Are Libertarians Wrong About Drugs?

Libertarians are wrong about drugs. According to the author of the article linked here, there is ample evidence that drug use not only leads to the harm of the user, but can also to the harm of others. In case you haven’t picked up on it already, this is known as the slippery slope fallacy. Aside from that, it seems that Mr. Walters is gravely concerned that the legalization (or, as libertarians actually want, decriminalization) of drug use will lend more power to the cartels, which is the complete opposite of what has happened with the recent legalizations in Colorado and Washington, as well as medicinal legalizations elsewhere. Mr. Walters goes on to explain the regulated, licensed dispensary models in other places with legalized drug use, and the horrors found therein. Coincidentally, Walters completely fails to engage with the fact that these situations are ones in which the state continues to regulate which substances people consume, and even distributes the substances itself. He is right in asserting that this makes the addicts which come to these clinics wards of the state, kept on a tight leash; However, what Mr. Walters provides as a description of the horrors of drug legalization is about as far from the libertarian argument for the decriminalization of drugs (or the use of any other substance) as possible.

The question is not which drugs should be legal or illegal, which drugs are harmful or helpful, or the political ramifications of putting to rest a war on drugs that leads to the imprisonment of millions of people for non-violent drug related crimes year after year. The question is what the legitimate functions of the state are. The answer to that question is that the only legitimate function of the state is to “use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use.” (Ayn Rand, Man’s Rights). For an individual to consume any substance, regardless of the harm it may cause him, and regardless of the statistical correlations between ingesting that substance (be it alcohol, marijuana, meth, etc.) and certain immoral or aggressive behaviors (correlation is not causation) is not an act of aggression against another, and thus the state has no right to punish him for it, nor otherwise interfere with his efforts to do so.

Mr. Walters presents an excellent case for why state controlled legalization of certain substances is a bad idea, but he flops in his attempts to tie that failure with the libertarian moral arguments regarding what the state may and may not legislate. The answer to the drug war (ethically and pragmatically) is decriminalization, not legalization. It’s time for Mr. Walters and other statists to stop beating up on strawmen and engage with the actual content of the libertarian argument.

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