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How Milton Friedman Completely Misunderstood the War on Drugs

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

January 28, 2023

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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Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

What are drug dealers doing, after all? Only selling substances that people want and have always had a right to, until racist politicians came along and decided government had the right to ration out pain relief and mystical experience.
Folks point to the seemingly endless drugs that can be synthesized today and say it's a reason for prohibition. To the contrary, it's the reason why prohibition is madness. It results in an endless game of militaristic whack-a-mole at the expense of democratic freedoms.
This is the mentality for today's materialist researcher when it comes to "laughing gas." He does not care that it merely cheers folks up. He wants to see what is REALLY going on with the substance, using electrodes and brain scans.
Drugs like opium and psychedelics should come with the following warning: "Outlawing of this product may result in inner-city gunfire, civil wars overseas, and rigged elections in which drug warriors win office by throwing minorities in jail."
Proof that materialism is wrong is "in the pudding." It is why scientists are not calling for the use of laughing gas and MDMA by the suicidal. Because they refuse to recognize anything that's obvious. They want their cures to be demonstrated under a microscope.
So he writes about the mindset of the deeply depressed, reifying the condition as if it were some great "type" inevitably to be encountered in humanity. No. It's the "type" to be found in a post-Christian society that has turned up its scientific nose at psychoactive medicine.
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.
Oregon's drug policy is incoherent and cruel. The rich and healthy spend $4,000 a week on psilocybin. The poor and chemically dependent are thrown in jail, unless they're on SSRIs, in which case they're congratulated for "taking their meds."
"Dope Sick"? "Prohibition Sick" is more like it. For me the very term "dope" connotes imperialism, racism and xenophobia, given that all tribal cultures have used "drugs" for various purposes. "Dope? Junk?" It's hard to imagine a more intolerant, dismissive and judgmental terminology.
We've created a faux psychology to support such science: that psychology says that anything that really WORKS is just a "crutch" -- as if there is, or there even should be, a "CURE" for sadness.
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You have been reading an article entitled, How Milton Friedman Completely Misunderstood the War on Drugs published on January 28, 2023 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)