Can a Mormon Oppose the Drug War?

Can an active Mormon oppose the drug war?

One of my biggest concerns about libertarianism was the federal drug war.  As an active Mormon (and some may say, due to common sense) I am opposed to the use of drugs for recreational purposes.  Why, then, would I oppose what is termed the “drug war,” a federal government-run program to try and reduce the demand and supply for illicit drugs?

The thinking goes that if the supply can be reduced sufficiently via diplomatic or often military means, prices will go so high that they will be cost-prohibitive to most users.  The sad story is that despite government’s decades of effort and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, drug use is still unpredictable, and largely continues to rise.  Crime in drug-ridden areas continues to be problematic.  I am no sociologist or criminologist, so I will leave the trends to the experts.  Suffice it to say we still have a significant drug use problem in America.  Most, I would venture to guess, will agree with this statement.

When Prohibition was enacted in 1920, a Constitutional Amendment was proposed, written, and passed.  This showed that those in favor of prohibiting alcohol consumption needed a Constitutional Amendment to give those powers to the federal government.  No Constitutional Amendment was proposed, written, or passed to prohibit marijuana, cocaine, barbiturates, opiates, or any other drug currently combated.  The current drug war was started on the whim of President Nixon several decades ago.  Drugs, he said, were public enemy number one.  What about rapists or serial killers or terrorists?  He said drugs were public enemy number one.  This is another problem I have with the drug war: it has a false premise.  I disagree that drugs are public enemy number one.

Don’t we use drugs (even hard drugs like opiates and barbiturates?) for medicinal purposes all the time?  Why then, are they not public enemy number one in the medical field?

Another reason I am opposed to the drug war: government actions have unintended, negative consequences.  One example of an unintended, negative consequence is an increased difficulty in procuring medicine.  If I am a low income individual, and I want a special type of antibiotic for a special type of infection, government regulation of drug products (part of the drug war) makes it difficult, if not impossible, to get one.  An market void of government regulation would make it much more available.  But you ask, “Without government regulations, how can we know something is safe to consume?”  One answer is that an unregulated market can provide all different private levels of certification, so I may prefer “XYZ” certified drugs where you prefer “ABC” certified drugs and someone else prefers (or does not want to pay for) any certification at all.  What about mistakes?  When a private company makes a mistake, his competitors will take advantage and the mistake or its effects will be lessened, if not eliminated.  His reputation and that of his certifier will be damaged.  In a free market, such irresponsible behavior is strongly discouraged.  In the corporate system as currently set up today, however, if a drug company releases a dangerous drug (i.e. Viox) approved by the FDA, someone shouts at the FDA and perhaps the company, but life goes on with both the certifier (FDA) and the company largely unaffected.  If there was a chance of a private certifier getting closed down, what would be the incentive to make sure they really did their homework before certifying a new drug?  With lower barriers to enter the market, surely there would be more inexpensive and effective medicinal options than their currently are.  More options mean that avoiding a particularly troublesome company would become a real option.

The FDA is not really accountable, except in a vague way to some occasional government oversight.  For instance, a few months back, a study indicated that eating thirty cherries can have a similar analgesic effect to a tablet of aspirin.  When cherry growers planned to use this pain-lessening effect as a marketing tool, the FDA started playing hardball.  If cherry growers were going to make that claim, then cherries would be regulated as a drug.  This would cripple if not kill the domestic cherry industry, so the farmers backed off.  Meanwhile, the FDA regularly approves sketchy pharmaceutical drugs that result in very serious health complications.  Again, if the FDA were a private company, it would have to restructure its philosophy to compete with effective certification companies, as the market requires.

Again, if private organizations were involved in food certification, then the market (individuals) would determine the most cost effective and life effective way of regulating food and drugs.  But in the case of a government-run monopoly, we are stuck with the government’s decision, no matter how inept.  We may try to exert pressure to make a change, but we are ultimately stuck with their decision and their methods.

Another unintended consequence is innocent individuals caught in the crossfire.  I am opposed to the death and harm of innocent individuals which could have been prevented.

Another reason I am opposed to the drug war is the manner in which it has historically been carried out.  Usually, military operations resulting in burning or destroying fields in third-world countries is a significant part of the drug war.  I am uncomfortable with the United States military destroying the livelihood of destitute third-world farmers.  I never approved nor signed up for that, and am uncomfortable with bureaucrats making these types of decisions for me.

Another reason I am opposed to it is that it has not worked: a huge criminal organization has continued to flourish for decades of drug war prosecution.  There have been ups and downs, but for the money and effort expended, there is very little (negligible) measurable progress to show for.  Why should my tax money go to a wasted effort when I would rather invest in someone else (like my own retirement)?  How much money can the government take from me without my consent for purposes I strongly disagree with?

It was thought that tough sentencing of drug users would solve the problems.  What has happened?  Prisons are overrun with non-violent drug offenders while those who should be in our prisons (i.e. rapists, sex offenders) are released.  More and more taxpayer money is needed to build more and more prisons to lock up the end drug user, many with no other record of non-violent crime.

