Already a few commenters on my recent post on the war on drugs peaceful people who use substances prohibited by the state have raised a common, conditional objection to legalizing drugs. That conditional objection goes like this (in my words): ‘Legalizing drugs might be appropriate, but only under the condition that each person who screws up his life be prevented from foisting upon the rest of us any financial obligation for paying for his or her screw-ups.’
I agree that those who impoverish themselves, or who impoverish themselves and their families, should not expect – and should not receive – financial assistance from government. But I do not believe that legalization of drugs should depend upon this condition being met. Here are two of my reasons.
(1) Some people today impoverish themselves and their families by abusing (perfectly legal) alcohol – or (perfectly legal) animal fat. No doubt, as a result, many of these people receive some quantums of government welfare. But surely this fact supplies no good argument for returning to alcohol prohibition – or for continuing down the putrid road of making animal fat illicit.
(2) The “drug war” itself is hugely expensive. (I’m too busy at the moment to find a reliable estimate of the monetary expenses paid by taxpayers – national, state, and local – in the U.S. to fight this ‘war.’) These expenses include the cost of manning, equipping, and operating all of the nations ‘drug warriors,’ and the costs that the ‘drug war’ adds to the operation of the criminal-justice apparatus, as well as the expenses of caring for the victims of the violence that unleashed by prohibition. If a sufficient condition for objecting to a policy is that policy’s infliction of unwanted costs on taxpayers, then this condition counsels in favor of legalization at least as strongly as it counsels against legalization.