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Policy Overdose

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From 1990 to 1996 heroin use among high-school seniors was up one hundred percent.

Imagine how bad things would be if the war on drugs weren’t succeeding!

A report published in the journal Pediatrics attributes the increase to the falling price and higher purity of heroin, and to the belief that snorting or smoking heroin is less dangerous than injecting it.

This is interesting, especially when we compare it to the tobacco war that is being fought simultaneously. As far as I know, there is no animated character, Daffy Drug, he might be called, hawking heroin from billboards. Heroin makers don’t sponsor stock-car races. So maybe banishing Joe Camel won’t have its promised effect. Kids are using drugs even though they can’t be legally sold or promoted. That should tell us something. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe drugs are promoted openly. Come to think of it, the whole idiotic war on drugs is just a massive advertising campaign for drug use. What better way is there to get kids to do something than to warn them in apocalyptic tones never to do it? It is widely known that the DARE program teaches kids about drugs and has done nothing to reduce drug use. Obviously.

It’s time for a little sanity on the drug issue. Hysteria and prohibition are rotten ways to discourage people from buying, selling, and using products.

The misnamed war on drugs-it’s a war on people -should be ended forthwith. Besides promoting drugs, all it does is throw billions of dollars down a rat hole. That’s why many people favor of it of course. Lots of anti-drug professionals are at the bottom of that rat hole with open arms, collecting the money as though it was manna from heaven. They aren’t about to have the billions stop flowing. But we parents and taxpayers need to wise up and stop it anyway. We can’t afford the drug war, either in terms of money or in terms of our children’s lives.

Kids shouldn’t use drugs. No dispute there. But government is ill-equipped to prevent it. That should be left to parents and voluntary communities. Kids who grow up to have sensible attitudes about alcohol tend to come from families where it was visible and discussed calmly. The college-aged binge drinkers tend to come from families where the subject was off limits. Think about that for a moment and it makes perfect sense. We should let drugs be handled the same way. Turn the matter over to civil society-the network of voluntary associations-and take it away from all levels of government. Repeal the laws and penalties for making, selling, and using drugs. Trust freedom. Have we forgotten which country we live in?

Drug use would most likely go down, not up. Violent crime would fall also, because prohibition is the best producer of violence ever devised.

Many well-intentioned parents will resist this suggestion with the words, “But I fear my child will become addicted.” “Addiction” is not a disease that people catch. It’s a habit that they work to acquire. Drugs don’t come to children; they go to drugs. Children who have a sense of purpose and worth about their lives don’t look for comfort in drugs. If we want kids to stay away from harmful substances, we must focus on what makes life challenging and joyous. I submit that that role is outside the proper boundaries of a limited government. Considering the boredom the government puts kids through in its schools, it’s clear that the state is singularly unqualified to help children to create worthwhile lives.

The results are in, folks. Government cannot curtail drug use. But in its misguided attempt, it can make our cities unlivable, our basic liberties nonexistent, and our children targets.

Enough is enough.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.