The Spectacle Blog

Drugs and Compassionate Libertarianism

By on 12.15.06 | 11:40AM

Over at Hit and Run, Reason editor Radley Balko uses a photo of a urinal with a "Say No To Drugs" slogan printed on the plastic netting as a jumping off point to rail against anti-drug propaganda:

A theme you'll often hear from our editor is how the drug war permeates damn-near every nook and cranny of American life. We get lectured on what chemicals we can and can't ingest in our schools, in magazines and newspapers, in television shows and commercials, in movies, on billboards -- it's everywhere. Drug war insanity influences criminal justice policy, foreign policy, budget policy, education policy, and health care policy. While traveling over Thanksgiving, I was treated to a "Just Say No to Drugs" emblazoned on the back of an semi-trailer hauling office paper.

A guy can't even take a piss without being bombarded with the madness, thanks to the proactive drug warrioring by the janitorial suppy company Swisher…

I am an opponent of the drug war, both for practical reasons and because I believe that individuals should have the freedom to do whatever they want as long as they don't harm someone else in the process, and I don't think the government's role should be to protect people from themselves. However, I also believe that drug use should be strongly discouraged and condemned by society, because of the damage it is capable of doing to users, their families, and communities. I'll admit that maybe posting a slogan on a urinal isn't the most effective way to discourage drug use, and it obviously lends itself to humor. But I think Balko's comments are representative of a wider hostility among libertarians toward any attempt to discourage drug use--even if it's being done in the private sector. Balko is disgusted that "While traveling over Thanksgiving, I was treated to a 'Just Say No to Drugs' emblazoned on the back of an semi-trailer hauling office paper." Wow! What a massive imposition on his life! He must have had to pull over to recuperate!

Not only do I believe that intransigence toward discouraging drug use is wrong, I think it is harmful to the libertarians' primary aim, which is to legalize drugs-something I happen to agree with. One of the things that makes people uncomfortable with legalizing drugs is the belief that if drugs were legalized, society would be condoning drug use. I think it's important for opponents of the drug war to demonstrate that they still believe in discouraging drug use. Libertarian groups may even be better served were they to help educate people about the dangers of drug use and promote drug treatment centers to deal with the problems associated with drug addiction-call it "compassionate libertarianism," for lack of a better term.

By not only opposing the drug war but dismissing as "propaganda" any attempt to discourage drug use, libertarians are taken less seriously and they hurt their own cause.

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