The Conservative Dissenter
By Bryan Caplan
Convincing conservatives to legalize drugs is an uphill battle for the Libertarian Missionary. But how about for the Conservative Dissenter – the conservative who tries to convince other conservatives to abandon the drug war? I’m thinking of the late William F. Buckley:
How many users of illegal drugs in fact die from the use of them?
The answer is complicated in part because marijuana finds itself lumped
together with cocaine and heroin, and nobody has ever been found dead
from marijuana. The question of deaths from cocaine is complicated by
the factor of impurity… When alcohol was illegal, the consumer could never
know whether he had been given relatively harmless alcohol to drink —
such alcoholic beverages as we find today in the liquor store — or
whether the bootlegger had come up with paralyzing rotgut. By the same
token, purchasers of illegal cocaine and heroin cannot know whether
they are consuming a drug that would qualify for regulated consumption
after clinical analysis.
…more people die every year as a result of the war against
drugs than die from what we call, generically, overdosing. These
fatalities include, perhaps most prominently, drug merchants who
compete for commercial territory, but include also people who are
robbed and killed by those desperate for money to buy the drug to which
they have become addicted.
We have seen a substantial
reduction in the use of tobacco over the last thirty years, and this is
not because tobacco became illegal but because a sentient community
began, in substantial numbers, to apprehend the high cost of tobacco to
human health, even as, we can assume, a growing number of Americans
desist from practicing unsafe sex and using polluted needles in this
age of AIDS. If 80 million Americans can experiment with drugs and
resist addiction using information publicly available, we can
reasonably hope that approximately the same number would resist the
temptation to purchase such drugs even if they were available at a
federal drugstore at the mere cost of production.
How convincing was the Conservative Dissenter? Here’s entire editorial board of National Review back in 1996:
NATIONAL REVIEW has not, until now, opined formally on the
subject. We do so at this point. To put off a declarative judgment
would be morally and intellectually weak-kneed…
We all agree on movement toward legalization, even
though we may differ on just how far.
Conversion by Buckley is obviously not the only possible explanation for the editors’ stance. But it wouldn’t surprise me.