Darryl Strawberry is perhaps not a very savory character, but a criminal he is not. He has been classed – and hounded – as a criminal by a law that brutally punishes adults for the substances they ought to be able to ingest, inhale or inject at their own peril.

The former major-league star was recently sentenced to 18 months in prison for violating probation, following a 1999 conviction on drug and solicitation of prostitution charges.

So Strawberry is a cokehead with an appetite for unwholesome sex. Will someone tell me why this is the business of anyone other than him and his unfortunate wife?

There is no shortage of meddling third parties that find certain consensual, capitalistic acts between adults to be offensive. Some people want to stop the trade in pornography. Others would like to make it prohibitive for adults to purchase cigarettes or junk food.

Besides minding their own business, government and other busybodies would do well to consider that if an exchange is voluntary, then both parties expect to benefit. Where no force or violence is involved, a voluntary exchange is, by definition, always mutually beneficial, inasmuch as, at the time of the exchange, the buyer of the drugs valued the purchase more than the money he paid for it, and the seller valued the money more than the goods he sold.

Third parties have no place in transactions between consenting adults, unless these transactions infringe directly – not foreseeably – on their property or person. Strawberry and his suppliers have appetites and values I don’t share. But I fail to see how their decadent deals infringe on my rights.

Having arbitrarily decided that cocaine consumption is potentially worse for individual and “society” than compulsive eating, bungee jumping, alcohol or tobacco consumption, the policy pinheads have proceeded to preemptively trample the constitutional rights of people like Strawberry, before the foreseeable harm to “society” occurs.

If we accept aggression based on prior restraint arguments, then aggress we must ad absurdum. Why not prevent all teenagers from driving, or, even better, all socialist parents from procreating, lest they sire proponents of state theft?

Lysander Spooner, the great 19th-century theorist of liberty, held that government had no business treating vices as crimes. “Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which a man harms the person or property of another.”

If for harming himself a man forfeits his liberty, then it can’t be said that he has dominion over his body. It implies that someone else – government – owns him.

Incarcerating people for their consumption choices has the consistency of arresting a survivor of suicide for attempted murder.

Be mindful, though, that law-enforced medical treatment must also be volubly opposed. Justice Florence Foster, who no longer presides over Strawberry’s case, had repeatedly opted for compulsory treatment instead of prison for the eight-time all-star.

The coercive, therapeutic State is a very poor substitute for the avenging State.

Reducing addiction lies in withdrawing the perverse incentives that reinforce the maladaptive behavior. To use 12-step locution, state-subsidized and mandated treatment programs are “enablers.” The dismal failure of state programs launched by the addiction industry and the high rates of recidivism alert us again and again to the fact that addicts quit when they decide to. And they are more likely to be nudged in that direction when made to shoulder the consequences of their lifestyle.

Over and above the immorality of coerced wealth distribution, treatment schemes paid by the taxpayer ensure that those of us who choose to refrain from drug taking subsidize the lifestyle of the addict. Less addiction will come about, not by distributing resources from the risk averse to the reckless, stealing from responsible adults, and rewarding the rash and imprudent – but by making the addict responsible for the risks he takes.

Once the State retreats from punishing vices, it will fall, once again, to custom and religion to reinvigorate those informal checks on behavior the therapeutic state has undermined. Shame, loss of face, being denied membership, excommunication, counseling and support are some of the ways moral communities have, in previous eras, kept their members in check

Drug addiction, of course, is a chosen habit or lifestyle – not a disease. A society that cleaves to a worldview where misdeeds are parlayed into diseases does so at its own peril. Darryl Strawberry, sadly, happens to have a serious and genuine disease. Strawberry’s metastatic cancer is yet another good reason to set him free and cut him loose.

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