Why Don't Conservatives Oppose the War on Drugs?

The war on drugs is a failure.

According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “Drug use in the United States increased in 2009, reversing downward trends since 2002.” There was a spike in the number of Americans admitting to using marijuana, ecstasy, and methamphetamine.

Yet no matter how much it costs to wage the federal drug war (more than $41 billion, according to a just released Cato Institute study), conservatives generally support it. I know of no prominent conservative who publicly calls for drug legalization. I know of no Republican candidate in the recent election (outside of Ron Paul) who has ever publicly voiced his support for the decriminalization of drug possession. Republicans in Congress — by an overwhelming majority — have even criminalized the purchase of over-the-counter allergy-relief products like Sudafed because they contain pseudoephedrine. [The sale of Sudafed isn’t illegal, but its quantities are strictly controlled so much so that the experience of purchasing Sudafed may make one feel like a criminal. — Ed.]

Negative arguments about how the war on drugs ruins lives, erodes civil liberties, and destroys financial privacy are unpersuasive to most conservatives. None of these things matter to the typical conservative because they, like most Americans of any political persuasion, see using drugs for recreational use as immoral.

The hypocrisy of conservatives who support the war on drugs but not the prohibition of alcohol should be readily apparent. But aside from a small minority of conservative religious people that long for the days of Prohibition, conservatives generally don’t support making the drinking of alcohol a crime, even though alcohol is a factor in many accidents, crimes, and premature deaths. So why is getting high on drugs treated differently from getting high on alcohol?

The reason conservatives should oppose the war on drugs is a simple one that has nothing to do with positive, negative, or financial arguments. Drug prohibition by the federal government is simply unconstitutional. Conservatives claim to revere the Constitution. They regularly lambaste judges for being activists and not strict constitutionalists. In the ‘Pledge to America” they released a few weeks before the recent election, House Republicans promised to “honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers and honor the original intent of those precepts that have been consistently ignored — particularly the Tenth Amendment.”

In Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, there are 18 specific powers granted to Congress. We call these the enumerated powers. Everything else is reserved to the states — with or without the Tenth Amendment. Nowhere does the Constitution authorize the federal government to concern itself with the nature and quantity of any substance Americans inhale or otherwise take into their body. Nowhere does the Constitution authorize the federal government to prohibit drug manufacture, sale, or use. Nowhere does the Constitution authorize the federal government to ban anything. When the Progressives wanted the United States government to ban alcohol, they realized that an amendment to the Constitution was needed.

Drug prohibition is likewise incompatible with private property, individual liberty, personal responsibility, free markets, and limited government — things that conservatives claim to believe in. What happened to the conservative emphasis on families, churches, private charities, and faith-based organizations solving problems instead of looking to the federal government to solve them?

But if conservatives want a war on drugs or any other personal freedom, then from a constitutional standpoint, it is at the state level that they must wage their war. From a libertarian standpoint, state (or local) attempts to prohibit or to tax and/or regulate drugs are likewise attacks on property and freedom. But from a constitutional perspective, conservatives should be just as against a federal war on drugs as libertarians are.

So if conservatives wanted to be both constitutional and consistent, they would have to say that there should be no National Drug Control Strategy, no National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and no Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. They would have to say that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Drug Enforcement Administration should all be abolished. And they would have to say that the Controlled Substances Act, Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, and Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act should all be repealed.

Although I would vehemently oppose their war on drugs at the state and local level, conservatives could abolish all those federal agencies while at the same time waging a relentless war on drugs — and all vice — at the state and local levels.

Why do conservatives, who profess to revere individual liberty, free markets, private property, limited government, and the Constitution continue to support the war on drugs?

Laurence M. Vance
Whiskey & Gunpowder

December 13, 2010

The Daily Reckoning