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How the Cato Institute is Bamboozled by Drug War Propaganda

A philosophical review of The Fire Next Door by Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

November 8, 2022

September 26, 2023 Brian may have been a tad harsh on Libertarians in what follows. This was before he learned from Chomsky that the movement has a "left" and a "right." So the reader should perhaps construe the following less as an indictment of Libertarianism than as an indictment of Ted Carpenter -- and not for what Ted says, mind, but rather for what he does NOT say viz. the many good things that can be (but never are) said about "drugs." Brian does feel, however, (bless him) that the Cato Institute downplays the positive sides of drug use, hence the admonitory nature of his essay title.

Fair enough? All rightie then.


Although I welcome Ted Carpenter's call for an end to the Drug War, the author cherishes some of the usual Libertarian misunderstandings about that war that I feel called upon to point out. First, he calls for the "legalization" of Mother Nature's bounty, when in fact he should be calling for its re-legalization, in recognition of the fact that denizens of Planet Earth have had free access to that extant pharmacopoeia for thousands of years, until America of all countries (a country founded on inalienable rights) determined that Americans, and indeed the world, had no natural right to the plant medicines that grow at their very feet. His silence about this fact suggests that he is not arguing against the Drug War on principle, but rather on practical grounds only, as who should say, "The Drug War would be fine if it actually stopped folks from using drugs."

To which I say, really?

If Ted truly supports that latter statement, then he is unaware of the role that such plant medicines have played in establishing entire religions, as the Vedic religion was founded to worship the psychedelic soma or as the Mayans and Inca venerated shrooms and coca respectively. With such a back story in mind, there would be nothing fine at all about a Drug War which actually succeeded in ending drug use in America and the world: to the contrary, that would represent the suppression not merely of a single religion, but of the religious impulse itself. In order to succeed, the Drug War would have to turn the entire world into one single political unit governed by a strict Christian Science sharia-- for the notion that we should abjure drugs comes not from science, but rather from Christian Science, the religion of Mary Baker Eddy, who tells us that we have a moral duty to "just say no" to drugs. And why is this a duty? Because, according to Mary, we are to receive help here-below exclusively from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Indeed, viewed in this light, the Drug War can be seen as an attempt to give Christianity (and its drugs of choice) a monopoly on providing self-transcendence in this life. That is not a consummation devoutly to be wished nor a public policy tamely to be tolerated. It is rather a call to arms for freedom-loving people around the globe.

Like most libertarians, Ted also gives the impression that drug users are basically hedonists but "what are you gonna do? Americans will have their drugs, will we or no?!"

It's little wonder that Ted has this attitude since he lives in a country (indeed a world) where it has been almost illegal to show any positive uses for the various substances that have been demonized and outlawed by botanically clueless politicians. When was the last time that Ted saw or read about a successful author like HG Wells empowering his writing with liberal swigs of Coca Wine? When did he see a TV show or movie in which a young person like Paul Stamets was cured of his childhood stuttering in one afternoon of "mushroom use"? . The fact is that Ted is under the illusion that he lives in a free country and that therefore he can judge drugs from the reality that he sees around him. But that reality has been ruthlessly purged of all mention of positive drug uses. Meanwhile, if truth be told, the drugs that we demonize today show great promise in treating Alzheimer's and soothing hotheads who might otherwise shoot up schools. But Ted, having been taught from grade school to "just say no" to mother nature's godsend medicines, takes the world around him as it is today (opioid crisis and all) as a natural baseline. He sees reports of only thugs and bums using and selling drugs and he lowers his views of those substances accordingly, failing to see that he is observing only what his drug-hating government wants him to observe: the dangerous and bad use of drugs that the Drug War itself has facilitated thanks to prohibition.

He also uncritically uses the term "hard drugs," as if it were a scientific category rather than the political pejorative that it is, based on the prejudices of botanically clueless politicians. He fails to realize that real danger, real "hardness," lies not in the drugs themselves but in our failure to educate folks as to safe use practices. Cocaine would not be a hard or dangerous drug if education was our goal, not incarceration. Even crack cocaine can be used on a non-addictive basis, but that's a fact that the Drug Warrior wants to shield us from, since their goal has never been to educate but rather to instill mindless fear. The coca leaf has been chewed by the long-lived Peruvians for hundreds of years. Yet to this very day, I know full-tenured professors who actually believe that the political category of substances known as "drugs" will fry your brain, when to the contrary the majority of them actually conduce to greater mental clarity when used wisely -- wise use, however, being something that the Drug Warrior makes a living out of trying to prevent.

