Although the U.S. governments wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken center stage for the better part of the last ten years, there is another failed war that has been waged by the federal government for the past forty years.
The war on drugs was declared by President Richard Nixon on June 17, 1971.
Speaking at a press conference in the Briefing Room at the White House, Nixon announced his plan:
I would like to summarize for you the meeting that I have just had with the bipartisan leaders which began at 8 oclock and was completed 2 hours later. I began the meeting by making this statement, which I think needs to be made to the Nation: Americas public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.
Nixon left no doubt as to the scope of his offensive:
This will be a worldwide offensive dealing with the problems of sources of supply, as well as Americans who may be stationed abroad, wherever they are in the world. It will be government wide, pulling together the nine different fragmented areas within the government in which this problem is now being handled, and it will be nationwide in terms of a new educational program that we trust will result from the discussions that we have had.
He went on to say how essential it was for the American people to be alerted to this danger.
In a special message to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control on the same day, Nixon declared drug use to be a menace, an increasing grave threat, and a national emergency.
He also continued his military rhetoric:
I am transmitting legislation to the Congress to consolidate at the highest level a full-scale attack on the problem of drug abuse in America.
The problems of drug abuse must be faced on many fronts.
To wage an effective war against heroin addiction, we must have international cooperation. In order to secure such cooperation, I am initiating a worldwide escalation in our existing programs for the control of narcotics traffic, and I am proposing a number of new steps for this purpose.
The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 provides a sound base for the attack on the problem of the availability of narcotics in America.
Nixon then issued Executive Order No. 11599 establishing the Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP) in the Executive Office of the President. He also appointed the first drug czar, Dr. Jerome H. Jaffe, as Special Consultant to the President for Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
Nixons war on drugs really took off after the formation of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 1973 and the declaration of an all-out global war on the drug menace.
This does not mean that the federal government didnt fight against drugs before Nixon declared his war. To the contrary, the feds have waged war on personal freedom via the drug war since the passage in 1905 of the first federal anti-narcotics law aimed at ending the opium trade in the Philippines.
This was followed by the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the Opium Exclusion Act of 1909, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the Narcotic Control Act of 1956, and the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.
And since the beginning of Nixons war, we have had the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act of 1988, the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003, and the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005.
And who can forget the D.A.R.E. school-lecture program, Just Say No clubs, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free Americas television ad featuring a hot skillet, an egg, and the phrase, This is your brain on drugs.
The case against the drug war has been made so many times that, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will limit myself to ten key points:
- The war on drugs costs American taxpayers over $40 billion a year.
- For the first half of our nations history there were no prohibitions against any drug.
- The war on drugs is not authorized by the Constitution.
- Tobacco kills more people every year than all of the people killed by all illegal drugs in the twentieth century.
- The war on drugs has done nothing to reduce the demand for illicit drugs.
- Numerous studies have shown that smoking marijuana is less dangerous than drinking alcohol.
- The war on drugs is the cause of our unnecessarily swelled prison populations.
- Alcohol abuse, not drug abuse, is one of the leading causes of premature deaths in the United States.
- The war on drugs has ruined more lives than drugs themselves.
- More people in America die every year from drugs prescribed and administered by physicians than from illegal drugs.To drug warriors, these things dont matter: Because taking drugs is bad for ones health and morally corrupting, the state has the duty to regulate and ban them.
But as true and important as these things are, the drug-warrior statists are right about dismissing them for in the end they really dont matter. And there are many other things that dont matter as well.
It doesnt matter if the drug war can or cant be won. It doesnt matter if drug addiction destroys or doesnt destroy lives and families. It doesnt matter if marijuana is or isnt a gateway drug. It doesnt matter if the majority of Americans support or dont support the drug war. It doesnt matter if marijuana is or isnt beneficial for pain management. It doesnt matter if fighting the drug war is or isnt a bipartisan issue. It doesnt matter if cocaine and heroin are or arent addictive. It doesnt matter if drug use would or wouldnt increase if drugs were legalized. It doesnt matter if advocates for drug decriminalization want or dont want to get high. It doesnt matter if smoking crack is or isnt dangerous. It doesnt matter if drug use is or isnt immoral. It doesnt matter if the war on drugs is or isnt worth it.
What matters is personal freedom, private property, personal responsibility, individual liberty, personal and financial privacy, free markets, limited government, and the natural right to be left alone if one is not aggressing against his someone and is doing anything thats peaceful.
Ending the war on drugs is not an esoteric issue of libertarians or a pet issue of those who want to get high. Once the government claims control over what a man smokes, snorts, sniffs, inhales, or otherwise ingests into his body, there is no limit to its power. As the economist Ludwig von Mises so eloquently said: As soon as we surrender the principle that the state should not interfere in any questions touching on the individuals mode of life, we end by regulating and restricting the latter down to the smallest detail. The war on drugs is incompatible with a free society.