Essay date: January 28, 2023

How Milton Friedman Completely Misunderstood the War on Drugs

Drug Warriors are not 'men of good will.'

n 1972, Milton Friedman made the following breathtakingly uninformed remark on the subject of drugs and substance prohibition:

"I readily grant that the ethical issue is difficult and that men of good will may well disagree."

(source: "From Fighting the War on Drugs to Protecting the Right to Use Drugs)

Men of good will might have disagreed back in 1972, particularly those who lacked the philosophical instinct to intuit the predictable consequences of outlawing strongly desired substances that have been used for millennia by humankind, but it is impossible for "men of good will" to support the Drug War today.

Would men of good will prohibit philosophers from following up the work of William James, whose use of laughing gas changed his entire view of reality?

Would men of good will withhold morphine from children in hospice based on the superstitious drug-war doctrine that morphine is bad "in and of itself," without regard for how or why it is used?

Would men of good will suppress religious liberty by arresting those who use time-honored sacred medicine for religious purposes?

Would men of good will support an outlay of 51 billion dollars a year for punishing Americans who use substances of which racist politicians disapprove?

Would men of good will support a prohibition policy that has led to the presence of Mexican drug cartels in over a thousand American cities?

Would men of good will support a policy that has destroyed the Mexican judicial system and led to the corruption of countless officials, including the nation's top anti-drug official, Noe Ramirez, in 2008?

Would men of good will support a policy that, in just 50 years, has resulted in a 400% increase in the cocaine supply in America?

Would men of good will support a policy that has given Big Pharma a monopoly on mind medicine thanks to which 1 in 4 American women must now take tranquilizing medicine every single day of their life?

Would men of good will support a policy that has led to an opiate epidemic in America in which 1 user died every 16 minutes in 2016?

Would men of good will support a policy that has disenfranchised millions of Blacks and thereby led to the election of racist traitors and insurrectionists like Donald Trump?

Would men of good will remove young people from the American work force because they used medicines that, in the past, had inspired entire religions?

No, Milton. Drug Warriors are not "men of good will," or even "people of good will," as we would phrase it today. The very best thing that we can say about Milton's "men of good will" today is that they have been brainwashed, like Milton himself, in the Drug War ideology of substance demonization, which feeds us the unscientific lie that "drugs" have no positive uses, ever, for anyone, at any time, in any dosage whatsoever.

True, many of these downsides took time to develop and were not apparent in the 1970s (though they might have been predicted by a somewhat shrewder philosopher than Milton), but Libertarians today continue to accept Milton's analysis uncritically, as Doug Bandow does in the article cited above. They continue to ignore the 'good' uses of drugs, in fealty to the Drug War ideology of substance demonization, and they have yet to admit, let alone protest, the way the Drug War shuts down free scientific inquiry and debate.

As just one example of the self-censorship that the Drug War encourages, take the fact that Britain is getting ready to outlaw laughing gas, for the usual purblind reason that it could be dangerous to young people (the young people whom we have doggedly refused to educate about safe use). While there are many people who are protesting this upcoming prohibition, I am the only one in the world, to my knowledge, who is protesting the ban on the grounds of intellectual freedom, thereby standing up for William James and the right to free philosophical inquiry. This can only be because the Drug Warrior has, for the most part, convinced everybody on planet earth that 'drugs' are truly bad -- and this is, in fact, the impression one gets from reading libertarians like Friedman on this topic: they do not like prohibition, but that's only because they think that we should all have the right to 'go to the devil' in our own way.

Author's Follow-up: January 28, 2023

Not only are Drug Warriors not "men of good will," but they may well be just the opposite. Julian Buchanan argues that the Drug War is a great success, not because it is cutting down on "drug" use but because it is accomplishing the goals of the Drug Warriors: namely, to militarize police forces, disenfranchise minorities, and keep America's eyes off the prize when it comes to achieving social reforms.

Actually, I'm too easy on Milton Friedman. Even in 1972, he should have known that the outlawing of Mother Nature's plant medicines is an obvious violation of the Natural Law upon which America was founded. Surely a libertarian of all people should acknowledge that, concerned as they are about government overreach. I can scarcely imagine a greater case of government overreach than the government telling its citizens which plants and fungi they are allowed to access. I have a right to those medicines as an inhabitant of Planet Earth! John Locke said so in his Second Treatise on Government, that we have a right to the use of the land and all that lies therein. Not that we need a 17th-century philosopher to convince us of such a SELF-EVIDENT truth.

Next essay: The Infuriating Philosophical Idiocy of Kevin Sabet
Previous essay: Why the Drug War is even worse than Doug Bandow thinks it is

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old time radio playing Drug War comedy sketches

You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at Brian is the founder of The Drug War Gift Shop, where artists can feature and sell their protest artwork online. He has also written for Sociodelic and is the author of The Drug War Comic Book, which contains 150 political cartoons illustrating some of the seemingly endless problems with the war on drugs -- many of which only Brian seems to have noticed, by the way, judging by the recycled pieties that pass for analysis these days when it comes to "drugs." That's not surprising, considering the fact that the category of "drugs" is a political category, not a medical or scientific one.

A "drug," as the world defines the term today, is "a substance that has no good uses for anyone, ever, at any time, under any circumstances" -- and, of course, there are no substances of that kind: even cyanide and the deadly botox toxin have positive uses: a war on drugs is therefore unscientific at heart, to the point that it truly qualifies as a superstition, one in which we turn inanimate substances into boogie-men and scapegoats for all our social problems.

The Drug War is, in fact, the philosophical problem par excellence of our time, premised as it is on a raft of faulty assumptions (notwithstanding the fact that most philosophers today pretend as if the drug war does not exist). It is a war against the poor, against minorities, against religion, against science, against the elderly, against the depressed, against those in pain, against children in hospice care, and against philosophy itself. It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions, Nazifies the English language and militarizes police forces nationwide.

It bans the substances that inspired William James' ideas about human consciousness and the nature of ultimate reality. In short, it causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, meanwhile violating the Natural Law upon which Thomas Jefferson founded America. (Surely, Jefferson was rolling over in his grave when Ronald Reagan's DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 and confiscated the founding father's poppy plants.)

If you believe in freedom and democracy, in America and around the world, please stay tuned for more philosophically oriented broadsides against the outrageous war on godsend medicines, AKA the war on drugs.

Brian Quass
The Drug War Philosopher

PS The drug war has not failed: to the contrary, it has succeeded, insofar as its ultimate goal was to militarize police forces around the world and help authorities to ruthlessly eliminate those who stand in the way of global capitalism. For more, see Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley.

Rather than apologetically decriminalizing selected plants, we should be demanding the immediate restoration of Natural Law, according to which "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being." (John Locke)
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