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The Tyranny of Drug Laws


It is difficult to conceive of a greater violation of the principles of freedom than drug laws — that is, laws by which the government punishes people who possess, distribute, or ingest drugs. A free society necessarily entails the right to engage in any peaceful activity, even if it is considered self-destructive, harmful, or irresponsible.

Thus, it’s not surprising that drug laws are an inherent part of totalitarian regimes. A good example is China, where the country’s communist regime is now waging the war on drugs with the same fierceness that the U.S. government has waged it.

According to an article on a website called Vice News, “Since last October more than 600,000 drug users in the country were ‘punished,’ another 133,000 were arrested for drug-related crimes, and 43.3 tons of illicit narcotics were seized, a 45 percent increase from the year before.”

Echoing pronouncements from DEA officials here in the United States, Assistant Minister of Public Security Liu Yuejin said that China’s drug gangs have “suffered a severe blow.”

Let’s ask ourselves a critical question: If a police state in China cannot win the war on drugs, shouldn’t that say something about the decades-long war on drugs here in the United States?

Or to put it another way, even if the U.S. government were to achieve the same level of a police state as communist China, the war on drugs would still not be won.

Or to put it another way: If a police state like China cannot win the war on drugs, then aren’t U.S. drug warriors a bit off kilter in thinking that it’s possible to win the war on drugs here at home? And if they’re not off kilter, isn’t it clear that the price of winning the war on drugs, at a bare minimum, involves reaching the same level of a police state as communist China?

Is this what we really want for our country? Do we really want to be adopting the totalitarian structures and methods that are employed by communist and other totalitarian regimes? After all, don’t forget that there are drugs laws in Cuba, North Korea, Burma, and many other societies controlled by tyrannical regimes.

Individual freedom and drug laws contradict each other. In a genuinely free society, people are free to ingest whatever they want to ingest, no matter how harmful or destructive. What people ingest is none of the government’s business. If drug users or drug addicts wish to get help, a free society provides the means to do so.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, it is the responsibility of government in a free society to protect the exercise of freedom, not infringe or destroy it by punishing people for exercising what some consider to be a wrong, irresponsible, or self-destructive choice.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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