[This is the sidebar I wrote for Liberty. It was originally part of the
larger article, The DEA Wishes Me a Nice Day, but
Harry Browne wisely suggested it be separated out. Thank you, Harry.]
Answering the Unanswerable Questions about Drugs
In his essay The Cruel Hoax of Legalization, DEA Administrator Thomas
Constantine throws down the gauntlet: "Let's ask proponents some of the
questions that arise from their simplistic proposal." All right, let's.
Here, then, in order, in full, are all the withering questions Administrator
Constantine dares us, the "legalizers," to answer. I shall venture
wise men have already tread and submit myself to the Administrator's
"Would we legalize all drugs --
cocaine, heroin, and LSD, as well as
"Who could obtain these drugs -- only
As with cigarettes and alcohol, sale would be restricted to adults, but we
can't pretend children will have any less access to drugs when they are
legal than they do today when they are not. We can hope only that if we tell
kids the truth about drugs -- all drugs -- they will listen when we advise
them not to take any drugs, except medicines, until their nervous systems
are fully developed. As with driving a car, voting, or not having to learn
anymore, some pleasures are reserved for adults. Those young people who do
not follow this sound advice will at least have access to the information
necessary to distinguish between drugs that are the least harmful
(marijuana) and those that are the are most harmful (inhaling airplane glue or
other household inhalants,
PCP) and experiment accordingly.
"Who would distribute these drugs --
private companies, doctors or the
Oh, not the government, please. Did you ever try to buy a bottle of good
wine in a state where alcohol is sold only in government-run stores? "Red
wine is in the cooler over there, white wine is over here, and pink wines
are in the middle." So, please, not the government.
Doctors should certainly be able to prescribe whatever medication they think
patients need, but most drug use is recreational and educational, not
That leaves -- hooray! -- "private companies." Yes, free enterprise,
capitalism, the open market will take care of manufacture and distribution,
create new jobs, and remove the criminal element almost overnight. We could
expect private firms to compete to provide the safest drugs -- as well as
the least expensive. Best of all, it won't cost the taxpayers a cent. In
fact, the drug companies will even pay taxes. This may not be a comfortable
thought to Administrator Constantine -- who uses "libertarian" and
society" as pejoratives, the way Senator McCarthy used
"communist" -- but
capitalism is the economic system we fought a 40-year Cold War to maintain,
so why not use it?
"Should the inner city be the central
distribution point, or should we have
drug supermarkets in Scarsdale, Chevy Chase, and the Main Line?"
What a fascinating plan to rejuvenate the inner cities! Since the War on
Drugs turned ghettos into war zones and death traps, why not let the inner
cities profit from the influx of entrepreneurial money that is sure to
follow legalization? Turn every Enterprise Zone into a Legal Drug Zone. The
trouble with this plan, of course, is that it would require a government
program, which means things will only get worse.
Enough government meddling. Legalize drugs and let the free market determine
where the drug supermarkets will be, just as it determines the location of
bars, liquor stores, and pharmacies.
"How much are we willing to pay to
address the costs of increased drug use?"
The Administrator just doesn't get it, does he? The costs of "increased
use" -- should there be any increased drug use, and should there be any
costs involved with this increased use -- would be borne by the individual
users, who would no longer be paying outrageously inflated drug prices and
who would get to keep the taxes normally collected and wasted on the
$50-billion-a-year War on Drugs.
"How will we deal with the black market that will surely be created to
satisfy the need for cheaper, purer drugs?"
No, no, Administrator Constantine, it's called a "free market" -- not
"black market." A black market is what we have now because you
Special Agents have driven a much-demanded commodity underground.
Legalization will create a free market again, where drugs will be pure,
dosages known, strength uniform, and prices very reasonable, as determined
by the laws of supply and demand. (As Director Constantine is obviously not
a reading man, perhaps someone should send him a videotape of Milton
Friedman's PBS series Free to Choose.
Label it "Advanced Drug Intervention
Techniques," just to make sure he watches it.)
"And when the legalizers answer all these
questions, ask them this: . . . "
Oh, boy, the $50-billion, 700,000-prisoner question. Give me a moment to
compose myself. All right, Administrator Constantine, shoot. No, wait, I
mean, give me the question.
" . . . Can we set up a pilot
legalization program on your block?"
Oh, absolutely! I'll make a fortune just selling roadmaps to my
neighborhood. In fact, I'll finance the whole endeavor. Give me a
government-guaranteed monopoly on legal drug sales for, say, the next five
years. Consider it your "pilot program." I'll let you know how it