Economist Dan Mitchell captures my sentiments precisely on the issue of the illegalizatoin and prosecution of drug offenders in a recent blog post. His introduction is a succinct summary that I align with:
I’m not a fan of the War on Drugs, even though I’m personally very socially conservative on the use of drugs. Regardless of my individual preferences, I recognize that prohibition gives government the power to trample our rights, that it is borderline (if not over-the-line) racist, and that it leads to horrible injustices.
I’d much prefer for law enforcement resources be allocated to fighting crimes that actually have victims.
Mitchell then goes on to describe how drug illegalization is not only expensive, it is economically counter-productive. Expanding on this, my own additional thoughts on the matter is focused on the strain of social conservatism that opposes drug legalization strictly on moral grounds, which makes it philosophically impossible for them to support legalization as any sort of priority. My counter argument is that there is moral logic to overturning current illegalization approaches that should allow even social conservatives to not have to look at their shoes when professing support for drug legalization. This does not have to be translated into support for the idea for drug use per se, think of it as more of an endorsement in support of compassion for those who get trapped in a cycle of addiction and further support of policies that are actually more effective at getting them out of that cycle. Additionally, think of it as defense of individual liberty and freedom when individual choices do not cause others harm. True crimes and prosecutions should have a victim. In my opinion, the potential and evident harm of power ceded to the government to prosecute this issue is far more problematic than actions of individual choices made by drug users. It is clear from decades of experience that to criminalize drug users’ behavior through aggressive use of the justice system is not only tremendously expensive, it is inhumane and places people into a spiral of poverty, recidivism, and subjugates people guilty of what ultimately amount to minor offenses against society into a prison system that is a veritable petri dish for spawning more malignant forms of lifelong crime.
To put it bluntly, I would submit that there is an inherent immorality in stances that support locking up people for years over drug use and immorality in policies that ultimately support and enrich murderous drug gangs that benefit from inflated drug prices that criminalization fosters. Would it not be far better to spend our justice system and prison dollars on actual hardened criminals rather than locking up drug offenders, a policy which tends to turn more benign people in need of charity and help into the very hardened criminals we are presumably seeking to numerically reduce?
If we want a role for the state in combating drug use, we should spend it on abstinence, mental health, and drug recovery and rehab programs that are far more compassionate and effective as well as less prone to creating hardened criminals who are much more difficult to redeem later on. An added bonus is that this approach is less costly and less prone to creating government abuses.