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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/15373/what-explains-crystal-meth/

What Explains Crystal Meth?

January 20, 2011 by

Crystal meth is a horrible drug, but it is also a cheap date, the poor man’s cocaine. During cocaine’s heyday, meth was nearly extinct on the illegal market. Then came the war on cocaine. FULL ARTICLE by Mark Thornton


Matt January 20, 2011 at 10:12 am

By your argument, the drug war should not end, in order to force dealers away from Meth and towards marijuana, stop the drug war on marijuana ONLY. I think wholesale stopping drug enforcement will just increase all drug use, and have little effect on reducing meth simply because it is cheap to make. Also, I am not advocating legalization of marijuana at all.

Colin Phillips January 20, 2011 at 10:25 am

Matt, meth is cheap to make, yes, but I took the point of the article as that most new drug users would much prefer cocaine/marijuana to meth, so, even if meth is cheaper, meth usage would still go down once you removed the high costs of having to avoid the cops constantly, because users would tend towards cocaine/marijuana instead. Then, given that cocaine/marijuana is known to be less addictive than meth, it makes sense to believe that overall drug usage would decrease, as more people are capable of quitting cocaine/marijuana than meth when they choose to.

Matt January 20, 2011 at 12:41 pm

so you think that Meths side effects will drive people away? why a preference for cocaine / marijuana?

gabriel January 20, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Matt: Yes, the side-effects of Meth will drive people away. Not all people but the majority of people. The same applies to alcohol: A majority of people know what their limits are and therefore they drink to moderation; those same minded people would recognize the dangerous of meth and not partake in it. Sure, some people might experiment with it but that is for those people to decide. All you and I can do is try and persuade our friends and family NOT to do it. *I support Marijuana use but not Meth use.

Colin Phillips January 20, 2011 at 3:05 pm

1) Yes.
2) Because Marijuana/Cocaine is known to be much less dangerous than meth, and even drug-addicts place some value on their own lives.

Gil January 20, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Yeah right! That’s why after Prohibition ended alcohol sales dried up and everyone went back to soda.

Anthony January 20, 2011 at 10:49 pm


Sales shifted away from hard liquors back to wine and beer. Prohibition shifted consumption away from the milder stuff… it shifted back once the ban was gone.

nate-m January 20, 2011 at 11:54 am

By your argument, the drug war should not end, in order to force dealers away from Meth and towards marijuana, stop the drug war on marijuana ONLY.

Ending the drug war would put current criminal drug pushers out of business. It’s not a question of forcing dealers to do anything.

What you have to understand is that the vast majority of dealers are users also. They sell to finance their drug habits. Large criminal organizations like the various ‘mafias’ grow not from controlling the drug supply, but controlling the market through force and intimidation. They are, essentially, a form of criminal state government and make their money from enforcing agreements, regulating who is allowed to do what, and extracting fees from smaller criminals.

Legalizing drugs would remove the billion dollar industry and regulatory apparatus out of the hands of criminal gangs and put them into the hands of legit businessmen. In a open market criminals have NO chance to compete with real businesses.

Basically the entire criminal apparatus that has grown up in the past 50 years could NOT have existed it if was not for direct government action.

There are three major problems that the ‘war on drugs’ cause:
1. The multi billion dollar economy fuels powerful criminal organizations and numerous smaller violent gangs across the country. The vast profits attract aggressive sociopathic individuals who join up with one another and the large amount of money they make keeps them well armed and politically influential.

2. The war on drugs has lead to a huge tax burden and massive erosion of human rights in the USA. We have a higher percentage of people in jail then China does. We have about 5% of the population but well over 20% of the people in jail. ‘Knockless warrrants’ were police practice unannounced home invasion is common place. People are regularly harassed and threatened in public by police. Wiretapping is through the roof. Billions of dollars is spent sending small armies of people to terrorize people in central American countries into getting them to stop growing crops…. Not to mention the massive and widespread corruption it has caused at all forms of government from everything from people stealing money from anti-drug enforcement activities and people accepting bribes, to blackmail of governmental officials over their own drug habits.

3. Drug use itself is a horrible thing. Destroys families, makes people stupid, people use it as slow form of suicide and all the other negative things that happen that everybody is well aware of.

If we were to legalize drugs it would eliminate problem 1 and problem 2 almost instantly.

I think wholesale stopping drug enforcement will just increase all drug use, and have little effect on reducing meth simply because it is cheap to make. Also, I am not advocating legalization of marijuana at all.

Your wrong to think that the war on drugs has actually reduced consumption of drugs. Anybody who has been exposed to the ‘drug culture’ knows that anybody that wants drugs can get drugs. There are times when the market goes ‘dry’, but that only fuels furious activity to get more drugs because profitability is high. The better the drug enforcement capabilities get the higher profits the drug dealers get.

Unless you open your eyes it is impossible to understand the level of hypocrisy and just outright drug use that goes on at all levels of society. It’s not just poor people in poor areas. Presidents of corporations, sports figures, politicians, law enforcement, judges, doctors. All people at all levels of society engage in not only pot, but cocaine, ‘meth’, and opiates.

I estimate that about 15-20% of our population at all levels engages in illegal drug use. That is at all levels. The middle class would be the biggest consumer, of course, simply because they are extremely large in numbers plus actually have the financial means to afford it.

Here is a example… For a very long time (I don’t know if it still true) the number one growth market for meth in the USA was through housewives discovering it. Their husbands would bring it home and introduce their wives to it because it makes a very effective sex aid. Later on the wives would discover that it provides them many benefits around the house. It’s a very effective appetite suppressant, you literally have to force yourself to eat while your on it. So it helps them lose weight. Unlike cocaine the effect of the drug lasts 8-10 hours so it’s cheap to use and easier to hide the consumption. It provides a lot of energy and tends to increase the fastidiousness of people so that it makes doing chores around the house much easier and more effective. If it was not for the fact it was highly addictive it would be a wonder-drug for anybody wanting to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time.

