Friday, September 20, 2013

Addressing Common Arguments Against Drug Legalization

Addressing Common Arguments Against Drug Legalization

Thanks to C. Jay Engel for his helpful suggestions.

The drug war is controversial among many sincere, Bible-believing Christians of all backgrounds. Some Christians support it wholly, holding that it is moral and biblical; others hold a middle-of-the-road approach to the drug war, accepting some aspects as biblical and condemning others as unbiblical; and still others wholly oppose the drug war as immoral and anti-liberty, and they oppose the drug war from a Christian standpoint, be they conservative, liberal or libertarian. I find myself in the third camp, and I will show you why.

First, I hold that the drug war is a war on liberty and freedom of choice. Second, I hold that the drug war is a war on the limited government system that the framers intended. And finally, I hold it to be a war on both federalism and civil liberties.

There are several pro-drug war arguments that are made against the Christian libertarian who opposes the drug war and I would like to take a look at them below.

1. The drug war is an agent of God to stand up for righteousness in this wicked era. This view is particularly popular among many fundamentalist or traditionalist Christians who are distressed at the wickedness of many modern-day youth, particularly since the 60s. The saying, “What one generation tolerates, the next generation embraces,” is particularly taken by them to be an example as to why we ought to have a war on drugs. S. Michael Houdmann, host of, says this in defense of the drug war: Marijuana has been called a gateway drug. If the high from marijuana is no longer sufficient, users will begin to seek after stronger illicit drugs, i.e., cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, etc. Further, once marijuana is legalized, it will become exceedingly easy for young people to gain access to it. We have already seen this firsthand in Colorado, as the use of marijuana among teenagers has skyrocketed since medical marijuana was legalized. The supposed requirement of a prescription has not been a deterrent. The legal requirement to be 21 years of age will not prevent young people from gaining access to marijuana just as it has not prevented them from gaining access to alcohol.” Later on he says, “Legalization legitimizes.” Now let's see if that's really true. Let's refer to Laurence M. Vance, a libertarian Christian author who specializes on the issues of war and the drug war. In his piece “Should Christians Support the Drug War?,” Vance says this, “We know that murder, robbery, and rape are both crimes and sins, but everything the state or the authorities brand a crime is not necessarily a sin. This has been true in all ages.” He later goes on to show that “Sin is 'whatsoever is not of faith' (Romans 14:23). Sin is transgressing the divine law (1 John 3:14). Sin is knowing to do good and doing it not (James 4:17). Sin is 'all unrighteousness' (1 John 5:17). But if not all crimes are sins, then why are some Christians often so quick to nod in agreement when it comes to the state's war on drugs? The only explanation is that some Christians think that disobeying the state is itself a crime. They have made the state into a god. They have violated the First Commandment.” As I said in my previous post on the compatibility of libertarianism and Christianity, “We should not make such vices criminal, as they are not; there are mere sins against one’s own body (or another body if any consensual sinner was involved).” Even conservative Christians don't want to criminalize every sin, just the ones they feel are too immoral to tolerate (like homosexual activity, non-biblical “marriages,” polygamy, same-sex “marriage,” drug usage, pornography). Later on, Vance shows us that “not all sins are crimes. If they were, then everyone would be in trouble, Christians included, for the Bible says that 'there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not' (Ecclesiastes 7:20).” He shows that the Christian should endorse the doctrine laid out by the nineteenth-century libertarian theorist and constitutional lawyer Lysander Spooner on vices and crimes: “Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another. Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.” Vance says, “There are two types of victimless crimes: the immoral and the moral. This is because God's law never changes. What the state declares to be a crime one day can be declared not to be a crime the next day. Immoral victimless crimes are crimes that are sins in the eyes of God even if the state one day declares them not to be crimes; moral victimless crimes are crimes that have been labeled as such by the state that are not, in and of themselves, sins in the eyes of God. But either way, every crime needs a victim.” Thus, for example, take the example of wine. Let's say that the State returns to the days of Prohibition and bans all alcohol, including wine. Many Christians go back to supporting it due to the fact that since alcohol is dangerous, it should be banned, right? Well, whatever one holds to regarding the Bible and alcohol, we must recognize that it is not a sin per se and thus should not be banned. Even those who abstain from alcohol would oppose Prohibition. Anyways, the Apostle Paul didn't go around supporting legislation to criminalize immoral acts, and neither did Jesus Christ. The apostles didn't go around supporting legislation; in fact, the major support for such legislation came during the reign of the emperor Constantine, where the Catholic Church and the state were mixed. From thence on, in my view, many churches, both Protestant and Catholic, became more statist (and many remain so). This is not to say that true Christianity is statist in any sense but rather that churches has harbored many of anti-liberty proponents throughout history. This is to say, however, that the church has harbored some of the most anti-liberty proponents in church history. Of course, it is our position that it was unbiblical and even anti-Christian to do so. Unfortunately, many more “Protestants” during the 20th century celebrated Prohibition and, with the exception of few ministers such as the libertarian-leaning evangelical theologian J. Gresham Machen, supported it on the grounds that we must stamp out evil. It was in part based on an unbiblical nativism of sorts and an unhealthy view of Catholics, other Protestant groups and immigrants. And thus we proceed to the second argument for the drug war.

