Cato Institute video: Ending the Global War on Drugs

[Video Link] Yes, I know: Cato = Charles Koch, but the Cato Institute's position on drug prohibition is quite sane.

"Ever since the War on Drugs, everything has hit the fan," says Romesh Bhattacharji, former Narcotics Commissioner of India. Rather than continue the unnecessary and costly drug war, Bhattacharji advises the United States to simply "Relax, take it easy, [and] tolerate."

Last month, at the Cato Institute's "Ending the Global War on Drugs" conference, Bhattacharji's sentiments were echoed by ex-drug czars, cops, politicians, intellectuals, liberal and conservative journalists, and even the former President of Brazil.


  1. any country that declares war on it’s own people is doomed to fail… and everyone wonders why america is failing? 

      1. We’re undergoing massive economic collapse due to corruption, we’ve outsourced our industry to other countries, we’re rapidly becoming a police state (if we haven’t already become one).

        The USA is failing at its stated goals at the VERY least, and is likely failing as a sovereign nation.

        1. Really? Last I checked the economy is expanding slowly and we have some stubborn financial problems. I had no idea that this meant we were failing as a nation!

          I’m not exactly certain what stated goals we’re failing at or why a government which undergoes administration change periodically would have a single set of them, but you sure do make it seem bad!

          I mean, should I buy a gun to prepare for the eventually collapse of the United States?

          And a police state! Goodness. I mean, looking at the actions of the police during the 20th century, we must have been a police state for nearly a century! Why didn’t anyone tell me?! Weird how everyone else seems to be a police state too.

          1. Failed States, Noam Chomsky. A good outline for why this country is going to burn like Rome. Beware though, Chomsky assumes a great deal of prior knowledge from the reader and it would appear that you have not acquired too much of that yet.

          2. Nice! A personal attack and a appeal to a higher authority without having to actually synthesize the higher authority’s message into a reply! Wonderful!

            I have read all the Chomsky I can stomach. Never mind that so many of his predictions have failed the test of time, but he’s been making the same arguments for 40 years even though the US itself has changed. While his ideas are interesting from a historical perspective, I’m afraid his core ideal of libertarian socialism is a utopian fantasy.

          3. The trick is, the US economy is designed around faster growth than is currently occurring. Please see this:

            As for stated goals… I’ll go for the Declaration of Independence, which was a document stating the reasons for the founding of the United States of America as a sovereign nation.

            Here goes…

            We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

            Many (not all, not even most, but many) are of the opinion that the US government is becoming destructive of their unalienable rights.

            Honestly, buying a gun wouldn’t be the worst of ideas. I’ve certainly considered it.

            As far as the US being a police state, let’s go with Merriam-Webster’s definition of a police state (which is generally considered an authoritative source):

            a political unit characterized by repressive governmental control of political, economic, and social life usually by an arbitrary exercise of power by police and especially secret police in place of regular operation of administrative and judicial organs of the government according to publicly known legal procedures

            Shall I provide citations for every instance of arbitrary exercise of power by police? Or can you read through Boing Boing’s archives yourself?

            Shall I provide citations for Guantanamo Bay?

            Shall I provide citations for the latest edition of the National Defense Authorization Act?

          4. The idea that this country is going to all of a sudden collapse after over two hundred years because of some abusive police tactics is ridiculous. You want to see abusive tactics? Take a look at the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war protests, the entire McCarthy era, the American Indian rights movement, etc. *Those* were serious abuses of rights and I don’t remember the US being destroyed because of them.

            Some people being forced out of some tents or maced? Please. People set themselves on *fire* during the Vietnam war protests. Some people held indefinitely on an island? We dropped napalm across an entire country and immolated children. We dropped multiple nuclear weapons on Japan. Some people being stuck in a building for the rest of their lives is a footnote in the injustices committed in our names.

            The ideals of this country are just that, ideals. The United States of America has never lived up to them. Ever. We are a work in progress. We evolve towards them, sometimes slowly, but evolve nonetheless.

            So I’m sorry, I disagree with you. Today we are not perfect, but we are better than we were and tomorrow we will be better than we are. We’ll probably never each our ideal, but that hardly means we failed.

          5. Democracy in Rome failed when the super-rich bought their seats in the senate and began dictating laws. Pompey and Julius Caeser became richer at the expense of the government and eventually battle for control of the senate finally was given to Caeser as a security measure. Octavian (later called Augustus) consolidated power and declared himself emperor, thus ending the republic.

