Legalize when Grandma dies!

By Joel Miller

Editor’s note: Get Joel Miller’s new book, “Bad Trip: How the War Against Drugs is Destroying America” in ShopNetDaily.

“Anyone who will read the law codes and the annals of nations with a philosophical eye will almost always find the terms ‘vice’ and ‘virtue,’ ‘good citizen’ and ‘criminal,’ changing their meaning in the course of centuries, not because of the changing circumstances that befall the country … but because of the errors and passions that have successively dominated various legislators.”

– Cesare Beccaria, 1764

I’ve written for quite a number of years now on the drug war, principally about its problems. In my research, I’ve run across countless people who are not only against drug prohibition, but who also have no moral qualms about drugs themselves, or breaking the law to use them.

Individually, these people are mere lawbreakers.

Together, they are one important reason the drug war will never succeed.

As conservatives, we put a lot of stock in the rule of law. As well we should. But while insisting that law be followed, we often don’t think about whether the law is legitimate to begin with or what it means when people don’t believe it is.

When enough people collectively do not believe that a law is legitimate, no matter what’s on the books, it ceases being law. This is why in some places around the country there are various blue laws and municipal regulations on the books that are still technically binding, but never actually enforced. For all intents and purposes, they’re not really law anymore.

Writing in LewRockwell.com this week, Gary North discussed the ongoing undermining of copyright law. His statements there apply perfectly here: “A law that cannot be enforced is merely a suggestion. If it costs more to enforce a law than the returns generated by the law, authorities are not interested in enforcing it unless pressured by the hierarchy to do so.”

Obviously, there is great political pressure to enforce the current drug laws, but the only thing more transient in life than politics is teenage love. Someday the pressure will lessen and, because the costs and drawbacks to drug prohibition are so monstrous, the laws will cease to be enforced. They might even be outright repealed or reformed. After all, the current drug-war regime is only as old as the Nixon and Reagan administrations – it’s far from permanent.

Laws, and the arguments either for or against them, usually have nothing do with principles – at least not the ones vocally propounded by legislators and their supporters. Conservatives talk about the rule of law, but turn a blind eye as the drug war violates the Constitution. Liberals rail about the freedom to make lifestyle choices, but then punish people for choosing drugs. In practice, laws are much more about political expediency and power than anything else.

Nixon urged a law-and-order crackdown (of which drug enforcement would be a big part) while running for the presidency because it produced votes – something he was willing to admit. “I have found great audience response to this [law and order] theme in all parts of the country,” Nixon wrote his mentor, former President Eisenhower, “including areas like New Hampshire where there is virtually no race problem and relatively little crime.” In other words, the promised crackdown wasn’t even needed – just useful for garnering votes.

Before needing the conservative law-and-order vote in his corner, Reagan actually took a fairly laissez faire attitude to pot. And by laissez faire, I don’t mean lackadaisical. I mean exactly what the term says, let people do what they want. In a 1979 radio address, Reagan both warned of health risks associated with marijuana and fired a shot at prohibition. “If adults want to take such chances [using pot], that is their business,” he said.

Despite the fact that Reagan later reneged on that statement, literally millions of Americans operate as if he never had, choosing to illegally partake of drugs. And like it or not, more will do the same – each act of disobedience doing some small part to undermine the legitimacy of drug prohibition.

A friend of mine sometimes uses a crass but meaningful phrase, “Legalize when Grandma dies.”

Pardon the rudeness and ponder the meat: Whatever else they might be, laws are expressions of cultural consensus. Right now the consensus is shaky, but still tilted toward prohibition. It won’t always be that way. Cultures change. And when cultures change, so do laws – either formally or informally.

If our solution to drug abuse is prohibition, then we will ultimately fail in dealing with it, because prohibition will not always be the law of the land. Our solution to drug abuse has to be bigger and more foundational than the State and the shifting ambitions of politicians.

Drugs have been around for millennia. Our laws haven’t and won’t. If we’re going to deal intelligently with the problem of drug abuse, we need to realize that our current solution to a longstanding problem is fleeting and temporary.


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