A good example of the power of ideas occurred recently in El Paso, where the City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the federal government to consider legalizing drugs as a solution to the drug-war violence in Mexico. Although the mayor vetoed the resolution and El Paso’s congressman opposed it, the City Council’s unanimous enactment of the resolution shows the power of libertarian ideas to bring an end to immoral, vicious, destructive, and failed government policies.
When FFF was founded some twenty years ago, the idea of legalizing drugs was considered an extreme one. When we devoted the April 1990 issue of our journal Freedom Daily to the legalization of drugs, we knew that it was an unpopular position and that it would likely cost us donations, especially from conservatives.
But we also knew that it was imperative that we take a strong position on this issue, given the horrible damage and destruction that the drug war had already wreaked and was certain to continue doing. Of course, the next 20 years have proved us right, especially when one considers all the death and destruction that the drug war has caused not only here in the United States but also all over the world, especially in Mexico.
Many years ago, a student libertarian club at a public high school in Houston invited me to deliver a talk on libertarianism. The night before the event, some of FFF’s supporters sponsored an evening function, where I gave a speech in which I mentioned the idea of ending the drug war.
Two parents of students at the high school had come to the event. Early the next morning, they telephoned a member of the school board to report that a speaker was going to be on campus later that day to give a speech to students advocating drug legalization.
Shocked into action, the school board member contacted the principal of the school, who in turn contacted the sponsor of the student group that had invited me to give the talk. The sponsor explained to the principal that the talk was being delivered after school hours and that no one was being forced to attend. The principal, to his credit, decided to let the talk proceed.
Not surprisingly, all the controversy generated a large audience of both students and parents, including the parents who had complained. I gave my talk, which included all the reasons as to why drugs should be legalized — e.g., that people have a moral right to ingest harmful substances without being punished for it by the state, that the drug war had failed to accomplish its purported purpose, and that the war generated horrible collateral damage in the form of murder, gang wars, robberies, burglaries, and police and judicial corruption.
The Q&A session, as you can imagine, was lively, with virtually all the students in the audience supporting the idea of drug legalization. The parents, including those who had done the reporting, remained silent. One amusing exchange took place when one student asked, “Why are adults so scared of considering new ideas?” Before I could answer, another student responded, “I hear that that’s what happens to you when you get old.”
Today, the idea of drug legalization is a respectable and credible one. What better manifestation of that than the fact that mainstream politicians in the city council of a major American city have unanimously called for an end to the drug war?
Add to those city council members all the law-enforcement officers, judges, governors, and other public officials who have called for an end to the drug war. My hunch is that when the American people finally come to the realization that the federal warfare-welfare state is at the root of their woes, the first major program to go will be the drug war.
Unfortunately there are still people who won’t let go of this damaging and destructive war, including the mayor and congressman from El Paso. Such people simply have a difficult time letting go of their favorite government programs no matter how long they have been in existence, no matter how much death and destruction they wreak, and no matter how big a failure they are.
For such people, hope springs eternal that someone someplace will finally come up with a way to win the drug war. Bu it just won’t happen. We live in a consistent universe, one in which immoral means produce bad results. No matter what they do, the drug war will continue to be very damaging failure, and there is only one solution to it — end it.
As the late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman put it in his article “An Open Letter to Bill Bennett” which originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal and was reprinted in the April 1990 issue of Freedom Daily,
“Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore…. Decriminalizing drugs is even more urgent now than in 1972, but we must recognize that the harm done in the interim cannot be wiped out, certainly not immediately. Postponing decriminalization will only make matters worse, and make the problem appear even more intractable.”