            While Rome didn’t fall right away (it was far to powerful) the excesses of the aristocracy finally weakened it to the point where all it took was a little push to topple it.

            I see many similarities to today.

          6. One third of the nation lives in abject poverty, another third is barely above the “poverty level”, which for a family of 4 is $22,350 per year.  In other words two thirds of the population of the US lives in poverty.  We have over one million prisoners, of which roughly 2/3 to 3/4 are non-violent drug “offenders”.  1 out of 4 children would starve but for food stamps.  The Walton family alone controls more wealth than the 90 million poorest Americans.  Over 50,000 people die each year from treatable illness in the US.  When we take to the streets to protest these miserable conditions we are pepper-sprayed, tasered, beaten and falsely imprisoned.  A failed state doesn’t mean the apocalypse has arrived, it means the state (read government) has failed to provide a decent basis for civil society and living conditions for the people of the nation.  The US is clearly a failed state.  You are ignorant and pompous, and have clearly led a life of great privilege if you have no knowledge of this state of affairs.  

      2. People set themselves on *fire* during the Vietnam war protests.

        An American set himself on fire over the Iraq war.

        Also, I urge to look up America’s falling status among “first’ Western worlds and get back to us.

      3. Nah – we’re fine. We are in a rough spot – but it’s nothing that hasn’t happened before.  People have doomed the nation to fail since July 5th, 1776.

        We do have problems. The war on drugs is one of them – but everyone has problems. We will persevere.

        1. I’d agree with you if we weren’t so hell-bent on making the atmosphere unbreathable.  All we have to do is get rid of burning petroleum and institute distributed production of sustainable biofuels and all will be well… but do you see that happening?

          I haven’t given up hope for the American people, but nothing’s going to happen as long as the incompetent, greedy children of unearned, inherited wealth continue to run the country.  We are 99% peasant and 1% aristocracy, and that doesn’t seem like a winning strategy.

  2. Just imagine the money that would be put into blocking any move toward ending the militarization of brain chemistry regulation. And the scare-tactic propaganda they’d flood us with.

    To put them in the right frame of mind for the discussion, I’d just like to see all state and federal legislators and their staffs subjected to random piss tests with the results publicly released immediately.

    Considering Boehner’s habits, perhaps a sobriety test before votes.

  3. For anyone skeptical of government competence and intentions, CATO is the go-to place for information and data.

        1. You are right. What I meant to say is that one should take anything that they hear from the CATO institute with a block of salt.

    1. Cato is quite insane in matters regarding the environment, including global warming, public lands and pollution.

    2. Like any other group that places ideology over reality, Cato has the tendency to be sane when facts fit their ideology and less-than-sane when the facts don’t fit their ideology.

      1. Interesting rule of thumb. Which funded think tanks on the Left in the U.S. does this rule of yours apply to, and how? A solid example or two would be a great start . . . 

          1. Actually, I already had.  Sorry if I sounded snarkish.  Did you notice the conservative, libertarian, and centrist think tanks outnumber the progressive ones 24-5.  And that the number of times the media actually referenced them was about 14000 to 1150. That darn liberal media.

            I’m not familiar enough with them (the progressive think tanks) to make comments on them.  I did look through the Cato Institute positions and would have to agree with Snig’s comments.

          2. Thanks for the reply. I was mostly just wondering if you see leftist ones that “place ideology over reality,” and if so, how they do so. Seems to me that the ones on the right do so, in the sense that they’re propaganda mills covertly serving elite interests, while those few on the left tend to argue more on the basis of a vision of how the world actually works. So far, the only way I see some of those on the left promoting ideology over reality is the way they sometimes clamor for unrealistic goals, without promoting solid, realistic ways to get there.

  4. Legalize recreational drugs in a country that wants to regulate what you do and where you go on the internet? Ain’t looking likely. If someone could come up with hard revenue figures that federal & state government would earn from taxation on the sale of recreational drugs, then you might see some action. Money is the only thing legislators can hear.

  5. The drug war has a huge payroll as does government in general. A lot of bad stuff happens with drugs. I don’t dispute that. What I thought we learned from Prohibition was that enforcement acted like price supports for gangsters. I’d like to back off just enough to reduce profits and see what happens. Tackle the business aspect. If the price remains high, nothing will change.

  6. I liked when they were trying to say “no, it’s not decriminalization and legalization” and then went on to say “but we should decriminalize and legalize it”.

