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For generations now, libertarianism has been synonymous with the legalization of recreational drugs. It is probably a bit unfair, as libertarianism has a lot more to it than just legalizing weed, but there is no getting around the fact that they have been obsessed with the topic for a long time. Libertarians take the broadest possible view on what could be considered recreations drugs. Their belief is that people can figure out for themselves what drugs they should or should not take.
The libertarian case rests on a number of assumptions about the human condition and human organization. One is that people are rational and act in their best interests or what they believe to be their best interests. The other is that you are responsible only for you and you have no duty to your neighbors or community. Those unable to sort their best interests may kill themselves with drugs, but that’s their problem. You and the rest of society have no duty or right to stop them.
Again, there is more to libertarianism than the legalization of drugs, but it makes for a useful entry point to examine their claims about a wide range of things. Their arguments about drugs can be applied to many other areas of life. That is the stock response from libertarians when they are chided about their drug obsession. Although they are extremely careful to avoid being explicit, the same arguments about drugs could be applied to speech, assembly, personal defense and so on.
Unlike most of the claims from libertarians, we now have some real-world experiments in the drug realm to test their claims. Not only have we had drug prohibition, we now have a lot of experience with legalization. We even have the unofficial decriminalization of drugs in several cities now. If the cops are told to ignore open drug use in a city, that is de fact decriminalization. Generations of claims about the drug war can now be measured against the reality of drug legalization.
The easy stuff to look at are the claims about crime. In places that have legalized marijuana, overall crime rates have not changed much. Property crime rates have not changed significantly and violent crime has actually ticked up, but that has happened in areas that did not legalize weed. In the cities that have effectively decriminalized drug use, like Seattle and Portland, crime has gone up significantly, but there are other factors at work in these cities driving the rise in crime.
There are fewer people in the court system for possession charges now, but no reasonable person doubted that claim. If we stopped arresting people for murder, the courts would see a drop in murder cases. The argument for or against legalizing drugs was never about courts of prisons. It is about the overall quality of life. If a big robust criminal justice system is what we need in order to have a high quality of life, only crazy people will complain about that trade-off. Life is nothing but trade-offs.
When you look at what has been happening in the country in total since states began to experiment with drug legalization, a pattern emerges. We have seen a sharp rise in taxes at the state level, some owing to taxes on drug sales, but also a sharp decline in the rule of law. The Western states, where marijuana legalization first started, has seen a collapse in civil order. You have massive homeless camps in Los Angeles, anarchy in Seattle and Portland. Anarcho-tyranny is the rule out west now.
Another point worth mentioning is that the states rushing to legalize drugs have also been some of the worst offenders of Covid lockdowns. California is operating under a bizarre form of martial law. Criminals and bums can run wild in the streets, but normal businesses are being shuttered over Covid. Maine has wrecked their tourist industry over Covid, despite few cases. Massachusetts is operating under a curfew. Maybe these states did not legalize weed for libertarian reasons.
It is important to underscore that the collapse of civil order in drug legalizing states is not caused by drug fiends running the streets. The bums, drug fiends, petty criminals and bourgeois revolutionaries are symptoms of a larger decline in civil order. The image that is beginning to emerge is that drug legalization efforts correspond with a collapse in the willingness of state government to maintain order. The Covid hysteria is probably just another indicator of this collapse in civil order.
There is another angle to the drug legalization claims. For generations, the image of drug legalization promoted by libertarians was that potheads would be growing weed in their backyards and drugstores would be dispensing harder drugs just as they sell products for foot fungus and allergies. If you liked smoking pot, you could grow some plants in the backyard with your artisanal lettuce. If you had a heroin addiction, your doctor would provide a prescription for safe heroin.
On the latter point we have plenty of evidence that the libertarians were completely wrong about legalizing hard drugs. The opioid crisis in America was created by those benign drug companies. The claim for generations was that business would never try to kill its customer base. It turns out that was false. The Sackler family was perfectly willing to genocide the population for a quick buck. Just imagine if they did not have to work through the legal system in order to deliver drugs to people.
We won’t have to wait to learn what would have happened. The marijuana business is well on its way to becoming the marijuana industrial complex. Companies operating what amount to government monopolies in the growing of pot are now worth billions and growing rapidly. When the business plan for billion-dollar corporations with special access to government is built on getting your kids hooked on drugs, it is not hard to predict what will happen. Let a thousand Sacklers bloom.
As with the breakdown in order where drug legalization is popular, the abuses of global capital in the drug trade are a symptom. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner is a marijuana lobbyist now. Former Speaker Paul Ryan is an off-the-books lobbyist in Washington, as he gobbles up corporate donations in preparation for a 2024 presidential run. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is Managing Director at Moelis & Company, where he lobbies for business deals.
Taken in total, what we will see from the supply side of drug legalization is the same thing we see everywhere with global capital. Instead of government regulating business, it is business regulating government. The state is always the junior partner. It is a form of post-national colonialism, where global corporations extract resources from communities with the support of local politicians. The opioid crisis was just the first wave of what is about to come in the normalization of drug taking.
There are two takeaways from the first wave of drug legalization. One is the results are nothing like what libertarians predicted. The states that are legalizing drugs are not experiencing empty prisons and courtrooms. Crime has not plummeted as the trade has moved from the streets to the strip malls. There may be fewer people in jail for marijuana possession, but that was always a false metric. Those people are now in jail for other crimes now that they cannot plead down to possession.
The other takeaway is that drug legalization is not the point of the libertarian spear, but the leading edge of anarcho-tyranny. The states rushing to legalize drugs are experiencing the most civil unrest. These state governments are not legalizing drugs because they love liberty. They are doing it because they no longer have the will or the desire to maintain order. In fact, drug legalization appears to be a traveling partner of a growing wave of illiberal authoritarianism.
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