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John Stossel
John Stossel
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Prohibition

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Unlike Bill Clinton, President Obama admits he inhaled!. "Frequently," he said. "That was the point."

People laugh when politicians talk about their drug use. The audience laughed during a 2003 CNN Democratic presidential primary debate when John Kerry, John Edwards and Howard Dean admitted smoking weed.

Yet those same politicians oversee a cruel system that now stages SWAT raids on people's homes more than 100 times a day. People die in these raids — some weren't even the intended targets of the police.

Neill Franklin once led such raids. The 33-year Maryland police veteran, now executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, locked up hundreds of people for drugs and felt good about it.

"We really thought that these drugs made people evil," he told me.

But 10 years ago Franklin decided that drugs — even hard drugs — do much less harm to Americans than does the drug war.

"Drugs can be — and are in many cases — problematic. But the policies that we have in place to prohibit their use are 10 times more problematic."

The raids helped change his mind. "We end up with kids being shot ... search warrants being served on the wrong home, innocent people on the other side of the door thinking that they are protecting their home."

And the level of drug use remains about the same.

Still, most Americans support the drug war. Paul Chabot, White House drug adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton, told me: "We should be kicking down more doors. ... They're kicking the door of somebody who's a violent person."

Violent? People who get high are rarely violent. The violence occurs because when something's illegal, it is sold only on the black market. And that causes crime. Drug dealers can't just call the cops if someone tries to steal their supply. So they form gangs and arm themselves to the teeth.

"We have the violence of these gangs competing for market share, and people get hurt," said Franklin.

Especially kids. Drug gangs constantly look for new recruits.

"Some of these gangs have better recruitment programs than Fortune 500 companies. They know what to say to kids."

People think that if drugs were legal, there would be more recruiting of kids.

Franklin says the opposite is true.

"Prohibition causes that. We don't have kids on the corner (saying), 'Pssst, I got a fifth of Jack Daniel's.'"

Kids rarely peddle liquor, and there's little violence around liquor sales because alcohol is legal. There was lots of violence before 1933, but that was because Prohibition forbade liquor sales. Prohibition gave us Al Capone.

"Organized crime existed well before Prohibition," Chabot replied.

That's true. But much less of it. The murder rate rose when alcohol was banned. It dropped when Prohibition was repealed.

"If we were to do away with our drug laws ... we know drug usage numbers will skyrocket," Chabot said.

But we don't know that.

It's logical to assume that, were it not for drug prohibition, drug abuse would be rampant. But 10 years ago, Portugal decriminalized every drug — crack, heroin, you name it. The number of abusers actually declined.

Joao Goulao, Portugal's top drug official, said that before decriminalization "we had a huge problem with drug use ... around 100,000 people hooked on heroin."

Then they started treating drug use more like a parking ticket. People caught with drugs get a slap on the wrist, sometimes a fine.

Independent studies have found the number of people in Portugal who say they regularly do drugs stayed about the same. And the best news, said Goulao: "Addiction itself decreased a lot."

At first, police were skeptical of the law, but Joao Figueira, chief inspector of Lisbon's drug unit, told me that decriminalization changed lots of minds.

"The level of conflicts on the street are reduced. Drug-related robberies are reduced. And now the police are not the enemies of the consumers!"

And teen drug use is down.

All good news. But in American and in most of the world, the drug war continues, thousands are murdered and in ghettos the police are enemies of the people.

Governments should wake up and learn something from the Portuguese.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at <a href="http://www.johnstossel.com" <http://www.johnstossel.com>>johnstossel.com</a>. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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Comments

