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The Moral Case for Drug Freedom, Part 1

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My title is a radical one, and deliberately so.

There is a reason I did not say, “The Moral Case for Drug Legalization,” or, “The Moral Case for Drug Decriminalization,” or, “The Moral Case for Drug Regulation,” or, “The Moral Case for Medical Marijuana,” or, “The Moral Case for Relaxing Drug Laws,” or, “The Moral Case for Ending the Drug War.”

My title is also a positive one. If I were going to give it a negative title I might have said something like:

  • The Moral Case Against Religious Restrictionists
  • The Moral Case Against Pious Prohibitionists
  • The Moral Case Against Christian Crusaders
  • The Moral Case Against Fundamentalist Fascists
  • The Moral Case Against Puritanical Prudes
  • The Moral Case Against Nondenominational Nazis
  • The Moral Case Against Evangelical Extremists
  • The Moral Case Against Bible-Believing Busybodies
  • The Moral Case Against Meddling Moralists

I want to present the moral case for drug freedom. In the 15 or so years that I have been writing as a conservative Christian libertarian, and certainly not before that, I had never written anything, until last October for Mises Daily, exclusively about the subject of drugs. I hesitated to do so not because I had only recently came to the conclusion that the war on drugs was a monstrous evil. To the contrary, I can remember questioning the whole idea of drug prohibition and victimless crimes when I was just, for lack of a better term, a libertarian-leaning conservative. My hesitation in writing anything negative about drug prohibition was due to the pathetically predictable negative reaction I knew I would receive outside of libertarian circles, and especially due to the hysterical reaction I knew I would receive from some of my conservative Christian brethren.

The defenders of drug prohibition would argue:

  • I was in favor of drug abuse.
  • I was a liberal.
  • I was a libertine.
  • I was a pragmatist.
  • I was promoting the breakdown of society.
  • I was ignorant of the harmful effects of drugs.
  • I was sending the wrong message to young people.
  • I was denying established cultural norms.
  • I was focusing on money instead of morality.

Drug prohibitionists who consider themselves religious would argue likewise and add:

  • I was advocating situation ethics.
  • I was giving up on family values.
  • I was compromising with the world. 7
  • I was undermining Christian morality.
  • I was rejecting Judeo-Christian ethics.

In contrast to the emotional and shallow and superficial arguments against drug legalization by the typical drug warrior, the libertarian case for drug freedom is a utilitarian one and a philosophical one and a practical one, but it is also a moral one. I would like to begin by making two statements — two statements that may not seem radical to most libertarians, but that would not be welcomed in many political and religious circles:

  • It is neither the job of government nor the business of any individual to prohibit, regulate, restrict, or otherwise control what a man desires to eat, drink, smoke, inject, absorb, snort, sniff, inhale, swallow, or otherwise ingest into his body.
  • There is no ethical precept in any religion or moral code that should lead anyone to believe that it is the job of government to prohibit, regulate, restrict, or otherwise control what a man desires to eat, drink, smoke, inject, absorb, sniff, inhale, swallow, or otherwise ingest into his body.

I am not saying …

Now, in making these statements, I want to make clear some things I am not saying.

I am not saying that parents have no right to dictate to their children what is and is not acceptable when it comes to drug use. I just believe that father knows best, not that government knows best. Right now it is a crime in my state of Florida for parents to serve a beer or glass of wine to their children under the age of 21 — even if their children are married, have their own children, and serve in the military. That is absurd — and I don’t even drink.

I am not saying that employers have no right to mandate that employees abstain from using a particular drug or all drugs, smoking, having a beard, or wearing a pink shirt. Since I believe in freedom and property rights, I believe in the freedom of employers and employees to make employment contracts without government interference. If the owner of a restaurant insists that his waiters wear white tuxedos then they can either visit the local tuxedo shop or look for work elsewhere.