The history of prohibition of alcohol teaches us everything we need to know about drug use. The verdict is very obvious. It created and funded large criminal organizations. It caused massive corruption in government. It increased the destructive consumption of alcohol as people engaged in binge drinking rather then the casual consumption of alcohol.

The only difference is that alcohol prohibition was repealed after a decade or so. Anti-drug war has been left to fester for almost half a century and as a result has grown to be a much more massive problem.

the more laws you create, the more money we spend, the worse it is going to get. It’s very obvious that what we are doing in this country is the wrong approach, but it seems that nobody wants to really address the issue. People that want drugs have no problems getting it and there is now a large amount of political pressure to maintain the drug war through misplaced morality and just the huge amount of profits it creates for individuals in government.

Matt January 20, 2011 at 12:38 pm

If there is drug legalization, wont the government just add to its current abuse of power? Of course, it would be legal…

DW January 20, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Eh, how? Getting the government out of personal consumption choices essentially disarms the government from doing more abusive things, such as throwing addicts into prison.

Stephen Adkins January 20, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Drug legalization isn’t meant as a positive action by the government, i.e., the government _doing something_ to make drug use legal. “Legalizing” simply would mean removing the laws against drug use.

In the same way, we are in an environment of thumb-twiddling legalization. The government has nothing to do with whether I twiddle my thumbs or not, and it didn’t have to pass a law or set up an oversight committee in order to ensure its continued legality. It just…stays out of it. And if I harm myself through vigorous thumb twiddling, or miss work due to late nights of thumb twiddling, there’s no need for PSA’s or local politicians to give speeches on the “thumb twiddling problem.”

ok im done

james b. longacre January 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm

it would be positive in teh sence that govt makes and changes and does away with its own laws at various times

james b. longacre January 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm

enroll in TTA.

james b. longacre January 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm

i dont know what you mean unless you mean taxing and regulating meths use abuse of power.

Matt January 20, 2011 at 9:37 pm

exactly how I should have put it, if drugs are legalized then i would mean taxing and regulating all currently illegal drugs. I fail to see how that would be good for society.

HL January 20, 2011 at 4:18 pm

nate-m sums it up nicely. I’ll just add that if drugs were legal there would be great variety and the introduction of new products with less side-effects.

Even with the stranglehold of IP laws, greater innovation would benefit us all. I, for example, have dreamed of a pill that would lower my libido and increase my concentration, while giving me 2,000 of vitamin C. But on Saturday night, I’d want the pill that increases my libido and helps me dance with Lucy in the sky with diamonds for hours….

steve January 21, 2011 at 1:40 am

Amen brother.

Gregory January 21, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Matt, your recommendation to only legalize murijuana short-sighted. Choices would still be limited and some users may still perfer meth to marijuana. Only by legalizing all substitutes do you ensure the freest market for choice of drug. With plenty of safer and now cheaper alternatives, meth use would decline precipitously.

Just like cars, homes, computers, etc. drugs are heterogeneic as are the preferences of the users of these products. Some individuals will be looking for the best high at the best price. Others may be more willing to pay more for a better drug, but only to an extent. And still others will enjoy the effects of a certain drug and pay almost any price to get it.

Legalizing only marijuana would likely decrease some users of meth, but not nearly as many as complete legalization. Will some people continue to use meth? Most likely, but the vast populace who would switch to other, safer drugs if they sold had an open market price.

Ohhh Henry January 20, 2011 at 10:46 am

There is also the problem that rampant unemployment and underemployment cause boredom and frustration, which drive more people to abuse drugs as a form of self-medication against depression. Being unemployed or only casually employed also means that the financial consequence of being stoned are eliminated or greatly reduced – why not go on a bender because there is no job to wake for in the morning.

I became aware of this when a construction foreman told me of the frustration he had managing the workers who showed up for casual labor doing drywall. He said they’re stoned all the time when they’re not working, which is often because of the frequent downtime in the industry. They sell drugs on the side to get more cash, and they’ve got pregnant girlfriends and illegitimate children scattered here and there, all of course who receive welfare.

Therefore by increasing employment the entire libertarian prescription for society will help reduce the harmful problem of addiction – not just in the area of drug prohibitions.

Nick Bradley January 20, 2011 at 10:48 am

The reverse is also true: federally-mandated drug-free workplace laws cause unemployment or underemployment.

DayOwl January 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm

We could view the drug-free workplace laws as a way to obscure unemployment. There has been a movement to disqualify more and more people for work through legal sanctions, increased licensing requirements, pre-employment tests designed to “spot potential trouble”, etc., etc. These all provide ways to marginalize an ever-increasing number of people and exclude them from the workplace.

Dave Albin January 20, 2011 at 2:27 pm

This boredom is a product of the state – regulations make it too complicated for a lot of people to start a business (or for a current one to expand), which goes to your point of unemployment and underemployment. And, go back further, public education has many anti-free market effects that get this ball rolling early in life.

Dan in Baltimore January 20, 2011 at 11:36 am

To me, this is like comparing apples and apple computers. Similar in name only (both are drugs). I think the highs are WAY to different (meth vs marijuana) for pot pricing/enforcement to have a truly socially significant impact on meth usage.

You could be offering people a daily stipend and free product to stay high on marijuana, and those with an inclination for the adrenalin/euphoria/upper high will still experiment with (1st time users), use (casual users) and seek out (addicts) drugs like speed, cocaine and meth.