Some of the more controversial elements of the drug war involve medical marijuana, or use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.  There are several state laws that allow use of medical marijuana.  Federal drug agents will often overturn these state laws and prosecute individuals using marijuana for medicinal purposes, even those with significant health conditions.  Considering problems with overrun prisons (see above) I have issues sending the chronically ill and elderly to jail.  I also disagree with federal agents and federal policy trumping state laws.  Unless there is a significant amount of interstate trade involved (a.k.a “commerce” as in the Constitutionally controversial “commerce clause”), I see absolutely no basis for federal agents to trump state law in such matters.  It is simply not in their jurisdiction.  Unfortunately for me, this is an unusual position to take.  But this particular point of contention is more about states’ rights (negative federal government rights) then it is about drug use.

The astute would note that if a Constitutional Amendment was introduced to combat certain drugs, and those drugs were clearly specified, as were the intended means of combating drug use, then I may have to reconsider my position, especially if the means employed were more humane (not military-focused and non-interventionist) and the funding was voluntary (not compulsory taxation).  In that case, I would be less strongly opposed to the so-called “drug war.”  But even in that case, private agencies and charities, voluntarily donated to and invested in, would do a more efficient and cost-effective job dealing with such social problems as opposed to a government monopoly.

As it is now, the drug war seems like “anarcho-tyranny” as described by Samuel Francis.  The situation is anarchic (chaotic) because the guilty, those who sell and distribute drugs, largely go free and unpunished (the laws are not enforced, either due to feasibility, ineptitude, or some other reason), while the innocent and law-abiding suffer from enforcement of laws for oppressive purposes, a near tyrannical control (certainly unconstitutional) over their lives.  (For any true anarcho-capitalist reading, I would ask for your latitude: please try to understand the tenor of this term.)

The government struggles to convince individuals not to ingest or inhale drugs.  It is my opinion that leaving out the spiritual element is leaving out a large (perhaps the largest) component.  Perhaps decrying drugs is best left to families and churches operating independently of the government.

There are other issues at hand as well, but I think you get the point.

As a Latter-day Saint, I have noticed that those who want to partake of recreational drugs may do so.  Does having alcohol or tobacco legal make it that much more tempting or difficult to avoid?  Though most would say that having drugs such as LSD, cocaine, and marijuana illegal makes them that much more difficult to partake/inhale/ingest than if they were legalized, I would ask: what data do we have to suggest that the drug war is actually accomplishing its stated mission and objectives of reducing drug abuse in the United States of America?  Whether a substance is legal or not (i.e. cold medicine, superglue, whiteout) a Latter-day Saint may successfully apply his or her agency to determine whether they will partake/ingest/inhale or not.  In other words, a Latter-day Saint, even if drugs were legalized, has the divine-given ability (as does anyone else) to navigate his or her life, including avoiding harmful substances, whether they are regulated by the government or not.  We live by the health code known as the “Word of Wisdom,” after all.  Might we not have at least some wisdom?  It ultimately comes down to the exercising of agency, not the exercise of compulsory government control.  Zion was of one heart and one mind because individuals exercised their agency to be pure in heart, and that there would be no poor among them.  Compulsion is alien to the divine; God cannot compel us to be good, and to suggest we can be compelled to be good contrary to our will is, in my opinion, a near-devilish doctrine.  But to me, that is the type of morality often suggested by the war on drugs.



Filed under Austrian Economics, fiscal policy, foreign policy, Libertarian, Mormonism, Personal, role of government

4 responses to “Can a Mormon Oppose the Drug War?

  1. While I agree with you that the drug war has problems, I completely disagree with you that drug regulations should be abolished. In the early part of the 20th century, before the FDA was established, there was plenty of de-regulation. Yes, drugs were cheaper, and companies routinely put lead in paint, lime in toothpaste, and other toxic substances into consumer goods. It was much like China is experiencing today.

    There is just too much incentive for individuals to slap a label on snake oil, tell people it cures baldness, cancer, AIDS, etc, with absolutely no proof. An not only might this snake oil not cure cancer, or baldness, it might actually kill the person, because they mixed it with lead.

    The open market is subject to the good and bad whims of anyone. If I have cancer, I am much more vulnerable to try to eat lead as a means of cure. The FDA is supposed to try to prevent these types of egregious problems. And judging from before the FDA existed to now, it has done a good job.

    Can it improve? Absolutely. However, I think you must realize that when it comes to statistical design of experiments for drug safety, the statistical techniques employed today are in the “toddler” stages of development. The statistical techniques used today didn’t exist 20 years ago, so the drug industry and the FDA are still learning from the mistakes it has made. Yes things like Vioxx still get to the market today, but this is a vast improvement over the egregious errors of the past. I’m afraid the eliminating the FDA would simply return is to a lower level of drug safety.

  2. ed42

    “Can a Mormon Oppose the Drug War?”

    A Mormon MUST oppose the drug war, unless, of course, he cares not about agency.

    Do I have God’s approval to prevent my neighbor from consuming ANY herb? Yes or No!

  3. plato04


    Can’t say I agree with you here. Some recommended reading:

    The FDA has roots back into the mid-19th Century.

    I also encourage you to read the article I wrote a ways back about Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle:

    Perhaps I should write a longer article explaining my thoughts on regulation in general used to protect us from ourselves.

  4. MP, thanks for the links. I’ll try to read them when I have time. Yes a mormon can oppose the drug war, but I guess we’ll agree to disagree on this issue.

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