By Clark Ruper
The Drug War is the single most harmful policy of the United States government. It must end and it is time for libertarians of all stripes to do our part.
Ending drug prohibition has always been a core libertarian position. What could be a more basic liberty than an individual deciding what to put into their own body? In fact, the Libertarian Party was founded in 1971 largely in response to Richard Nixon launching the Drug War (along with price controls and other outrageously evil policies).
Students For Liberty has consistently been a voice for drug legalization in the past, including a “Legalize Choice” campaign in 2012, sponsoring 420 rallies, and the ever-present advocacy website. But we need to do more.
We need to focus on the Drug War again
It seems that drug policy reform has not been a major focus of libertarians. I only have anecdotal evidence to say this, but it seems like we have broadly prioritized taxes, regulation, and trade policy while keeping drug reform on the back burner.
Maybe this is because of a desire to appear mainstream and respectable, to not live up to the stereotype of being “pot smoking Republicans.” Or maybe because our love of Austrian economics leads to a prioritization of monetary and fiscal policy. Or maybe because of the long-standing, but increasingly waning fusionist alliance with conservatives we have downplayed the issue for political acceptance.
Personally, I know this was my experience in college. I was a member of the University of Michigan Students For Sensible Drug Policy, but it was probably fourth on my group prioritization scale. I remember being asked as a sophomore “if you could change one policy overnight, what would it be?” I’m pretty sure my answer was to eliminate the capital gains tax…..oh, what an idiot you were, Clark of the past.
Further research into the topic has radically changed my perspective. I am now firmly of the belief that ending the drug war is the single most important policy change our government could make right now. The costs of the drug war are far too high to measure, but here is just a sample:
Costs of the war on drugs
- Countless individuals imprisoned for victimless crimes, leading to the world’s highest incarceration rate.
- The destruction of vibrant local communities.
- Creation of black markets that drive drug profits to organized crime.
- Institutionalized racism in the form of vast racial disparities in prison populations and sentencing mandates.
- The militarization of police.
- Enforcing the drug war overseas, fueling disastrous civil wars in places like Colombia and Mexico, to name a couple.
- The simple, mind-blowing monetary cost!
- Hampering research into medical practices such as treating PTSD.
- The incalculable opportunity cost of police forces focusing on drug prohibition instead of real violent crime.
And yet we could stop all this incalculable damage overnight, and begin the healing process, by simply repealing prohibition.
Fortunately, dedicated activists have been working on this issue for decades, and thanks to them progress has been made. Organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project have put forth and pushed viable policy alternatives to prohibition.
Students for a Sensible Drug Policy was founded in 1998, and has since grown to an international network of drug policy reformers, along the way achieving victories such as a partial repeal of the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty (HEAAEP).
Libertarians have helped in these efforts, but we have not done nearly enough. The drug policy reform movement has achieved major victories, such as establishing medical marijuana in 36 states and full recreational use in 17.
We young people are lucky because we can take a long view of social change. Owing to the work of drug policy reformers, the tide is turning. We can end this disastrous war on drugs in our lifetimes. It is time for young libertarians to step up and do our part.
Take Action Now
- Join your campus chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. If your school does not have a group yet, start one.
- Co-host events with other pro-reform groups.
- Hold debates on the topic (if you can find someone to defend the status quo, which is becoming increasingly difficult because they are cowards).
- Find out about local initiatives in your state, city, or county and get involved.
Victory over the war is possible. Repealing prohibition works. We can bring peace and justice to countless individuals and communities. The time to act is now.
To read more about the Drug War, be sure to check out our cluster page by clicking on the button below.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.