Wade A. Mitchell January 20, 2011 at 11:36 am

I have suffered from allergies for years and for years I used a product called Drixoral for relief of allergy symptoms. I can no longer buy Drixoral at any price as the manufacturer has ceased production of the drug because meth manufacturers use it in their process. Now, lets consider the morality of this imposed prohibition. I am not a user of illicit drugs, yet I am being punished by not being able to buy Drixoral for relief of my allergy symptoms. Why should I be punished at all? I have done nothing wrong. I’m all for de-criminalizing all illicit drugs. This “war on drugs” has cost us in lots of ways and I’m tired of paying the price. Since everyone owns their own body, those who chose to abuse drugs should be allowed to do so without fear of punishment. This is the only way innocent persons, such as myself, can continue to be free to use modern pharmaceuticals for the relief of allergies and such.

Nancy January 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm

I had a similar problem when I had a herniated disc in my back which put horrific pressure on my sciatic nerve root. Just think tooth ache. But this was my butt cheek, leg and foot. The only thing that came close to relieving some of the pain was Vicodin. It would take 4 days to get a prescriptionfilled and when I went out of state for my father’s funeral it was almost impossible to get a legal prescription filled. Now they want to reduce the effectiveness of the medication. Outrageous. Free society. Right.

Rob January 20, 2011 at 11:50 am

My main concern with Meth isn’t how it came into being as a recreational drug, but how libertarians can square meth with the typical legalization argument. I understand that legalization will push the price of other drugs down and Meth, as an inferior good for many people, will have less of a demand. But Meth is already dirt cheap and for poorer people looking for a high, it seems like legalization might make meth more attractive since it’s a “cheap date”. (Kinda like how winos buy really low quality alcohol.) And since meth users are so often violent (due to psychosis from the drug) and the “functional” meth user seems to not exist, I don’t see a lot of the normal arguments used for legalization of other substances working for meth.

Even with legalization, I think a “meth problem” will persist where other drugs will simply be like alcohol now (potentially dangerous, but not users can still function in society). I really wish Block tackled meth in Defending the Undefendable instead of heroine. Heroine has been replaced as the “worst” illegal drug available.

J. Murray January 20, 2011 at 12:31 pm

A large number of people use it BECAUSE it’s illegal. The drug itself isn’t the desire, it’s the thrill of doing something illegal. Take the thrill of obtaining and using it away, it’s no longer interesting. The same phenomenon happened during prohibition.

Of course, the biggest thing you will have to come to terms with is you can’t stop it. You’re not the parent of every other human in our society. It isn’t your responsibility to protect them from stupid behavior. If someone wants to destroy their lives with drug use, they will do so whether the drug is legal or not. Adding a prison sentence on top of it won’t solve any problems. It’s not your job to save others when they don’t want to be saved.

DW January 20, 2011 at 12:52 pm

As a Criminal Justice major, I can vouch for Murray’s point. A lot of criminal behavior is done for the sake of being a rebel, which opens up opportunities for the drug user to be involved in criminal organizations as a rite of entry. Imagine a member of a drug cartel that doesn’t do drugs; that in itself invites a lot of suspicion from its violent members.

Concerning the irrationality of deep meth users, Matt does bring up a valid point. However, legalizing drug use would open up less harmful alternatives to meth for the addict to slowly rise above his/her addiction. Similar methods are used today with cigarrette users, and it’s safe to say that similar products and services would be marketed toward methees wishing to suffer less from their pursuit of pleasure.

Gil January 21, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Why? There’s one least harmful, mildly addictive, legal drug – caffeine. So why would any one want to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes even though they’re legal too? If the whole point of “doing drugs” really means “having fun breaking the law” then alcohol consumption should have ceased after the end of Prohibition. Gee maybe there’s something more than risk-taking for taking drugs. If all drugs were legalised then usage would have to go up as though who already do drugs have no incentive to quit and those who don’t like breaking the law now can have a go.

Rational January 22, 2011 at 12:23 am

Gil, you do have a point, there is a negative addictive quality to many drugs, and that IS a reason for them to be illegal.

Earlier you cited a concern of government or corporate abuse of control of legal drugs. A solution to this would be: advertising is illegal, as well as some limitation on patents/pricing. For example we’d want to stop a company from flooding the market with a cheap wonder drug, then yanking the prices up after everyone is addicted. Well they wouldn’t be able to do that if another company could make it for cheap.

If there is legalization, I would still like selling of drugs to be illegal. Take the profit motive away from dealers, stop it from spreading due to greed. I suppose maybe that is called decriminalization?

I think there is a middle ground solution in all this.

Stephen Adkins January 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm

“But Meth is already dirt cheap…”

It’s true, but non-monetary costs are much higher. That’s the whole point. The War on Drugs drives up the price of marijuana, cocaine, and others, and as an alternative people turn to meth. But taking everything into account, meth isn’t dirt cheap at all. It’s so addictive and destructive that it becomes much more costly in the end. As Thornton pointed out, even drug addicts respond to incentives. Perhaps the worst that can be said about the War on Drugs is that it has rendered the worst, most destructive, dangerous drug out there the best option for people.

james b. longacre January 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm

maybe the incentive to develop new drugs as meth was developed.

DayOwl January 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Meth manufacturing is a very hazardous process. People regularly blow themselves up making it. If it becomes legal, it is far less likely to be made in the garage next door. It can be made under far safer conditions that won’t put others around them (unwillingly or unknowingly) at risk.

Dave Albin January 20, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Or made in the hotel room you are staying in tonight….

james b. longacre January 20, 2011 at 11:02 pm

practice makes perfect

Jim January 20, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Not to mention heroin isn’t actually a big public problem, as much as it is a personal one. You could possibly make the argument that crack and meth users rob others, or commit crimes, because they’re more prone to violence, etc. However, opiate based drugs usually don’t result in that sort of behavior. I have several family members who are cops, and when we talk about drug legalization, they tell me that a heroin home is a happy home (in so far as public safety is concerned). The opiate user is generally not violent, and doesn’t interact with others in a negative way (at least as compared to crack / meth users). The opiate user generally just wants to stay sat down somewhere and drift off into oblivion (see the opium dens that existed all over the world in the 19th century).