2. The drug war is necessary to help families. This is one of those highly emotional cases for the drug war, out of a sense of wanting to save families from the scourge of drugs. However, there is one book entitled Children of the Drug War, which is available for free download at the home page. It contains many essays on the damaging effects of the war on drugs, particularly this chapter “Dancing with Despair: A Mother's Perspective,” which is written by Gretchen Bergman. She says,
Our children are at the forefront of the war on drugs, and our families are the collateral damage. Instead of working in partnership with health care providers and criminal justice to intervene and usher a sick individual into proper services, families are stranded in our collective frustration and grief. There are an estimated 2.3 million people behind bars in the United States today (one in a hundred adults). Approximately one-quarter of those people held in U.S. prisons or jails have been convicted of a drug offense. Half a million people are incarcerated for drug crimes, more than the European Union incarcerates for all crimes, and they have 100 million more people. The United States represents 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Now California has a $10 billion prison budget, largely because of drug offenses and drug related parole violations. California spends approximately $49,000 per year to house an inmate. Two-thirds of people admitted to prison in California are parole violators, which I find to be the absolute definition of 'revolving door' insanity (“Dancing with Despair: A Mother's Perspective” by Gretchen Burns Bergman in Children of the Drug War, edited by Damon Barrett, p. 124).

If this doesn't cause people to rethink some of their views on the drug war, then what will? Later on, Bergman goes on to state: “In many neighborhoods of color and/or poverty, it has become the norm to have a parent locked away in prison for drug use or drug-related behavior. The consequences of a drug conviction may include permanent loss of educational and employment opportunities...and in many states, the right to vote (ibid., pp. 124-25).” Anthony Gregory, in his article “The Right and the Drug War,” points out that “

If this doesn't cause people to rethink some of their views on the drug war, then what will? Later on, Bergman goes on to state: “In many neighborhoods of color and/or poverty, it has become the norm to have a parent locked away in prison for drug use or drug-related behavior. The consequences of a drug conviction may include permanent loss of educational and employment opportunities...and in many states, the right to vote (ibid., pp. 124-25).” Anthony Gregory, in his article “The Right and the Drug War,” points out that “
drug prohibition has achieved even more as a usurpation of traditional morality and the social order. Constitutionalism, states’ rights, subsidiarity, community norms, traditional medicine, family authority, and the role of the church have all been violently pushed aside to wage an impossibly ambitious national project to control people in the most intimate of ways. For years, the federal DARE program encouraged children to rat out their parents for minor drug offenses, an intrusion into family life all too reminiscent of Soviet Russia.” In response to those who claim that drugs harm families and thus should be illegal, the libertarian economist Art Carden points out: “These costs are all too real as the legacy of families torn apart by drug abuse suggests. If we are going to adopt this utilitarian line of reasoning, though, then we have to weigh the costs to families against the social costs created by the unintended consequences of the war on drugs. The drug war is an integral part of the rapidly growing American prison population. Outlawing marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs created a whole new class of crimes and moved traffic in psychoactive drugs out of the legitimate marketplace and into the black market.” Ifetayo Harvey, media intern for the Drug Policy Alliance, points out: “To ignore the impact of incarceration on the family is to ignore how the drug war continues to dismantle black and Latino communities. The United States' prison population -- fueled by the war on drugs -- is increasing, with blacks and Latinos being the majority of those incarcerated. 2.7 million children are growing up in U.S. households in which one or more parents are incarcerated. Two-thirds of these parents are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, primarily drug offenses. One in nine black children has an incarcerated parent, compared to one in 28 Latino children and one in 57 white children.” A report from the ACLU (which has been endlessly mocked by Christians and conservatives both for good and bad reasons) shows that “the number of women with convictions, especially low-level drug-related convictions, has skyrocketed. Over the past two decades, the number of women in prison increased at a rate nearly double that of men. Women of color are disproportionately affected: African-American women are more than three times as likely as white women to be incarcerated, and Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely. Two thirds of women state prisoners are the mothers of minor children.” All of this is not intended to justify the usage of drugs within families, and this is not intent on whitewashing the evils of drugs that inflict many families. Still, is incarceration and criminalization of drugs really the answer?