Ted also uncritically quotes the DEA, the organization that lost its credibility decades ago when it knowingly poisoned pot smokers with paraquat, a weed killer that causes Parkinson's disease, and then went on to criminalize MDMA against the advice of its own legal counsel, thereby denying American soldiers a godsend treatment for PTSD. He quotes this corrupt self-serving organization as saying that legalization increases use.

To which I say, So what? The DEA never had the right to outlaw Mother Nature in the first place. That's a violation of the Natural Law upon which America was founded, as John Locke clearly states in his Second Treatise on Government.

But even if we renounce our American legacy by consigning natural law to the trash bin of history (as Reagan sought to do in 1987 when he ordered the DEA to raid Monticello to confiscate... wait for it, folks... poppy plants!) the following question still remains:

Will "drug" re-legalization kill more people, destroy more societies, censor more scientists, throw more people in jail and militarize more police forces than does substance prohibition?

Of course not. It's not even close.

Surely no American truly believes that legalization will kill more people than does the ongoing prohibition, thanks to which entire wars are afoot around the globe even as we speak. Therefore we have to conclude that their support of continuing the Drug War is based on racism and xenophobia, the hysterical fear that a policy change will put "our little Johnny" at risk, instead of the hundreds of thousands of little Pedros south of the border who have historically been counted on to pay the price for the Drug War's ruinous status quo.

Finally, I'm glad that Ted is writing books against the Drug War, but there are better motives for doing so than the selfish fear that deadly Mexican battles will someday come north to shoot up American cities. Given all the principled reasons why we should have ended the Drug War years ago, it's embarrassing that the Drug War's ultimate demise may be brought about by our rank fear of the Frankenstein that we ourselves created here in America over 100 years ago now, when, based on racist hysteria, we established the deadly precedent of outlawing the psychoactive bounty of Mother Nature.

Next essay: Capitalism and the Drug War Pt 2
Previous essay: Richard Rudgley condemns 'drugs' with faint praise

More Essays Here

Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

I, for one, am actually TRYING to recommend drugs like MDMA and psilocybin as substitutes for shock therapy. In fact, I would recommend almost ANY pick-me-up drug as an alternative to knowingly damaging the human brain. That's more than the hateful DEA can say.
Check out the 2021 article in Forbes in which a materialist doctor professes to doubt whether laughing gas could help the depressed. Materialists are committed to seeing the world from the POV of Spock from Star Trek.
The Drug War is a religion. The "addict" is a sinner who has to come home to the true faith of Christian Science. In reality, neither physical nor psychological addiction need be a problem if all drugs were legal and we used them creatively to counter problematic use.
Here's one problem that supporters of the psychiatric pill mill never address: the fact that Big Pharma antidepressants demoralize users by turning them into patients for life.
"My faith votes and strives to outlaw religions that use substances of which politicians disapprove."
I could tell my psychiatrist EXACTLY what would "cure" my depression, even without getting addicted, but everything involved is illegal. It has to be. Otherwise I would have no need of the psychiatrist.
Laughing gas is the substance that gave William James his philosophy of reality. He concluded from its use that what we perceive is just a fraction of reality writ large. Yet his alma mater (Harvard) does not even MENTION laughing gas in their bio of the man.
What bothers me about AI is that everyone's so excited to see what computers can do, while no one's excited to see what the human mind can do, since we refuse to improve it with mind-enhancing drugs.
The Drug War is based on two HUGE lies: 1) that prohibition has no downsides, & 2) that drug use has no upsides.
The Drug War is one big entrapment scheme for poor minorities. Prohibition creates an economy that hugely incentivizes drug dealing, and when the poor fall for the bait, the prohibitionists rush in to arrest them and remove them from the voting rolls.
More Tweets

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front cover of Drug War Comic Book

Buy the Drug War Comic Book by the Drug War Philosopher Brian Quass, featuring 150 hilarious op-ed pics about America's disgraceful war on Americans

You have been reading an article entitled, How the Cato Institute is Bamboozled by Drug War Propaganda: A philosophical review of The Fire Next Door by Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute, published on November 8, 2022 on For more information about America's disgraceful drug war, which is anti-patient, anti-minority, anti-scientific, anti-mother nature, imperialistic, the establishment of the Christian Science religion, a violation of the natural law upon which America was founded, and a childish and counterproductive way of looking at the world, one which causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, visit the drug war philosopher, at (philosopher's bio; go to top of this page)