Rush Limbaugh’s addiction to prescription drugs gives us an opportunity to again consider the costs vs. benefits of continuing the so-called War on Drugs. If Limbaugh’s critics can set aside their contempt for him – or, more accurately, his effectiveness – this might provide an opening for a sensible reconsideration of our failed policy.
In my book, “The Ten Things You Can’t Say In America,” the Chapter 9 title reads, “The War Against Drugs Is Vietnam II: We’re Losing This One, Too.” Here is an excerpt:
Once while I was visiting a friend, a drug dealer came over. Not getting an opportunity like this very often, I asked Mr. Dealer a question, “If you were in charge of stopping drugs, what would you do?” When his laughter died down, he said, “Are you serious, or are you (expletive deleted) me?”
He then said, “Ain’t nothing you can do to stop this (expletive deleted). I’ve seen women sell their children for drugs. I’ve seen people steal from their mamas. The only thing you can do – and you ain’t gonna do that – is legalize this (expletive deleted).”
The war against drugs is wrong both tactically and morally. It assumes people are too stupid, too reckless and too irresponsible to decide whether and under what conditions to consume drugs. The war on drugs is morally bankrupt.
Economist Milton Friedman lists seven reasons for calling off the war on drugs: “1. The use of informers, 2. Filling the prisons, 3. Disproportionate imprisonment of blacks, 4. Destruction of inner cities, 5. Compounding the harm to users, 6. Undertreatment of chronic pain, 7. Harming foreign countries.”
California, according to the FBI, leads the nation in bank robberies. The principal reason crooks rob banks? To obtain money to support a drug habit – a habit prohibitively expensive due to its black-market nature.
Limbaugh, outed by the National Enquirer, admitted an addiction to prescription painkillers. Moreover, the magazine says that he illegally used his maid to procure them.
Hypocrisy! yelled Limbaugh’s critics. After all, he supported the war on drugs. Well, maybe, maybe not.
Yes, in 1995, Limbaugh said:
There’s nothing good about drug use. We know it. It destroys individuals. It destroys families. Drug use destroys societies. Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country. And we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs. And the laws are good because we know what happens to people in societies and neighborhoods which become consumed by them. And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.
And, on the issue of the disproportionate amount of blacks going to prison for drugs vs. whites, Limbaugh said:
What this says to me is that too many whites are getting away with drug use. Too many whites are getting away with drug sales. Too many whites are getting away with trafficking in this stuff. The answer to this disparity is not to start letting people out of jail because we’re not putting others in jail who are breaking the law. The answer is to go out and find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them and send them up the river, too.
If Limbaugh meant any drugs, whether street, recreational or prescription, then one can make a case for hypocrisy.
But Limbaugh did, three years later, appear to modify his position:
Based on the reality of how we’re going after cigarette smokers, the thing that we cannot do in the drug fight right now is regulate because it’s illegal. Drugs are against the law and so the manufacturers are illegal. They’re not even on shore – they’re down there in Colombia and the Cali Cartel, and they’re working to poison the brains and minds of the future of America. And so what we do is to try to keep those drugs from getting in. And I agree with you that it’s a half-baked effort …
It seems to me that what is missing in the drug fight is legalization. If we want to go after drugs with the same fervor and intensity with which we go after cigarettes, let’s legalize drugs. Legalize the manufacture of drugs. License the Cali Cartel. Make them taxpayers and then sue them. Sue them left and right and then get control of the price and generate tax revenue from it. Raise the price sky-high and fund all sorts of other wonderful social programs.
So why not wait until Limbaugh returns – and he will – and allow him to clarify his position on the matter?
In the meantime, let’s rethink the War on Drugs.