Now obviously it still has a disasterous effect on the user, who detaches himself from the world, and can even die. But the effects are largely limited to themselves, and don’t impact others (except for the grieving families; I don’t want to minimize that, but the family has a legitimate right to try and help an individual for his own good; the state does not).

newson January 20, 2011 at 8:12 pm
Greg January 21, 2011 at 12:08 pm

“and the “functional” meth user seems to not exist”

I suppose if you get all your information about meth from TV, you’re a victim of selection bias. The functional meth user doesn’t make the news. Years ago when I was into drugs, I knew many many functional meth users.

Evan Foreman January 20, 2011 at 12:07 pm

The deterioration of a methamphetamine user over the course of 10 years

The above line in this excellent article seems to be incomplete.

Stephen Adkins January 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm

That line is a caption to a series of pictures of a meth user over a ten year span.

Prefer to be anonymous January 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm

While I can appreciate the economic arguments regarding drug preferences, and certainly for those that wish to get high on whatever is available this argument will hold, there are significant differences between the effects of marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines (methamphetamine, dextroamphetamine, etc.). As someone who has consumed them all, I can assure you that the allure of a stimulent is different from the allure and effects of a drug like marijuana. As well, the numbing effects of a drug like cocaine are to some very annoying, and the short term effects of cocaine versus the longer-lasting high of amphetamines also dictate choice (though price would certainly play a role in this decision). Attempting to simplify the argument with purely economic arguments misses these subtleties. As well, as is seen in the medical data regarding heroin, the impurities, etc. not only cause much of the harm, but the general purity of the drug can even dictate the mechanism of “injestion” with pure heroin being smokable (yes, still a harmful route) versus less pure material needing to be injected for the same effect. The direct injection of these harmful impurities causing even more harm to the user. Methamphetamine is widely smoked today, but has also been consumed by snorting and even just injestion by mouth.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that there is a large component of the current user population who would tend toward other drugs such as marijuana if all were legal, but the continued desire for stimulants will still drive some to methamphetamine. A truly free market however would open up the availability of drugs like dextroamphetamine (Dexies) which are routinely given to US Air Force pilots, are produced safely and purely by pharmaceutical companies, and might even open up the “science” to the potential discovery of stimulant drugs without the harmful effects seen in the current illegal variety.

Let us also not forget that coca leaves (the source of cocaine) are chewed as part of daily life among the Peruvians living in the higher Andes mountains will virtually no ill effects and no doubt there are plenty of far safer stimulant alternatives that our government has made illegal that could meet an existing market demand as well.

The libertarian and free market argument holds no mater how the drug situation is looked at though, and the benefits to both society at large and the drug consumer directly would be profound were the war on drugs ended completely. The legalization of just marijuana, while certainly a step in the right direction, would maintain all of the ill effects of prohibition for every other drug.

Essentialmama January 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I knew many meth heads in my young adulthood. Saw many friends and acquaintances decimate their lives and relationships over meth. Economics really wasn’t the driving force for them. Maybe to start as it was far easier to obtain and cheaper in the long run than cocaine…but they LOVED the high. A few explained the difference between cocaine and meth to me as I never got into them (thankfully!!) Speaking from what I’ve been told: Cocaine does stimulate, and makes the face numb. Meth gives a different type of stimulation, far higher than cocaine, and a different or no numbness of the face. Cocaine lasts a few minutes to half an hour or so…meth lasts HOURS. Even when cocaine was available to these people that I knew…they preferred meth, due to the high. I never knew anyone on cocaine who felt ten feet tall and bullet proof…but I witnessed first hand, in my own family that very effect from meth. Economics may play a role, but that is not the biggest role there is.

I do agree that the war on drugs must quit…especially the war on marijuana. The taxes spent to prosecute small and even large marijuana cases…it’s insane. If there is no victim, there is no crime. Keep the war on for the murderers due to drugs…but then again, that will severely decrease with abolishing the war on drugs as it will be legal to sell them!

Dave Albin January 20, 2011 at 2:56 pm

You said it yourself, maybe to start – meth has flooded the market, it’s cheap and easy to find, and hence, makes it easy to start with….economics is the main reason.

Gil January 20, 2011 at 10:54 pm

By your reasoning meth delivers a much greater bang for the buck. In other words it delivers results much more efficiently than cocaine and as such there’s no reason for people go back to cocaine if all drugs legal. If anything if drugs become legal then drug companies would look for ways for people to get greater and longer lasting highs than create softcore drugs.

james b. longacre January 20, 2011 at 11:06 pm

there are lots of beers…people dont always drink to get drunk.
i have heard of numerous ingestion methods with cocaine that didnt involve needles or snorting.

Greg January 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Nobody is going to do meth for the flavor, trust me.

Gil January 21, 2011 at 9:08 pm

And alcohol-free beers/wines sells like hotcakes because getting drunk is an unpleasant side effect that gets in the way of its wonderful taste.

Charles Landesman January 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Let me speculate that if illegal drugs are legalized, then there is a 50% chance that the number of people addicted to such drugs and families destroyed because of them will double. Although this is just a guess, it is based on the fact that making something illegal and punishing people for using it is an actual deterrent causing some people to avoid its use. Would anyone reading this be willing to take this risk? Is the appeal to liberty a sufficient argument for doubling the number of those whose health and human relations are destroyed by drugs? The assumption that legalizing drugs will appeal to those who use them already and to no one else is absurd – it contradicts the fact that the price system functions as a system of incentives for all economic transactions.

laura January 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Illogical. You assume that legalization increases demand. Fallacy. You could legalize cocaine, heroin, etc. — I wouldn’t use them. Why not?? Because it’s stupid to use them. However, when I was a teenager — the fact that drugs were ILLEGAL — CAUSED ME TO TRY DRUGS — because it was a rebellious phase I was in. I think I would not have used them had they been legal. As soon as I was old enough to drink — drinking lost all it’s “luster” because it was legal. I tried cocaine ONCE — and it was so excellent an experience — I said I would NEVER touch it again. I knew it would be highly addictive. But I did use marijuana. But I looked at it’s negative effects and decided I didn’t want to use that either. It wasn’t addictive so there was no issue quitting it. No, you just have your own ideas that they only way to “control people” is through law. We’re not so easily programmed. Actually, ILLEGALITY IS AN INCENTIVE to use drugs. Was for me. And is for most teenagers who decide to try them. Make them legal — they lose SO much appeal. Study the facts — and know human nature… better, I’d say.

