Reduce Federal Spending: End the Drug War

Jacob Hornberger
Campaign for Liberty

I have a proposal for reducing federal spending: End the drug war by legalizing drugs.

Let’s face reality: Unless something drastic happens, like bankruptcy or hyperinflation, Americans are not likely going to let go of their welfare-warfare state in the near term.

When it comes to welfare, Americans are as addicted as your most hard-core heroin addict. How many times have we heard, “If we didn’t have Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, people would die in the streets from starvation and illness”?

Then there’s the warfare dole for the military and military-industrial complex. Don’t think for a moment that the Pentagon and its contractors are ever going to be willing to give up their warfare dole. They have as big entitlement mentality as welfare recipients. Moreover, they will always be able and willing to conjure up or provoke all sorts of foreign enemies, bogeymen, crises, fears, and threats that will guarantee them a continual stream of warfare money.

Then there’s the interest on the national debt. And then there is all the so-called “discretionary spending,” such as the bailouts, education grants, stimulus funds, farm subsidies, regulatory enforcement, and all the rest. You can count on every single recipient of such largess to fight just as viciously for his share of the dole as the other welfare and warfare recipients.

Given the enormous and growing gap between federal tax revenues and federal expenditures, the future doesn’t look good. Common sense will tell you that such a situation is not going to end well.

The liberals want to resolve the problem by raising taxes. But what they’re ignoring is that the welfare-warfare state might have finally have reached a breaking point — where higher taxes drive more firms into shutting down, thereby reducing tax revenues even more and increasing the number of people on the dole. Think Greece.

So, what to do? The answer is obvious: Immediately abolish — as in repeal — all welfare-state programs, beginning with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, restoring retirement and health care to the free market.

At the same time, dismantle the entire warfare state, immediately ending the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing all the troops home and discharging them, closing all the foreign bases and most of the bases here at home, and drying up the military-industrial complex.

Alas, however, Americans aren’t ready to go there yet. The addiction to welfare-warfare spending is too deeply engrained in the American psyche.

So, how about reducing federal spending by ending the drug war?

How much is spent on the drug war? Around $15 billion. Okay, admittedly that’s a drop in the bucket in a $3.5 trillion budget. But we’ve got to start somewhere, and what better place to knock off billions of dollars in one fell swoop?

After all, what’s the point of the drug war? Everyone, including the head of the DEA, would concede that the drug war has not been victorious despite decades of warfare. In fact, it’s become the never-ending war, one that has no other point than to punish people without accomplishing anything. As everyone knows, the drug war certainly hasn’t stemmed the flow of drugs.

So, I ask again: What’s the point of it? It has no point whatsoever. We could immediately save $15 billion by ending it.

And think of the collateral benefits that would flow from an immediate legalization of drugs:

1. The drug cartels and drug lords would be out of business immediately. Who could object to that? Isn’t that what the DEA and U.S. and Mexican militaries are trying to do with their law-enforcement operations? Yet, as soon as they kill or jail some drug lord, he’s quickly replaced by new ones.

Thus, their method will never permanently rid society of drug lords and drug cartels. It can only fill the graveyards or prisons with them, endlessly.

Drug legalization, on the other hand, puts them all of business. Why wouldn’t that be a better way to rid society of drug cartels and drug lords? Indeed, it’s the only way to do so.

2. Virtually all the robberies, muggings, thefts, burglaries, and murders that addicts engage in to pay for the exorbitant, black-market prices for drugs would disappear. We’d have a safer society. When was the last time you heard of a wino or alcoholic committing acts of violence to get the money to buy a bottle of wine or a case of beer? That’s because the cost of buying these products is low, compared to the potential cost of engaging in violent crime to get the money. Drug legalization would do the same thing to the prices of illicit drugs.

3. Drug addicts would be encouraged to be more open about their addiction, enabling them to openly seek therapy for the issues that are driving them to use drugs. The drug war drives people underground, fearful that someone will turn them in. Drug legalization brings the process to the surface, where it is easier to deal with.