3. The drug war is necessary to punish the evil drug lords. This is particularly popular among the classical law-and-order American conservatives who want to punish the drug lords, many of whom are connected with gangs, ensnare youth to join their gangs and commit violence against family members and innocent civilians, all while the black market in drugs grow. Thus, these conservatives hold that the drug war is necessary to keep the drug lords in jail. However, as many people have pointed out, it is precisely because of the drug war that drug lords create a black market where the drugs flourish and where they get their profits. This truth was immortalized in Steven Soderbergh's 2000 movie Traffic (which I haven't seen). They show that legalizing drugs will prevent the drug lords from enriching themselves. Ilana Mercer in 2001 points out that “Drug dealers are not responsible for the incarceration on any given day of some 500,000 adults--100,000 of whom are nonviolent--in U.S. jails for drug taking. It is not drug lords that carry out unconstitutional assaults on adults because they happen to choose to consume marijuana, heroin, or cocaine, instead of alcohol, nicotine, or prescription drugs. Governments do.” Only a government can oppress minorities, blacks and families. Only a government can put you in jail for consuming unapproved drugs instead of approved drugs, many of which may be more dangerous than the unapproved drugs. Anyways, as bad as drug lords may be, and as much as they need to be put in jail, they should be jailed not for selling the drugs but for sometimes using aggression as a means to do so. For example, if a drug dealer doesn't use violence in his selling of drugs, he shouldn't be arrested and locked up, but if a drug dealer uses criminal violence, he should be locked up.

4. But what about the children? This is the classic, timeless excuse for almost any state program pertaining to welfare, morality or whatnot. Bringing children in the picture can often help the state grow and increase its power. Take, for example, gun control. Many left-wing gun control supporters often bring up the alleged risk that guns bring to children, bringing up horror stories of children misusing guns and either inflicting harm on either themselves or others. However, many have pointed out that there are exaggerations in these stories. Another example would be the case of Prohibition. During the late nineteenth century and the rise of progressive ideas, many Christians and prohibitionists, especially women, latched onto worries that children will fall prey to “demon rum” and thus supported an amendment to ban Prohibition. Guess where that led? That led to people looking to harder alcohol and instead of looking to beer and wine, they consumed dangerous alcohol. And then we had Al Capone and those speakeasies. Anyways, Lew Rockwell points out in one of his articles,
The real issue concerns the locus of control. Does it belong to the family or the state? When there is a dispute, to whom does the presumption of innocence belong? It is not enough to say: here is a bad family environment, so of course the state should control the outcome. When it comes to the power of the state over the family, there is no such thing as a judicious use. The state has every reason to invent reasons to destroy families — and all other independent centers of authority — and the families themselves have no choice but to crawl and beg. State campaigns for the welfare of children have always been a major justification for the expansion of leviathan. This is the primary basis for the war on drugs, which has robbed us of so many civil liberties. It is the basis for the nationalization of education that is taking place, administration by administration, in the name of preventing any child from being left behind. If the internet is ever regulated in the US the way it is in China and parts of Europe, it will be in the name of protecting the children. Indeed, it is possible to erect a totalitarian state in the name of helping the children.
My conclusion then is that the drug war is not only immoral and unethical, but also that the arguments against it are unfounded and dangerous to liberty. Drugs should not be the target of government intervention. That is to say, all drugs should be legalized.

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