and cannot do with my own body, provided that I do not harm anyone else; me or the state? When phrased like this, most people will instinctively answer that it is the individual, and not the state, who must be allowed the right to control the individual. However, most people have a hard time extending this notion to drugs.
“It may be”, they will drone, “that many, or even most individuals using drugs are harmless. But many are violent, and there is a massive drugs trade that facilitates and funds gang activities. By taking drugs, you are severely harming others.”
I am sad to say that this is the most intelligent pro-war on some drugs argument that I have ever heard, and am ever likely to hear. It is, of course, nonsense. The vast, vast majority of violent drug users are alcoholics. What solution did the 1919 American Congress offer to that? Ban alcohol. And, of course, it worked. It worked superbly. Oh no – wait. It was a miserable fucking failure.
Prohibition criminalised law-abiding, moral citizens, and turned them towards psychotic gangsters in order to get their alcohol. Just because people weren’t legally allowed to drink alcohol, that didn’t stop most people from doing so. The profits of the alcohol trade, instead of going to legal entities, went instead to the criminal underworld. People like Al Capone rose to power on the back of prohibition.
In the case of Capone, he made so much money that he all but wiped out his criminal opposition in Chicago, the city which he ruled de facto by bribing the police, judiciary, and mayoral office. Everyone knew that Capone was a drugs-peddler, as well as a violent lunatic (he once smashed someone’s head in with a baseball bat at a mafia meeting), but he was still popular among the Chicagoan public and untouchable in the legal system.
Prohibition in America created the black markets for criminals to make money from and engage in turf wars over. The repeal of prohibition ended these problems. When was the last time you heard of a shootout between Guinness and Budweiser? How about a turf war between Jamieson and Glenfiddich? I’m guessing you never have, and it’s because the legalisation of alcohol has ended the gangsterism and violence with which it was once associated.
Is it really any wonder that the drugs trade is so violent? In the absence of legal companies to provide drugs, scum will profiteer from the black market, and literally, millions of non-violent people will be imprisoned for the shocking crimes of smoking cannabis, taking ecstasy, and snorting cocaine (among others.)
The war on some drugs is an affront to individual sovereignty. It is a failure if one considers its consequences (although idiots will dismiss this argument out of hand.) It is also predicated upon the absurd belief that the state can somehow instil moral character into people by regulating their consumption of mind-altering chemicals (classical republicans believed that the state should instil moral character. Clearly their pernicious influence hasn’t done us all a favour and fucked off yet.)