John Walters on Cato and Drug Legalization

On her radio show earlier today, Laura Ingraham discussed drug legalization with John Walters, the White House “Drug Czar” under George W. Bush.

Walters had nothing good to say about Cato, George Soros, legalizers in general, or me in particular.  Walters’ view comes down to three claims:

1. Legalization will cause drug use to soar; 

2. Increased drug use is bad; 

3. The negatives of prohibition are more acceptable than negatives of greater use.

On point 1:  No existing evidence suggests major increases in use from legalization.  Some increase may occur, since drug prices will likely decline.  But most drugs are already cheap enough that price is not a major deterrent.

On point 2: Drugs can indeed cause harm, but so can alcohol, tobacco, double-black diamond ski slopes, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and driving on the highway. Many current harms (e.g., accidental overdoses), result from prohibition, which makes it harder for users to determine quality.  Walters view that all drug use leads to irresponsible intoxication is utterly inconsistent with the evidence.

And, many people derive a benefit from drugs.  Walters thinks people take drugs only because they are addicted; an alternate view is that people choose to use drugs, whether to alleviate pain, aid relaxation, or become intoxicated. Under the second view, increased use is a benefit of legalization, not a cost. And in a free society, individuals, not government, get to make that determination.

On point 3: Drug prohibition generates violence and corruption; reduces quality control and spreads HIV; diminishes civil liberties; restricts medicinal uses of drugs; foments insurrection in source countries; foregoes tens of billions each year in tax revenue; and requires tens of billions more on police, prosecutors, and prisons.

John Walters may believe that all this is preferable to a modest increase in drug use (some of which benefits users); he is entitled to his view.

But I disagree.