Coverage of the first GOP presidential debate of the ’12 election is replete with stories pointing out that “Ron Paul wants to legalize Heroin.” Here is an example.
This is classic simple-mindedness though. Ron Paul did not state that he wants to see heroin legalized. If you follow what he says at all, then you’ll know that he believes 1) the federal government has no authority to conduct the so-called War on Drugs or regulate drug use, and therefore 2) issues of drug regulation or criminalization are properly decided at the state level. Ron Paul supports federal decriminalization of drugs. That is not the same as legalization.
Before we get started, let me disclose where I stand on drugs. I think they’re horrible substances and that anyone using them for non-medical reasons is an idiot. We have a beautiful world around us, so full of interesting things to learn and do. Escaping that world is such a shame. And I’m Christian, so furthermore I think it’s kind of slap in God’s face to choose substances like drugs over the wonder of creation. However, God gave us all free will, so just don’t harm others with your idiotic choices.
Anyway, revenons à nos moutons.
Congressman Paul was a doctor before being a congressman, so I’m guessing that at some point in his education and career he learned about the effects of drug use. That is to say that he gets that they’re terrible substances to put into one’s body. But let’s get into a little Bastiat here and think about “that which is seen and that which is unseen.”
Drugs are bad, plain and simple. So at the surface saying, “we’ll make them illegal,” sounds like a good idea. Some kids will not smoke pot as a result. That is that which is seen. We tried this once with alcohol. It actually took a constitutional amendment to do so.
What is unseen in this? What are the side effects of criminalizing anything? Does said something cease to be? Or does it just become more profitable to trade in said thing?
Those of us in southern border states in particular are acutely aware of the so-called “Mexican drug cartels.” These are scary groups. They hire mercenaries that are as well trained as our special ops units. That takes some serious cash to do (anyone looking at US military spending knows that). Where do they get that kind of cash? The increased value of selling drugs as a result of the so-called War on Drugs. Also, have you heard of the “Mexican Alcohol Cartels” or the “Mexican French Fry Cartels?” I haven’t either.
And there’s the tradeoff. Would some people who don’t currently use heroin give it a shot if it were legal? Probably, and that would be an increase of “bad.” But, and this is a big but, is that increase of “bad” less than, equal to, or greater than the amount of “bad” we’ve created in the unseen consequences of the War on Drugs.
Secondly, as Gary Johnson pointed out during the debate, look at our criminalization statistics in this country. Look at who is most punished by criminalization of drugs. Would you have inner-city youth running drugs if you could pick up your crack legally? Would you have the countless lives destroyed by the violence? What if instead of making this a legal issue it were a medical issue, as he suggests?
So to the original point, Ron Paul’s argument against federal criminalization of drugs goes thusly: 1) It is not Congress’s concern what any individual consumes, and 2) federal efforts to stem drug use have created side effects that are worse than whatever drug use they may or may not have stopped.
Ron Paul argued that states should decide this matter. And what a wonderful idea that would be! I don’t know how the tradeoffs work; that is to say, I don’t know if the drug cartels are better or worse than whatever the potential increased drug usage would be. No one knows what that increased usage would be. We do have the example of alcohol and prohibition to go off of, so let that inform the voter.
Imagine if we could actually find out though by letting the laboratories of democracy do their job! We could actually really find out, instead of just having the grandstanding of politicians appealing to our human desire to see someone do “something” about any and every problem (but of course only the problems that are en vogue). We know for a fact that the so-called War on Drugs has given us a great measure of “bad.” What we need to find out is if that measure is more or less than what we’d have without it.
Obviously, I think that is a perfectly reasonable stance, so I find it absurd when people call Ron Paul a loon because he “wants to legalize heroin.” 1) He doesn’t, and 2) what he actually does support is quite compelling.