I am not saying that organizations — secular or religious — should not be able to require that their members abstain from drug use — legal or otherwise. Some organizations may mandate the total abstinence of their members from alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. Others might proscribe just alcohol, just drugs, or just tobacco. Still others might merely disdain drunkenness or getting high. Membership in an organization is voluntary, and one man’s paradise is another man’s prison. In a genuinely free society, restaurants, stores, churches, private clubs, and fraternal organizations would be free to set their own standards and discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, political ideology, religious piety, and drug use.

I am not saying that there is nothing harmful that can result from something’s being eaten, drunk, smoked, injected, absorbed, snorted, sniffed, inhaled, swallowed, or otherwise ingested into one’s body. I am well aware of the fact that people die all the time from drug overdoses. However, although people also die from drinking too much alcohol and smoking too many cigarettes, not too many drug prohibitionists ever call for absolute bans on alcohol and tobacco.

I am not saying that anyone should eat, drink, smoke, inject, absorb, snort, sniff, inhale, swallow, or otherwise ingest into his body any drug — legal or illegal. I am not advocating that anyone take any drug — legal or otherwise. The older and more informed I get, the more I am leery of ingesting any drugs, including over-the-counter medications and FDA-approved, physician-prescribed drugs.

I am not saying that I think it is acceptable for anyone to take drugs for any reason other than for medicinal or therapeutic purposes. I consider any other use to be a vice. But as the 19th-century political philosopher Lysander Spooner reminded us, “Vices are not crimes.”

I am not saying that I approve of school-bus drivers’ smoking a joint while they drive their buses, or mechanics’ getting buzzed while they repair your car, or people’s walking around stoned in public. Why is it that drug prohibitionists think that all Americans would be on a perpetual high if drugs were legalized? And why is it that they accuse freedom-lovers of desiring or being indifferent to such a society?

I am not saying that individuals and organizations should not be concerned about drug abuse. Most of the negative externalities that result from people’s taking drugs are due to the government’s war on drugs. In the absence of drug prohibition, drug abuse could be handled the same way as alcohol abuse — by families, friends, churches, rescue missions, Alcoholics Anonymous-type programs, physicians, psychologists, and treatment centers.

The beating heart

All I am saying is that I want the government out of my body. I want the state out of my home, my car, my job, my church, my family, my club, my doctor’s office, my insurance company, my bedroom, and my life. All I am saying is that it should be none of anyone’s business — as far as the law is concerned — if someone wants to get drunk, high, or stoned in a hotel bar, at a social event, or in his own home. All I am saying is that it is unjust to lock someone up in a cage for smoking a plant. All I am saying is that I want the government to take its hands off drugs and drug paraphernalia, (which are also illegal). Now, I neither use drugs nor own any drug paraphernalia, and I would buy neither even if they were legal, but just the same, I want the government to keep its hands off my property and your property. In the end, it all comes down to property and freedom, as I will argue throughout this essay.

Although evangelical, fundamentalist, independent, and other conservative Christians are some of the first groups that come to mind that zealously back drug prohibition, this is far from a religious issue. The myriad of drug laws in this country — and around the world for that matter — cannot be laid at the feet of conservative Christians. Support for drug prohibition can be found across the political and religious spectrum, encompassing liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, atheists and theists, the religious and the irreligious. I have heard it said by some libertarians that deep down inside of every man there beats the heart of a libertarian. I disagree. I think rather, and not just on this issue, that there beats the heart of a statist, an authoritarian, and a busybody who wants to remake society in his own image and compel others to live in ways that he approves of. There is no shortage of Americans willing to kill for the military, torture for the CIA, wiretap for the FBI, destroy property for the DEA, and grope for the TSA.

Speaking as a libertarian believer in moral absolutes in general and the ethical principles of the New Testament in particular, I reject federal, state, and local drug prohibition of any kind. I am against drug criminalization, drug regulation, drug restrictions, drug licensing, drug taxing, drug oversight, drug testing, and limiting drugs just to medical use.

Part 1 | Part 2

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 edition of Freedom Daily.

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