John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Rethinking the War on Drugs

Posted on August 20, 2009

Should We Rethink the War on Drugs?


            A very conservative friend of mine sent me a YouTube Video clip of Milton Friedman explaining why he thought that a prohibition on illegal drug use was not only a waste of time, but a serious threat to freedom.  I was a little surprised, not by the video, but by the fact that my friend sent it to me.


            I have long known that Friedman and other conservative intellectuals, like William Buckley, were against the war on drugs.  But that has not stopped most Republicans politicians (and Democratic politicians for that matter) from supporting such a prohibition.  And the politicians follow the desires of most voters, who are uncomfortable with the idea of decriminalizing controlled substances, like heroin and crystal meth. 


            But it may be time to rethink the war on drugs. 


            Is it working?  Can we afford to put so many people in jail and then keep them there for extended periods?  Is it smart to put so many kids in prison where they can learn how to be better criminals when they get out?  Why can’t we just raise a bunch of tax revenue and regulate the drug industry like we regulate alcohol and tobacco? 


            The fact of the matter is that powerful drugs like heroin can have a devastating impact on the lives of average Americans.  In suburban Virginia, several high school students died from overdosing on heroin.  These were normal kids one day, drug addicts the next, and dead the day after that.  Crystal meth has hollowed out whole communities in the rural parts of America, causing crime epidemics that are straining the resources of small town throughout the country.


            The critical question is, though, does banning such activity make it even more dangerous?  Does it force users to go to unsavory characters, gang-members, drug pushers to get their fix?  Or would a more regulated drug regime make drug use even more attractive for more Americans, and then get more of us addicted, turning us into a nation of zombies?


            There is a middle course, of course.  We can sharply regulate the use of hard drugs, decriminalize the use of softer drugs, like marijuana, and take steps to educate the American people about the stupidity of taking drugs in the first place.


            We don’t ban the use of glue despite the fact that some people get high from sniffing it.  We used to ban alcohol, and we found that such a prohibition didn’t work.  We are moving towards the banning of tobacco, which will cause all kinds of black market problems once we get there.  At some point, do-gooders will try to ban cheeseburgers and Oreo cookies.  


            We all have to take a serious look at the nature of freedom.  At what point does the government infringe on the essential liberties of the people?  Is freedom the ability to do whatever you want, no matter how stupid?


            One final point.  Has the war on drugs really worked?  If you ask the Office of National Drug Control policy, the answer would be, yes, of course it has worked.  But if you ask a growing number of police officers and other law enforcement officials (especially if they are retired) and they will tell you it has been a complete failure. 


            I have never done drugs in my life (including marijuana).  But I am beginning to think that we need to have an honest debate about the future of the war on drugs and the nature of freedom in this country.