In American political culture, it is hard to find an issue or debate in which the concept of "freedom" is not invoked. We are told that our troops fight for it, that the government protects it, and that America, since her inception, has been dedicated it.
But like most phrases that leak out of the mouths of politicians or corporate talking heads in the media, there is very little substance behind it. And we as a society claim to value the liberty of the individual, yet have been derelict, or passively indifferent, to its actual application and defense.
Take, for example, the now decades long "war on drugs." Of course, goes the common narrative, the government should ban or heavily regulate the consumption and sale of drugs. They're dangerous. And even kids might use them!
But the moral and philosophical implications of drug prohibition (or any prohibition) state that the government has an ownership claim to all or a portion of your body and the decisions an individual chooses to make regarding his/her body. In "the land of the free," this is the ultimate denial of freedom.
The prospect of all drugs' being legal and available is a frightening concept to most, precisely because we have been conditioned to accept restrictions on freedom for vague abstractions like "the public good," and have embraced the chains of our servitude. Freedom is responsibility, which makes us uneasy to accept the consequences of it.
But all we need to is look in our not so distant past to see what drug legalization would look like. Before World War I, all drugs were legal and sold on the market like any other product. It wasn't perfect, of course, as there were addicts and many other problems that accompany the use of hard and addictive drugs. But as Jacob Huebert points out in Libertarianism Today:
And although America did have addicts in the nineteenth century (perhaps as much as 0.5 percent of the population), there are some things it notably did not have. Most important, there was virtually none of the violence, death, and crime we associate with the present-day drug problem. Most drug users were not street criminals; instead, the typical addict was, as author Mike Gray put it, "a middle-aged Southern white woman strung out on laudanum." Many or most opium addicts led more or less normal lives to keep their addiction hidden.
This is because a culture of freedom tends to breed a culture of responsibility.
Even if the moral virtues of liberty and individual choice, when applied to drug use, don't convince, then there are many tangible events that suggest major reform is needed. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of current and former members of law enforcement advocating drug legalization, know first-hand how drug prohibition increase crime rates, gangs, and cartels, and also distract police from prosecuting real violations of persons and property.
As Thomas Jefferson said, "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." It's time we applied this wisdom to our drug policy.
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