Jonathan Caulkins vs. The Boring Drug War Debate
As noted by Pete Guither at DrugWarRant, the whole thing begins with a cavalier dismissal of what Caulkins calls the "by-now dull legalization debate," which just made me cringe. It’s not just that I support legalization, or even that I would still willingly debate it if I didn’t. Rather, I’m just amazed that Caulkins has shown up today to write about drug policy on the Cato website if he finds the drug policy debate boring.
Think about how silly that is. The whole point of this online discussion is to bring together experts to share differing views on drug use and the policies surrounding it. Is Caulkins going to get bored when he reads Jacob Sullum’s upcoming contribution to this same discussion? Will he excuse himself from subsequent dialogue when the conversation inevitably turns towards the efficacy of prohibition itself? I assume not, but his word choices beg these questions and it truly escapes me why he would feign disinterest in the exact debate he just voluntarily entered into.
This aversion to the drug war debate is at least partially explained in his concluding paragraph, which adopts the classic copout that drug policy reform isn’t going to happen, so we can only evaluate our options within the confines of the current policy:
I just don't agree that following the law is always inherently "responsible," except to the extent that the law will sometimes get back at you for non-compliance. Moreover, he’s responding to an article that went to great lengths to explain how prohibition interferes with the ability to use drugs responsibly (e.g., unknown purity of black market merchandise, breakdown of communication between users and medical professionals, laughably bad anti-drug education, etc.). Caulkins is entitled to his belief that it's always irresponsible to break the law, but that’s somewhat beside the point.
American voters appear to have decided that even though responsible drug use is possible ex post, society is better off if the ex ante gamble is prohibited. Given that reality, is it responsible to willfully flout laws that are constitutional and produced by a generally fair and open democratic process? I would argue no. Civil disobedience has its place as a form of political expression, but stealthily using drugs with the objective of getting away with breaking the law is an act of selfishness, not civil disobedience. The responsible decision is to obey the law, even if doing so forecloses some pleasures, and in that respect responsible drug use is not possible in today’s society, even ex post.
The concern that you can’t use drugs responsibly in violation of the law is a problem with the law, not a problem with drugs.