5 Comments | Post Comment
I agree with John Stossel's conservative fiscal views. However, I cannot reconcile how his and most Libertarians justify their liberal views on some social issues, such as legalizing recreational drug use. We all know how damaging drug abuse can be to individuals and the negative effects such use has on our society. Individuals who abuse drugs suffer major health problems and some drug abuser create serious safety problems for the rest of us, such as when they drive on the roads. We already have a huge problem with drunk driving. How can we add drugged driving to the problem? How would we decide which drugs to legalize? Some drugs, such as meth, are extremely addicting and destructive to ones health. I asked a member of a local chapter of the Libertarian Party about how our society would deal with the serious health problems of drug abuse if we follow the Libertarian model. Who would pay for people who destroy their lives abusing drugs. This is now often covered by taxpayers. He said families and charities would care for such individuals and not the taxpayers. I agree that private solutions are much better than government ones but at some point families and charities will not support individuals who refuse to change their lives. How do we deal with such people? Shall we let them destroy themselves? Do we have the wherewithal as a culture and society to actually not help such people? I think not. Cries for government support for such individuals will once again require the taxpayer to foot the bill. I do not see legalizing drugs as a winning policy. Social liberalism has a financial cost and seems incompatible with fiscal conservatism to the point of being mutually exclusive. No Libertarian has been able to persuade me that fiscal conservatism and social liberalism can work together. I welcome counter arguments.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Steven Boyle
Sun Mar 4, 2012 5:11 PM
I think the problem of the addict would not go away, but the number of people involved in drug traffic might go down. That is the article as I understand it. There is a long list of persons involved in the drug trade before the "buy" is made, cutting that list of persons involved would probably benefit society. In effect the government might be able to outsource everyone but the user him/herself. I don't care for government "war" on anything, poverty or drugs or terrorism. Liberties are abridged to convenience the so called "war" and 4 year olds wind up being searched at airports. Steve, I am not certain this plan calls for not helping the addict, I believe, as you do, that we can not afford to just allow tne addict to languish and die. The whole cops and robbers scenario now being played out seems unnecessary if the goal is to help the addict. We leave the addict feeling as the 4 year old does - helpless and violated. If there is no one chasing the addict down he may one day decide to seek help, and he can do so with out risking liberty. I am not certain, but I think addicts are often on the run from reality, in the current war that reality is a chase, jail, an inquisition, a trial, and possibly more jail. Who would not want to escape that reality? Maybe we should try another approach, a calmer, gentler, and more earnest approach. I don't expect we would leave addicts on the trash heap, immoral that, but we might fire a lot of pushers and help ease the violence surrounding the illegal drug trade.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Tom
Mon Mar 5, 2012 7:58 AM
Re: Steven Boyle
The war on drugs has and continues to be an absolute failure...remember the definition of insanity...doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
I personnaly like to have a joint after work instead of a beer or liquor, so I have been a "criminal" for the last 40 years just because some people don't understand Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Whether REPUB or DEM, neither party seems to understand what real freedom is. I will add I believe in Freedom w/ Responsibility.
Now before you make comments that I smoke let me give you a little background. I'm 64 years old, so I smoked for the 1st time when I was 24 years old. Long before that I tried cigarettes and alcohol, so there goes the "Gateway" arguement. 95% of the people I know who do smoke never try anything harder drugs than alcohol.
I spent 4 years in the Air Force during Viet Nam, raised 2 sets of children, worked for the same company for over 27 years, pay my taxes and haven't had so much as a parking ticket in 30 years.
I have had multiple surgeries, including 2 back surgeries, 4 knee surgeries and open heart surgery (sorry genetic not marijuana) and the one thing I can take for the pain that doesn't make me a zombie is marijuana.
As for other drugs like crack, cocane, herion, etc..., they also should be legal because we will never know the extent of the problem until we bring it into the light and out of the darkness of the black market.
Prior to the criminalization of these drugs we did not have a serious drug problem in this country...read history ad you will see that this is a fact.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Freethinker
Wed Mar 7, 2012 12:34 AM
Regarding your argument, Steven, a very similar case could be made against freedom of speech (if everyone is allowed to say what they want, how can you be sure that crazy people won't take sway over the public with demagoguery?), against gun ownership (if all non-felons are free to own guns, how can you be sure they won't endanger the public or overthrow the government with militias they form?). You could make similar cases against ownership of cars (they can be weapons so they are too dangerous!), computers, consenting sex between adults, private enterprise, the private ownership of capital, speaking foreign languages, taking any videos of police or public officials, or pretty much any consensual activity. The collectivist who wishes to prohibit by force all of these activities will establish by consistent application of his principle a totalitarian socialist state with crushing poverty, whereas a libertarian would establish a free and prosperous society. Nevertheless since there are many possible shades of grey in partial collectivism those too must be debated.

