Mead's Asymmetric Treatment of Illegal Drugs
In today’s Wall Street Journal appears a “Notable and Quotable” from Walter Russell Mead. It’s from a longer post he did about the drug war. Mead’s contribution to the discussion is to point out that we should, as a way of not supporting dealers in illegal drugs, boycott their wares. Like many of the people who commented on his post, I already do boycott.
What upsets Mead is all the violence in the drug industry. There’s a simple solution that is guaranteed to work: legalize drugs. When Prohibition of alcohol ended, organized crime exited the liquor industry–and so did violence. What’s striking, though, is Mead’s moral outrage against people who do buy illegal drugs and his complete lack of outrage against the politicians and cops who conduct the drug war.
Mead is clear that his issue is not drug dependency. It is violence. He writes:
There is no commercial product widely consumed in the United States whose production, sale and distribution does more harm than the illegal drug industry. I am not referring to the harm that drug users do to themselves, or even the harm that the drug dependencies that so often grow from the use of illegal drugs do to the family and friends of the drug user.
I am referring to the social devastation that the illegal drug industry does in countries like Columbia, Mexico and Afghanistan. I am talking about the consequences of putting money into the hands of murderers and thugs whose greed and unscrupulous behavior makes your standard multinational oil company look like Mother Teresa. I am talking about the violence and the culture of violence that wreaks such terrible havoc in urban areas all around the world.
Mead is “not sure,” he tells us, about drug legalization. He writes:
It’s clear that what we are doing now gets us the worst of both worlds: we have high levels of drug use and dependency and the curse of an organized illegal drug industry. It is also clear that draconian drug laws condemn an unconscionable number of young people to long prison terms where in too many cases they are raped and brutalized in ways that cast serious doubt on our society’s commitment to basic legal and moral values. This is wrong, and it needs to change.
On the other hand, legalization doesn’t always make things better. I note that Amsterdam is getting ready to tighten the noose around its pot coffeehouses even as California voters weigh the pros and cons of legalizing locoweed.
But he gives no evidence that legalization doesn’t make it better. He writes:
The only real answer is both boring and utopian: temperance. If nobody took too many drugs, society wouldn’t have a drug problem, and drug laws could be lax. But not everybody is capable of this kind of prudent restraint, and legislators have to try to muck around with trying to regulate dangerous social problems in the least harmful and restrictive way.
Oh, those poor legislators. They’re so put upon, having to regulate people’s lives. Although Mead is not sure about legalization, he is sure that the only answer is temperance. Not temperance by those who would throw people in prison for using and selling drugs, but temperance by those who may already be temperate.
HT to Don Boudreaux.