Dave Albin January 20, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Yeah, a lot of people I know quit or seriously reduced drinking after they turned 21.

Stephen Adkins January 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm

The essence of the argument being made is that, yes, laws and law enforcement are strong deterrents from using substances which are deemed undesirable; however, the very act of establishing a law and attempting to enforce it comes with some very high costs itself. The monetary costs of funding it are astronomical, and I believe it has been well-documented that the massive drug cartels and warlords exist not despite but because of the illegality of drugs in most countries. Then there’s the question of the morality of putting a human being in a cage because he ate something a lot of people think is bad. Thus the question is not, “are we willing to take the risk of doubling the number of families harmed”; rather, it’s “when will people actually take into account all the costs involved with trying to wage a ‘war’ of this kind?”

The prohibition experiment, at least in my mind, slams the case home. Not only do we have the theoretical arguments against it, driven by economic reasoning. Even more, we have a historical case, from this country, of attempting to prohibit a substance that even today kills far more people and ruins far more lives than any other drug – alcohol. With this attempt to prohibit came heavy costs (both monetary and non-monetary), such that the experiment was deemed a failure after 10 years. If you read the teetotalism literature from the 1920s, you’ll find some striking resemblances to even what you just said above. “Alcohol ruins families, causes laziness, leads to violence, waste, and unhappiness. Thus it should be outlawed.”

I would ask you whether an appeal to force and centralized power in the hands of a few is sufficient argument for the outrageous costs that have incurred over the past 50 or so years in this “war”, and whether it isn’t time to reconsider our course of action.

Charles Landesman January 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm

You are assuming that the cost of making drugs illegal taking everything into account is greater than the benefit. This is a relevant consideration – an appeal to utility as well as to freedom – but I have no reason to suppose that your assumption is true. As far as prohibition is concerned, do you know for a fact that its costs exceeded its benefits. On this topic, people make all sorts of factual claims which are just guesses. All that one really has to go on are costs we already know about and incentives built into human nature. All the rest is speculation.

Jim January 20, 2011 at 3:16 pm

I’m simply curious, from a libertarian standpoint, what makes you think you, the voting public, have the right to tell me, a free individual, what I may or may not do? Grand ideas about societal costs risk overshooting the very basic, very elementary point of all of this: why should someone else be allowed to tell me what I may not do when it does not affect them (“moral outrage” doesn’t count as affecting them).

Also, you stated, “Would anyone reading this be willing to take this risk?”
I do, all the time. I have a good job, that I don’t miss, because I’m responsible for my actions. I only wish that the gestapo would get out of my face and let me spend my Saturday night chilling out how I want to, instead of only allowing me the option of their heavily taxed booze if I want to get a little loopy.

Stephen Adkins January 20, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I’ll speculate and say dude ain’t a libertarian, that’s what.

Colin Phillips January 20, 2011 at 3:22 pm

“As far as prohibition is concerned, do you know for a fact that its costs exceeded its benefits.”?

Yes, the cost is Freedom, plus some money. It is only the alleged benefits which are in question.

ABR January 20, 2011 at 1:48 pm

I’d take the risk if: roads were privatised; police were private; medical care were private; defending your property were legal.

Anthony January 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm

ABR, I agree with you. And since medical care is not private, every person in the country should be subject to a mandatory, supervised group exercise program of 60 minutes each day, with heavy fines or imprisonment if people are “slacking”. Furthermore, all food should be distributed directly from the government to each individual, so that portion size as well as content could optimize the individual health of each citizen. Since watching TV is unhealthy, as is sitting in front of the computer, those items should be prohibited from private use.

ABR, do you truly think that since the government subsidizes medical care that means that it has the right to tell everyone what they can and cannot do? That because the government has socialized the costs of making poor decisions that it is justified in using force to make people make the right decisions?

People are NOT slaves, and offering to pay for someone’s health care absolutely does NOT give you ownership or control of their body. Why not join us in opposing injustices perpetrated by the government, rather than arguing that since the government oppresses you it should oppress everyone else too.

Colin Phillips January 20, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Anthony, why are you picking on ABR? I’m not sure he said anything of the sort like what you have accused him of saying, at least not in his post above! I think a retraction is in order.

Stephen Adkins January 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm

out in left field…

ABR January 20, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Governments have no rights. They rule without consent.

Governments extort money from taxpayers. A taxpayer can argue for the elimination of the State, but meanwhile it continues, growing more oppressive over time.

Libertarians living in a non-libertarian world encounter endless dilemmas, and arrive at endless compromises. A libertarian resents having to pay tax. If legalising meth were to require additional taxes — an unlikely prospect, imho — then I have a reason to oppose the legalisation.

I already have a reason to favour it: personal choice. Which reason wins? Well, if I have no interest in consuming meth, I might short-sightedly be less inclined to favour personal choice, not realising that some other vice I do enjoy, could be banned for similar reasons.

One cannot say objectively which freedom is greater: freedom from increased taxes vs. freedom to consume meth without fear of prosecution. Ideally, we would enjoy both.

