Throughout the long sordid history of America’s war on drugs, drug-war proponents have claimed that if only government officials would really crack down on drug use and drug distribution, the decades-old war on drugs could finally — finally! — be won.
But one big problem is that throughout the decades of drug warfare, there have been crackdowns — big crackdowns.
Many federal judges, for example, some of whom have considered themselves to be fierce drug warriors, have long imposed maximum jail sentences on drug-law violators.
Congress itself has gotten involved in drug-war crackdowns, for example by mandating that federal judges, some of whom weren’t proving tough enough, mete out “mandatory minimum sentences” for drug violators.
There is also the asset-forfeiture racket to consider, a program that entitles DEA officers and state and local cops to steal money from people who are suspected of violating drug laws.
There has been the extradition of Latin American drug lords to the United States, followed by long jail sentences in American prisons.
And of course, there has been the racist component to the drug war, by which cops have used drug laws to stop, search, frame, and harass blacks.
Obviously, those crackdowns didn’t end up winning the war on drugs. On the contrary, the war on drugs is as far away from being won as it’s ever been.
And then came Rodrigo Duterte, the elected dictator of the Philippines and an absolute favorite among American drug warriors. Having been elected in 2016, Duterte announced that he was going to win the war on drugs in the Philippines.
Today, five years later, Duterte is under investigation by the International Criminal Court, which is alleging that Philippine police have killed 6,100 suspects in drug trafficking raids.
Notice the operative word: “suspects.” None of these dead people ever had a trial. None of them were ever convicted. They were just killed.
Moreover, that 6,100 figure might be an extremely low estimate. According to an article in Laprensalatina.com, “Human rights groups speak of between 27,000 and 30,000 dead, mostly victims of alleged extrajudicial executions.” The article also points out that the “victims include 112 children, according to a report published in 2020 by the World Organization Against Torture.”
Duterte is claiming that he’s innocent, but if he isn’t, his system has to be considered the ultimate drug-war crackdown. Just think about it. No constitutional technicalities to follow. No reading of Miranda rights. No criminal defense attorneys. No due process of law. No jury trials.
Just imagine U.S. officials establishing a system in which the cops are empowered to kill anyone they suspect is violating the drug laws. What could be better than that, at least from the perspective of a drug-war proponent, right?
Well, except for one thing. They still haven’t won the drug war in the Philippines! They’re still fighting. And from the way things look, they will be fighting forever, just like American drug warriors!
If the killing spree in the Philippines hasn’t worked to win the war on drugs, isn’t that a good sign that no crackdown, no matter how vicious, can ever succeed in winning the war on drugs?
I suppose a drug-war proponent could say, “Jacob, bring in the military and have them fight the drug war as viciously as they fought the Taliban.” But at the risk of belaboring the obvious, the military lost its war against the Taliban. Moreover, when Mexico used its military to fight to the drug war, the results was tens of thousands of innocent people killed, with no end in sight to the drug war.
I’ve got a better idea, a libertarian idea: Let’s just end the drug war by legalizing all drugs. No more drug-war searches, arrests, harassment, incarceration, or killings. Just leave people free to ingest whatever they want. Leave drug rehabilitation to private groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous.
Legalizing drugs would immediately put all drug lords out of business because they couldn’t compete against legitimate pharmacies and other businesses. It would enable drug addicts to secure sound drugs rather than the polluted drugs that they are forced to buy on the black market and that often lead to their deaths. It would encourage people with drug problems to openly seek treatment. And it would put the entire drug-war enforcement bureaucracy out of business, which would save taxpayers a ton of money.
No crackdown, no matter how vicious, will ever end up winning the war on drugs. The drug war will continue to destroy our civil liberties and bring ever-increasing violence to our land.
More important though is a fundamental principle of liberty: People have the fundamental right to ingest whatever they want, no matter how harmful.
For those two reasons — the futility of winning the war on drugs and the freedom of the individual — there is no reason for Congress or the states to continue the drug war one day longer. To move toward a free, peaceful, prosperous, healthy, and harmonious society, they need to legalize drugs — all drugs — now.