4. The drug-war violations of privacy and civil liberties would disappear, along with one of the police’s favorite excuses for harassing citizens. No more asset-forfeiture, no more cash reporting requirements, no more planting drugs on innocent people. Indeed, no more drug-war bribes to government officials.

5. Most important, drug legalization will restore a core aspect of human freedom to our land — the right of human beings to ingest whatever substance they want without being punished by the state for it.

Would legalization of drugs resolve the federal budgetary problem? Of course not! But it would put a dent into it, while bringing about a more peaceful and free society.

The Never-Ending Drug War

The Mexican government has just killed a man named Ignacio Coronel Villarreal, who was purported to be the leader of a powerful Mexican drug cartel. According to the New York Times, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency congratulated the Mexican government on a “victory in their sustained efforts to dismantle the drug cartels by targeting the highest levels of cartel leadership.”

It would be difficult to imagine a bigger inanity than that particular statement from the DEA.

After all, during the past several decades how many times have we heard similar announcements from the DEA? Lots of times! Too many to count, in fact.

Recall all the hype about the Medellin Cartel. That was the drug-war cartel de jour during the 1990s. Amidst much fanfare, publicity, and hype, the DEA and the Colombian government targeted that particular cartel, along with its leaders Pablo Escobar and Carlos Lehder.

Well, guess what happened. The DEA and the Colombians destroyed the Medellin Cartel, either by imprisoning or killing its leaders. Escobar, who was called the “world’s greatest outlaw,” was killed and Lehder is now jailed in a U.S. penitentiary.

So, what do you think happened then? Was the drug war over? Of course not. The Medellin Cartel was simply replaced by new cartels, new suppliers, new drug lords, new drug dealers.

It was no different with the Cali Cartel, which the DEA was targeting in the 1990s. Go back and read the statements issued by the DEA when six out of the seven cartel leaders were arrested in 1995, and you’ll see that they were as inane as the one they just issued on current Mexico cartel leader Coronel.

The drug war is a never-ending war. That’s what everyone needs to realize. It will never have a final victory to it. As long as it is waged, it will be waged forever. It’s all just an endless process of arresting, killing, and congratulating.

The whole process is a big bonanza not just for the drug dealers but also for the DEA bureaucracy and the Mexican drug-war bureaucracy. It keeps these people permanently employed. Never mind that nothing ever changes. Drug lords are jailed or killed. DEA agents spend their lives issuing inane statements of congratulations and then retire on their fat federal pensions. Like the Energizer Bunny, the drug war just keeps going and going and going.

Let’s face it: there are three primary groups benefiting from the drug war: the DEA and other drug-war law enforcement officials, the drug lords, and the countless public officials who are on the drug-war take. All three groups know that if drugs were legalized, all three groups would be out of business immediately.

There really isn’t any other argument in favor of the drug war, other than that it protects jobs and bribes. For years, drug-war proponents have cried, “The problem is that they’re just not cracking down fiercely enough!” Those laments have also been inane because the fact was that they were cracking down, with such things as mandatory minimum sentences, asset forfeiture, illegal searches and seizures, planting of drugs on suspects, violations of financial privacy, military invasions, and more.

No one can honestly claim that the Mexican government hasn’t cracked down. It has done so big time, even to the point of using its military forces.

And what has been the result of the Mexican crackdown? Death, destruction, violation of civil liberties, and increased governmental corruption! Imagine: 23,000 deaths in just the past few years! And there’s no end in sight.

The drug war has converted Mexico into an absolute disaster. American tourists are staying away from the border towns, which used to be tourist Meccas. And it’s all because of the Mexican government’s drug-war crackdown, the crackdown that the DEA thinks is great.

There is only one way to get rid of the drug cartels. Let me repeat that: One way only. It lies not in drug-war crackdowns or in the jailing or killing of drug lords. The reason is simple: drug lords who are jailed or killed are immediately replaced with new drug lords. It’s called the law of supply and demand.

The way to get rid of drug lords is simply to legalize drugs. If the drug war were ended today with drug legalization, the drug lords would be out of business tomorrow, if not sooner. Of course, when that day comes, don’t expect any congratulatory statements coming from the DEA because it will be out of business too.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email. Copyright © 2010 Future of Freedom Foundation

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