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John Stossel
John Stossel
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The War on Drugs: Because Prohibition Worked So Well ...


Forty years ago, the United States locked up fewer than 200 of every 100,000 Americans. Then President Nixon declared war on drugs. Now we lock up more of our people than any other country — more even than the authoritarian regimes in Russia and China.

A war on drugs — on people, that is — is unworthy of a country that claims to be free.

Unfortunately, this outrage probably won't be discussed in Tampa or Charlotte.

The media (including Fox News) run frightening stories about Mexican cocaine cartels and marijuana gangs. Few of my colleagues stop to think that this is a consequence of the war, that decriminalization would end the violence. There are no wine "cartels" or beer "gangs." No one "smuggles" liquor. Liquor dealers are called "businesses," not gangs, and they "ship" products instead of "smuggling" them. They settle disputes with lawyers rather than guns.

Everything can be abused, but that doesn't mean government can stop it. Government runs amok when it tries to protect us from ourselves.

Drug-related crime occurs because the drugs are available only through the artificially expensive black market. Drug users steal not because drugs drive them to steal. Our government says heroin and nicotine are similarly addictive, but no one robs convenience stores to get Marlboros. (That could change with confiscatory tobacco taxes.)

Are defenders of the drug war aware of the consequences? I don't think so.

John McWhorter, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, indicts the drug war for "destroying black America." McWhorter, by the way, is black.

McWhorter sees prohibition as the saboteur of black families. "Enduring prison time is seen as a badge of strength. It's regarded (with some justification) as an unjust punishment for selling people something they want. The ex-con is a hero rather than someone who went the wrong way."

He enumerates the positive results from ending prohibition. "No more gang wars over turf, no more kids shooting each other. ... Men get jobs, as they did in the old days, even in the worst ghettos, because they have to."

Would cheaper and freely available drugs bring their own catastrophe? "Our discomfort with the idea of heroin available at drugstores is similar to that of a Prohibitionist shuddering at the thought of bourbon at the corner store.

We'll get over it."

The media tell us that some drugs are so powerful that one "hit" or "snort" will hook the user forever. But the government's own statistics disprove that. The National Institutes of Health found that 36 million Americans have tried crack. But only 12 percent have used it in the previous year, and fewer than 6 percent have used it in the previous month. If crack is so addictive, how did 88 percent of the users quit?

If drugs were legal, I suppose that at first more people would try them. But most would give them up. Eventually, drug use would diminish, as it has in Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs, and the Netherlands, which allows legal marijuana. More young men would find real jobs; police could focus on real crime.

When the public is this divided about an issue, it's best left to voluntary social pressure instead of legal enforcement. That's how most Americans decide whether to drink alcohol or go to church every week. Private voluntary social networks have their own ways of punishing bad behavior and send more nuanced messages about what's unacceptable. Government's one-size-fits-all rules don't improve on that.

"Once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of the government to protect the individual against his own foolishness," economist Ludwig von Mises wrote, "why not prevent him from reading bad books and bad plays ... ? The mischief done by bad ideologies is more pernicious ... than that done by narcotic drugs."

If we adults own our own bodies, we ought to get to control what we put in them. It's legitimate for government to protect me from reckless drivers and drunken airline pilots — but not to protect me from myself.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at <a href="" <>></a>. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




7 Comments | Post Comment
Hear hear Mr. Stossel!

The public is SO convinced of the righteousness of the wr on drugs that they won't even stand to hear the facts. our war on drugs is responsible for nearly all of the wreckless violence in Mexico, and all of Central America. Our war on drugs is practically soley responsible for the "problem" of illegal immigration in this country. It is responsible for the early release of "real" criminals.

The problems that prohibition creates FAR outnumber the suffering, both physically and economically that drug abuse creates. Indeed Portugal is a real-world example of how to better manage and deal with drugs in society. Prohibition is like dropping an atomic bomb on the issue. It isn't a solution it just creates more problems.

Not to mention the liberty it derails.

Keep talking mr. Stossel!
Comment: #1
Posted by: John
Wed Aug 29, 2012 11:36 AM
The President did declare war.
Congress gave advice and consent.
The Supreme Court gave a go for.
So We the People did relent,
Cuz We pay government to act
To protect the heart, soul and mind
Of each citizen who's attacked
By "feel too good" of any kind,
That is not government approved,
Like good ol' tobacco and booze,
Which burn and flow well mainstream grooved.
Government likes to pick and choose.

The war on drugs will not be won,
Just how government does not done.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Ima Ryma
Thu Aug 30, 2012 1:11 AM
Mr.Stossel you should look into how many convenience stores get robbed for "Marlboros" . I think a call to the ATF could tell you something different . I can tell you that NO ONE ... Overdoses and dies smoking a Marlboro.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Jeff Moore
Thu Aug 30, 2012 6:28 AM
Pot is illegal. People steal to buy pot. When pot is legalized, people will steal to buy pot because they are too stoned to have a job. Hmmmm?
Comment: #4
Posted by: David Henricks
Fri Aug 31, 2012 5:36 AM
Americans have little knowledge of the devastation caused by the drug war in Mexico and other countries. It is an utter horror.

I would go so far to give drugs away freely to any and all that want them. They could be given out at the underused military bases that would otherwise be closed. Perhaps after a short period of counselling or sermons from those who wish to control others. Free bus service included, as would be other services as needed, including medical or cremation.

It would be far cheaper to society, and would cure so many problems.

Comment: #5
Posted by: matt yates
Fri Aug 31, 2012 7:54 AM
It's unfortunate how many Americans fail to make the intellectual leap as you have, Mr. Stossel. Prohibition doesn't work in any form. Laws do not make a people righteous.
“Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt."
-- Samuel Adams Essay in the Public Advertiser, 1749
Comment: #6
Posted by: bmac6446
Sat Sep 1, 2012 6:03 AM
I think u touched a nerv because your site has been hacked and i cannot share the link to the truth on facebook, its as bad as the military industrial complex, there is to much profit in locking everybody up all the time, wouldnt the prison industry go out of business without so many "criminals" of course they pass another new law everyday! Weed will never be legal in America. If it was how else could the companys get out of workers comp when u get hurt working in unsafe conditions!
Comment: #7
Posted by: Shane "freedom" pardee
Sat Sep 8, 2012 11:30 PM
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