Anthony January 20, 2011 at 10:24 pm


I may have been overly harsh earlier… I have often argued about this and I may be overly sensitive about the issue. I apologize if I misinterpreted your argument. Sorry.

Regarding your second post, a similar argument to yours really could be made about banning junk food, or alcohol, or any number of things, all of which are directly counter to freedom. It seems inconsistent to me for a libertarian to argue against personal freedoms… those positions seem a little too “conservative” for my comfort, though I do recognize that you, at least, have come by the position via libertarian reasoning.

Colin Phillips January 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Every morning the rooster crows, and every morning the sun comes up. Can you really tell me you’re willing to take the risk of eating that rooster? What if the sun doesn’t come up?

The illegality of drugs is NOT the major deterrent to drug taking – the social stigma of having to live life as a drug addict is – most people don’t want that, and would not want that at any price. Relative to the amount of money spent on making drugs expensive and difficult to obtain, most drugs are quite cheap and easy to obtain. Am I willing to take the risk that removing this incredibly expensive, wasteful farce will not result in people doing things they don’t actually want to do? Yes!

Gil January 20, 2011 at 11:06 pm

How do you know that the “illegality of drugs is NOT the major deterrent to drug taking”? Of course, there are people who love the thrill of doing something illegal and dangerous. However most people have no love of going to jail, racking up criminal convictions and generally ruining their reputation. As such there are many people are who have no moral objection to using drugs but aren’t willing to become an outlaw and because drugs are made by criminal gangs there’s no little to no quality control of their products. Hence drug use ought to go up if they were alll legalised.

Dave Albin January 20, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Overall drug use may drift slightly up following legalization. Irresponsible, out-of-control, crime-spree fueling, overdose drug use would fall drastically. The quality of drugs would get better (fewer to no toxic impurities), also, and prices would fall. Thus, the true drug abusers would stand out and would be dealt with by society.

Gil January 21, 2011 at 9:17 pm

When prices fall, more is demanded. Those who avoided the drugs can now have a go since they not breaking the law and can have rights to legal recourse if something goes wrong.

laura January 20, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Excellent article. Slamdunk.

Rick January 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Great article. Good comment thread too. I’ll send friends this link whenever I’m asked something like, “Sure, the drug war is bad. But if we end prohibition completely then we’ll have even more people using something like meth. Surely you don’t want that legal, do you?”

And this comment from the article… “Law enforcement was surprised,” St. Louis County Sgt. Tom Murley said. “People that normally wouldn’t cross the line are willing to do so because they think it’s such a sweet deal, and because of the economy.”

If only more police officers and politicians spent more time reading Austrian economics rather than just dismiss it with “kooky” name calling.

Dick Fox January 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Sorry guys but the article says nothing. Are there any of you who do not know that all these drugs will harm you? Is there any one of you who doesn’t know that price will determine usage. A person doesn’t have to be smart to know that $20 of one drug will get a bigger high than $20 of another.

The article says nothing about why people use such drugs in the first place. It only tells us that drug users will be influenced by price. Duh!!

The why of drug use is much more important than the how of drug use.

Why do I need to sit back and watch another of my friends blown away in their convience market by a meth or coke addict? My last friend was blown away and the addict was so high he forgot why he entered the store. What was my friend’s death worth?

There can be rational drug laws. Today our drug laws and the war on drugs is irrational, but that does not mean we cannot make laws that are rational.

If you want to legalize a drug that alters a man’s mind to the point of irrational, indiscriminate slaughter, then the blood of that man’s victims is on your head.

Jordan Viray January 20, 2011 at 4:08 pm

The article not only tells us that drug users will be affected by price but points out how legislation has influenced those prices and the structure of the drug market today.

“If you want to legalize a drug that alters a man’s mind to the point of irrational, indiscriminate slaughter, then the blood of that man’s victims is on your head.”

Murders from drunken rage do happen but the blame is not on the congressmen who voted to repeal Prohibition.

Colin Phillips January 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Sorry Dick, but if you can’t tell the difference between taking drugs and murder, why should I believe that you are capable of understanding the oxymoron of “rational drug laws”?

ABR January 20, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Privatising roads would go a long ways toward diminishing crime. I suspect that non-functioning addicts would eventually retreat to the outskirts of towns, for the simple reason that the owners of roads would not allow such people on their property.

Of course an addict might try to sneak his way onto private property, but the owner or his employees might then shoot the trespasser on sight.

Gil January 20, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Uh huh. A free society really is a violent teetollar society?

Stephen Adkins January 21, 2011 at 12:08 am

…I don’t think you know what that word means.

Gil January 21, 2011 at 9:14 pm

What? If ABR is serious then he would replace the current drug situation to a private drug prohibition with a shoot-to-kill policy for drug users.

Matthew Swaringen January 21, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Not to drug users who remain on their own property but to vagrants who use others property.

Anthony January 21, 2011 at 1:04 am

I am very sorry to hear about your friend… he was the victim of a horrible crime and I hope the perpetrator is punished severely.

That said, the fact that the crime happened under the horribly restrictive drug laws that exist now might be a sign that ever stricter drug laws are not an appropriate way to reduce real crimes (harming an other person or their property).

Dick Fox January 22, 2011 at 10:04 am

If a drug is produced that could turn a human into a violent creature destroying a portion of the brain removing any conscience and reason and causing the creature to become totally intent on killing should such a drug be allowed to be distributed? Is it just the creature that is to blame for its killing or should the producer and distributor of the drug be ignored?

Legalization of all drugs is not as simple a libertarian principle as some try to make it.

Such drugs exist.

Colin Phillips January 22, 2011 at 10:45 am

Dick, think it through. If you huff enough petrol fumes you could also become “totally intent on killing” – are you going to blame Shell for your choice to huff the petrol? Get real.

