Jacob G. Hornberger
of Freedom Foundation
by Jacob G. Hornberger: The
Murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer
to Laurence M. Vance,
War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom (Vance Publications, 2012),
xvi + 103 pgs., paperback, $9.95.
It would be
difficult to find a better example of a failed government program
than the war on drugs. Not only has the drug war failed to stem
the use of illicit drugs in American society; it has also allowed
the federal government to gain vast power over the American people,
at the expense of individual liberty. Moreover, in an era in which
out-of-control federal spending and debt are of paramount concern
to American taxpayers, U.S. officials continue to spend more than
$40 billion a year to wage the drug war.
Just as the
prohibition of alcohol during the 1920s led to the illegal production
of booze and widespread violence at the hands of illegal alcohol
producers, so it has been with the prohibition of drugs, which has
led to drug cartels, gang warfare, murders, robberies, muggings,
and official corruption. The entire 40-year history of the war on
drugs is a testament to Santayana’s famous dictum, "Those who
cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
In the pages
of this book, Laurence Vance sets forth a persuasive case for ending
the drug war on practical grounds. As most everyone acknowledges,
this federal program just hasn’t worked, and it’s extremely destructive.
Vance doesn’t mince words:
war on drugs is undefendable. Not only has it failed to curtail
drug use, it has eroded civil liberties, destroyed financial privacy,
corrupted law enforcement, crowded prisons with non-violent offenders,
ruined countless lives, and wasted hundreds of billions of taxpayer
case that Vance sets forth for ending the drug war, however, is
not what sets this book apart. The power of this book is the moral
case that Vance makes for totally legalizing drugs – all drugs.
moral authority does government punish people for ingesting substances
that the authorities consider harmful? How can such a power – the
power to fine, incarcerate, and imprison a person for ingesting
a harmful substance – be reconciled with the fundamental principles
of individual liberty?
the right to engage in any behavior whatsoever, so long as it is
peaceful. As long as a person isn’t trespassing on the rights of
others through violence or fraud, the principles of freedom entitle
him to make whatever choices he wants in life, no matter how irresponsible,
dangerous, or unhealthy they might be.
A society in
which the government punishes people for actions considered self-destructive,
irresponsible, or unhealthy cannot truly be considered a free society.
It’s not a coincidence that laws criminalizing the possession, use,
or distribution of drugs are an integral part of such totalitarian
regimes as those in Cuba, North Korea, China, and Myanmar.
Here is how
Vance compares societies that are free with those that are not:
In a free
society the individual makes his own decisions about his health
and lifestyle; in an authoritarian society the state thinks it
knows best how to make those decisions. In a free society the
individual is free to make bad decisions; in an authoritarian
society the state thinks it knows best what decisions people should
it is not the purpose of government to be a nanny state that monitors
the behavior of its citizens. It is simply not the purpose of
government to protect people from bad habits or harmful substances
or punish people for risky behavior or vice. Drug prohibition
is impossible to reconcile with a limited government.
One of the
most fascinating parts of this book is chapter 16: "Should
Christians Support the War on Drugs?" Because illicit drugs
are considered bad, all too many Christians automatically conclude
that the prohibition of such drugs should be rendered unto Caesar.
Not so, argues Vance. There are some sins – specifically the ones
entailing non-violent behavior – that do not legitimately fall within
the realm of government control. Adultery, blasphemy, and covetousness
come to mind. In fact, that the drug war has proven to be such a
fiasco is persuasive evidence that God has created a consistent
universe, one in which evil means beget bad consequences.
reminds us of the hypocrisy of drug prohibition. Alcohol and tobacco
are much more destructive than, say, marijuana. Yet liquor and cigarettes
are legal while marijuana is not. Why the difference?
other opponents of the drug war, however, Vance doesn’t limit his
case to calling for the legalization of marijuana. He makes the
principled case for the legalization of all drugs, arguing that
the illegality of any drug not only produces destructive consequences
but, more important, constitutes a grave violation of people’s freedom
to live their lives the way they choose.
the Constitution? Does it play a role here? Vance reminds us that
the Constitution established a federal government of limited, enumerated
powers. Is the power to punish people for ingesting harmful substances
among those enumerated powers? It is not, which is why Americans
had to seek a constitutional amendment to criminalize the possession
and distribution of alcohol, an amendment that was later repealed
owing to the horrible consequences of Prohibition.
Many of the
articles in this book were originally published by The Future of
Freedom Foundation, where I serve as president. Ever since our founding
in 1989, we have taken a firm, uncompromising stance against the
war on drugs. We have always held that the drug war has brought
nothing but death, destruction, robberies, muggings, assassinations,
corruption, drug gangs, domestic warfare, overcrowded prisons, wasted
money, and ruined lives. More important, it has been one of the
greatest governmental assaults on liberty and privacy in our nation’s
We were pleased
to have published Laurence Vance’s powerful essays on the drug war
when he originally submitted them to us, and we are just as pleased
that they now form part of this powerful book, a book that should
be read by every American who is concerned about the principles
of morality, freedom, free markets, the Constitution, and limited
Hornberger [send him mail]
is founder and president of The Future
of Freedom Foundation.
© 2012 Laurence Vance. Permission to reprint in whole or in part
is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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