Now some people prefer to escape reality, and they currently do it through drugs, addictive video games such as World of Warcraft, Internet addiction, sex addiction, or other activities seen as "socially detrimental". The problem with prohibiting by force any of these behaviors is that it undermines other related liberties. For example if you accept that a human being does not have the right to commit suicide and pass this into law, then you could also easily pass through laws banning guns or swords which are used for suicide, pills or chemistry labs which could be used for suicide, and so forth. You might also consider the use of dangerous drugs such as meth "suicide by small steps," and therefore prohibit addictive drugs. Seeing that a success, you could much more easily go on to prohibit alcohol, overly tall buildings (which could be used for suicide), glass (which could be broken and used as a weapon), partying (which could cause risky behavior), sedentary behavior, hunting, hurting butterflies, and any activity that has nonzero risk (indeed because living is risky you would be justified in prohibiting everything). Like Singapore you might decide to execute your own citizens and foreign citizens for carrying drugs, since this will make everyone "safer". At that point you should find it easy indeed to silence everyone who is in opposition to the ruling party, since you merely need hire government agents to plant drugs on them, and then execute them after a short "trial".
By using the principle of collectivism, and engineering society, you would consistently pass more laws and whittle away at liberty until nothing remains. We see this already with Congress passing gazillions of laws with few ever repealed, all for the purpose of "improvement" and "safety".

Once you accept the principle that a man's life is not under his rational control for his own ends, then you will accept all sorts of abuses and usurpations of your rightful power over yourself, until you are left powerless, as an infant before the all loving state that has made everyone absolutely "safe" (even more safe than in North Korea!). Currently, nations such as Singapore, North Korea, and China are an aberration, since the US often champions individualism and serves as a counterweight to the creeping despotism that every man seeks to establish over his neighbor, as seen in the nations of Europe with their slow trend towards socialism. But this current freedom is by no means assured, since people by their "utility", "happiness", "needs", or "base instincts" as the social engineers so often refer to, are by that low nature little better than animals and slide into a natural tyranny. To overthrow collectivism, it is necessary to value liberty for it's own sake. To overthrow the social engineers, macroeconomists, lobbyists, the politicians passing ever more laws, it is necessary to strike at the root of collectivism and declare it altogether wrong.

In my case I would argue that most all power should be returned from the Federal government to the States or individuals. But regardless if you do not establish the base of their tree as injust then they will simply continue their slow march to totalitarianism in ever more perverse and creative forms.

Finally, I would note that just because libertarians argue most activities should be legal, does not mean that we think it should be easy to say smoke crack. People like myself who are for States rights and local law do not mind if crack is banned entirely in certain jurisdictions, provided most places don't have too many laws and are generally for liberty, since this way different legal systems can compete for customers and improve alongside the free market. Also anyone who wished to buy crack in a laissez faire society in practice might have to take some test or have a doctor's note, not as a legal requirement but as an outcome of self-regulatory market forces, to demonstrate that they are mentally competent and knowledgeable about the adverse effects. This is because unlike a crony capitalist society a libertarian society would hold people and corporations fully accountable for their actions, and it would just take one person who misread a drug label or was mentally unfit, to bankrupt those who would sell drugs.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Cato
Wed Mar 14, 2012 6:14 PM
To: Steven,
But really to everyone satisfied with the current state of war our government wages on our freedom. We already pay for, via taxes and a higher medical expense, the burden of the homeless adict (or any other unpaying soul injured by drugs). But we also pay for the drug war, in lots of money and lots of lives (officers/adicts/innocent bystanders of each senseless battle). We pay millions a year on incarceration of fellas who smoke weed (and other drugs). Is THAT fair? Should we really be forced to foot the bill for their living/eating expenses, for the maintenance and expansion of their "home" (prison) every stinkin year!? No, darnit! Would their be more harm than good if we legalize drugs? Well, seeing how more have been killed by the drug war than the actual drugs, and how its more expensive to fight it, than to pay for adiction's effect on society...i think we have our answer. End the war, and by extention the ill effects therefrom, and you solve 80% of the "drug problem." But ignoring these facts, even, we need to start thinking of liberty for liberty's sake. the loss of liberty, as those who died defending it knew, costs us far more than any choice ever made, no matter that choices concequence
Comment: #5
Posted by: spencer
Fri Mar 16, 2012 3:35 PM
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