“should such a drug be allowed to be distributed?” Yes, that would make the responsibility for the consequences of taking the drug ENTIRELY lie with the person who made the CHOICE to take the drug. This is obvious when you think about it.

“Is it just the creature that is to blame” Yes, because the rational human being who became that creature made the choice to do so, and so is responsible for the consequences of that choice.

Many people die in drunk driving accidents. Is this the fault of beer brewers? No. Is this the fault of car manufacturers? No. Is this the fault of people who choose to drive while they are alcohol-impaired? Yes.

The fact that drugs which alter your behaviour exist is meaningless and irrelevant, because each individual has the choice of whether to take them for the first time. (Of course, the state forcing children to take psychotropic drugs against their will is another matter altogether).

Walt D. January 20, 2011 at 4:22 pm

The key question is not what drugs people are using but WHY they are using them.

Sione January 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm

“Rational drug laws”! That’s funny. These wars on ______________________(fill in whatever) are where you end up when logic is murdered so that the lunatics are allowed to run riot and rule.


Samuel Wonacott January 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Breaking Bad.

Prefer to be anonymous January 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm

The WHY question is the one that never gets asked.

Since the beginning of time man has used chemical and other means to alter his consciousness. Even the native peoples of america used tobacco in a more “religious” and appropriate manner. Peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, and plenty of other substances or concoctions are used prevalently today in a more “religious” manner to alter consciousness. These more or less responsible uses are both embraced by their cultures and restricted as part of a specific process or ceremony. Casual abuse is frowned upon and culturally repressed.

In our current society of prohibition, taboo, and criminal prosecution such behavior is not allowed and instead, these experiences are seen as recreational activities used to escape reality. This attitude is unhealty and a root cause that nobody wants to discuss. The answer implicates so much of our failed culture, from religious teachings that come up short for many, economic situations that many suffer in (I am firmly in support of austrian and libertarian solutions – this is not a socialist plea), rapidly diminishing freedoms, and everything else that influences the individuals who make the choice for drugs over their current reality.

There is certainly no question that a free and open society that treats drugs with the respect they deserve, holds people responsible for their actions, and provides the space for individual growth without government intrusion would foster an environment in which drug abuse would diminish. Freedom is always the solution.

dan January 20, 2011 at 5:23 pm

the premise that people using meth would revert to using just weed is ridiculous. anybody that has crossed the line into any of these hardcore drugs are already doing both. second meth is a type of upper. If the drug user prefers this type of high they weill be chasing after this type of high. thus they will be reverting to doing coke or some other similar stimulant. which is just as terrible as meth. however i dont think its the states place to tell people what to do with their bodies.

Capt Mike January 20, 2011 at 7:38 pm

OK, so you write them off.
Like you say, they’re already on that train.

Gil January 20, 2011 at 11:14 pm

People should able to buy meth in a free society, shouldn’t they?

Stephen Adkins January 21, 2011 at 12:06 am

Whether they should or shouldn’t, the fact is that they are able to in this current, not-so-free society. The question is, how does one deal with that fact? Pass more laws and pay more people to kick down doors with no regard for the pain this so-called solution creates? I say no. I know some people are comforted with the idea that “well, at least ‘we’ did SOMETHING to try to combat the problem”, but nobody’s passing out ribbons for good effort or good intentions. Either a method works or it doesn’t, and it’s clear to me that current methods are ineffective at achieving the stated ends, and all too effective at spreading destruction and misery.

Dave Albin January 20, 2011 at 11:05 pm

The sad fact is some people have addiction problems and will never be saved. They will become addicted to something, alcohol, food, drugs, etc. There is very little anyone can do for them.

nate-m January 20, 2011 at 11:45 pm

I’ve known people that just wanted to be high. It did not matter if it was pot, weed, meth, lsd, or anything else. They just wanted to be stoned. Details didn’t matter.

This is the nature of a lot of people’s addictions. It does not matter WHAT the drug is. Just as long as it’s effective. With the exception of things like herion and alchohol I think that people tend to overestimate the nature of physical addiction. The problem is really a form of mental illness.

They started off using pot, but pot got more expensive as other drugs got cheaper. So they did other drugs. Meth factored heavily for a very long time because it’s so cheap and easy to obtain. Out of all the different drugs was used I saw alcohol and meth is the most destructive. For some people it takes only a decade for them to drink themselves to death. Literally.

Most of the time it’s a form of slow suicide. They don’t want to live or feel so this is how they can do it. It’s not as quick as putting a gun up against your head, but it’s almost as effective. And if it is not one thing it’s a another.

Treatment is the key here.

As far as physical addiction goes the classic example is cigarettes. My understanding is that nicotine is out of your system within a week or two of quitting cigarettes. Your physical addiction ends there and there is no biological reason why a person should crave tobacco products after that. But it is plainly obvious that people will continue to crave the product for years. Relapses are common, even years later.

Anthony January 21, 2011 at 1:10 am


You are simplifying a little too much when you say “there is no biological reason” to crave cigarettes after a week or two. Substance use can “rewire” the brain in a way that makes it more susceptible to addiction… people crave cigarettes for years because their brain has changed. Alas, the only real way to avoid this sort of thing (except for the lucky few who are naturally less susceptible) is never to start.

Sione January 21, 2011 at 1:15 am

Addiction is a choice. Leave it up to each individual to make his or her choice.


Bruce Koerber January 20, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Ethics And Justice And Economics Are Inseparable.

Ethics and justice are not separate from economics nor from other aspects of the human civilization equilibrium. Just as intervention corrupts and distorts the economy causing it to be a hampered economy with reprecussions extending out to affect everyone in the short run and in the long run, so too does the corruption of intervention poison the ethics of a society and make a mockery of the justice of a society.

The boneheaded empiricists and others who claim that economics is ‘value-free’ and then proceed to artificially compartmentalize the elements of human civilization into boxes labelled ‘economics’ or ‘law’; these are the ones who promulgate fragmentation and fragmentation is what causes anxiety and other mental and spiritual illnesses.

The point being: ‘human civilization equilibrium’ sustains the human reality optimally. Human inquiry into its a priori functioning is valid as a science but human intervention (the finite mind messing with what is infinite and beyond finite comprehension) is purely arbitrary and ego-driven and harmful in the short run , the long run, and always in some way harmful to every human being.

steve January 21, 2011 at 1:34 am

Your arguments are sound and logical, but I question your final conclusion. If a person wants a stimulant, it makes no sense that they would substitute a depressant, pot, to achive the high they seek. The more likely choice would be coke.

Mark Thornton January 21, 2011 at 11:53 am

Thanks for all your comments, suggestions and feedback. It is much appreciated. For any specific questions contact me directly by email. mthornton@mises.org


davis January 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm

All this argument pro and con for legalization is interesting but is ignorant of a gravely relevant historical example.

The Qing Dynasty fell because of recreational drug use and government drug policy failure. The Qing did not address the addict and the opium house but tried to control importation. This was an expensive and futile effort. Not only did millions become addicted, the continued importation of opium led to a persistent and ultimately disastrous trade imbalance, the debasement of the Chinese currency, contributed to a declining economy, and eventually to the Chinese Revolution. Don’t think for a moment that the ChiCom Dynasty doesn’t remember the consequences of 19th Century British drug aggression in formulating their present domestic and foreign policies.

Confidence in the libertarian argument for individual choice should be shaken by this Chinese example.

The Qing had no social safety net, save a token one for ‘bannermen’, descendants of the original victorious Manchu Army.

Any rational individual could see the consequences of smoking opium in the emaciated corpses of addicts lying in the gutters, but nonetheless millions of Chinese exercised their individual liberty and chose to smoke opium, become economically incapacitated, go through all their assets, and die miserably of starvation in the street.

Our leadership must not allow the United States to take the same path to national dependence, impoverishment, and social collapse. The biggest challenge to restoring American greatness and vision is our devalued leisure, entertainment, and self-indulgent culture.

The ultimate solution lies in personal moral formation, i.e. wise, responsible, and dedicated parenting. Parents cannot abandon their responsibility to guide children to adulthood. They must resist the popular mythologies of that wise modern parenting allows children to experiment, discover for themselves, and to enjoy an extended childhood of freedom from responsibility and self-esteem.

So completely wrong.

Human beings are short-lived creatures and childhood is even briefer. It must be, as it was in the centuries of Christian Europe before the Industrial Revolution, a period of intense preparation for responsible adulthood. Parenting failure produces psychological children inhabiting adult bodies with adult appetites, i.e. flower children.

It is somewhat ironic, but very timely, that the Chinese “Tiger Mother” is causing consternation among indulgent American parents by her personal example of responsible parenting. Two thumbs up to her, she got her kids prepared to be adults in a world full of adult decisions. Let’s get this society back on the right track by good parenting before we all go down in ruin.

Does the downfall of America due to drug abuse seem inconceivable? It once happened to another greatest nation in the world.

We must restore a culture of responsibility through our children. We really have no other alternative other than to follow the example of the Qing and go up in smoke.

Colin Phillips January 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm

It is so sad to see people take this awful “Tiger Mother” crap seriously. Teaching your child to obey your meaningless whims unquestioningly, simply because as a parent you’re in a position of power over them, is not parenting, it’s abuse.

Certainly, there is a strong case to be made for real parenting, but showing that you’re bigger and stronger than your child, and that your might makes right, is not it. Why would anyone want to teach their child that the way to get what you want from people is to bully them into submission? The only people who would choose to do that to a child are people who were themselves victims of similar abuse.

Consider that being a child does not mean that you do not have rights. If an adult was subjected to the treatment described in that deplorable article (the girl was not fed, and was not allowed to urinate, because her mother decided to assert her authority) it would be clear that this torture was wrong. Instead, people have this idea that children need to be endlessly punished in order to trick them into being good. Children _want_ to be good, but they rely on their parents for direction in finding their way. The “Tiger Mother” has taught her children that the only way to be good is to be a slave to her own selfish whims. It’s sick.

HL January 21, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Sounds like the Qing Dynasty would still be around if it hadn’t tried to control importation. So, I take from your story that the USA is doomed precisely because it tries to control drug use by even broader means.

Rational January 22, 2011 at 12:36 am

“The ultimate solution lies in personal moral formation, i.e. wise, responsible, and dedicated parenting. Parents cannot abandon their responsibility to guide children to adulthood. They must resist the popular mythologies of that wise modern parenting allows children to experiment, discover for themselves, and to enjoy an extended childhood of freedom from responsibility and self-esteem.”

Where in your ultimate solution does it say to lock up your neighbor, take his home, and ruin his life, for being an addict? You think THAT is a better solution? How about: open your eyes, and if your neighbor is addicted, help him, don’t destroy him. You need to work a lot harder on your “personal moral formation” if you are still rooting for this insipid “War” on Some Drugs.

Capatin April 13, 2011 at 12:47 am

Tuocdhonw! That’s a really cool way of putting it!

e January 22, 2011 at 9:46 am

The Qing Dinasty! Despots.
You try to extract personal conclusions from, according to you, a “..government drug policy failure.”

Rational January 22, 2011 at 12:00 am

I agreed wholeheartedly with your article until this line: “marijuana, a drug that has few of the problems associated with meth.” If used responsibly, cannabis has NONE of the problems associated with meth. Unless you count legal problems, of which there should be none.

Anthony January 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm

On the other hand, frequently inhaling smoke (from any source, be it barbecue, camp fire, cigarettes or whatever else) is a recipe for lung damage and cancer. Using alternative methods (ingestion/vaporization) can give the same benefits at much lower costs.

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