    It’s always funny to see people finally push out of their own party-lines-induced double-think (what does that even mean?) and embrace something because of the sheer impossibility to argue against it any longer.

    Should the right succeed, of course they will end up taking credit for solving a problem they helped create and then amplify. And – oh, poor Obama who has to be so tough on crime to not seem weak, how hilariously ironic that he falls victim to a trap we have spent millions building over the last decades. Harr-di-hurr-durr.

      1. Well yes, people with an actual background in what is being talked about DO have a different opinion. So it’s not really a contradiction, it’s them having to reconcile the party-line (which was mostly based on an assumptive strategy or philosophy) with their own real-world experiences. Since the right in the US has been stonewalling legalization for many years, the only way people on their side of the isle can now argue for it is by saying “it’s not legalization, BUT…”, while obviously totally calling for it.

        It’s actually kind of a neat trick to get people to ignore their instilled opinion for a moment.

        So no, I’m not saying there is a contradiction. I just find the way that the argument is being formed curious.

  7. “Yes, I know: Cato = Charles Koch, but the Cato Institute’s position on drug prohibition is quite sane.”

    It’s funny that you have to apologize for not being dismissive and making fallacious arguments.

  8. How pathetic it is that one who is considered a “leader” would feel the need to prove himself.  He’s already done that – get on with the job.

  9. Cato may ‘=’ Koch,

    but so do the following organizations:

    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    American Ballet Theater
    Lincoln Center
    American Museum of Natural History
    M.D. Anderson Cancer Center 
    Johns Hopkins University

    1. They’ve made a splash by giving a percentage or two of their fortune away to decent things.  They could afford to do far more. They’re also giving a huge chunk of change away to convince people to decrease taxes on billionaires.   Not too impressed with their generosity. Someday we can measure how much cancer they caused vs. how much of a cure they bought. 

    2. Yeah, gross isn’t it?  Filthy money. Kinda like a disgusting tyrant who’s nice to his pets. Well he loves his dogs….

      Lots of oligarchs dig art and stuff, and benefits and gala events are good for social standing and papering over disgusting business practices.

      They’re nothing if not contradictory though, supporting the arts while trying to destroy democracy, or preaching their “free market” libertarian bona fides while sucking from the Stalin/U.S. Gov/Chavez teat.

  10. Hey, when the libertarians are right, they’re right. You know your political culture has problems when the extreme right and the extreme left start finding common cause.

  11. Libertarians are far right on fiscal issues, but are far to the left on nearly every other issue. It’s not a surprise they agree with the far left on this issue.

    1. There is some truth in this observation, but this apparent paradox simply stems from a simplistic left-right political model. 

      If you consider a two dimensional spectrum (personal dimension, economic dimension, both ranging from individual liberty and non-aggression all the way to heavy statism), then it is easier to reconcile a coherent picture (although still simplified). See the Nolan chart of political spectrum.

  12. It is an increasing bizarre situation when states are selling medical marijuana with the federal government reserving the right to raid said institutions whenever they feel so inclined. I know several growers who have declined setting themselves up within the “legal” state framework for fear that the feds would bust them anyway, making working within the state laws riskier for them than just being completely outlaw.

  13. ” Yes, I know: Cato = Charles Koch, but the Cato Institute’s position on drug prohibition is quite sane.”

    Libertarians are walking breathing examples of the old saying about broken clocks being right twice a day. If they could come up with some social and economic policies that aren’t based on “Beyond Thunderdome”, I might even enjoy having them in office.

    1. By that argument, the social and economic policy bundle known as the “nation-state” is based on Beyond Thunderdome, since you ultimately just have sovereign entities that can do whatever they want to each other.

      Or maybe there are , you know, subtleties. Like what Ostrom won that Nobel for last year.

  14. Funny that Mark has to reassure BoingBoing readers that they won’t need to make an ad hominem argument against this particular post.
    (ad hominem: an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it. Ad hominem reasoning is normally described as a logical fallacy.)

    1. Is asking “wait, can I really trust this writer when he’s a well-known serial liar” really an ad hominem?  It may be a fallacy as far as logical arguments are concerned, but it’s still a useful thing to consider when you’re being presented information.

  15. Can you not see the greed oozing from this video?  If it is not the gangs in Mexico making money then who/what?  They (corporations) can smell it in the air that sooner or later at
    least marijuana will be legalized and they are preparing to pounce. 

    Yes the war on drugs needs to end but I’m not sure the way to do it is to “legalize” them.  Drugs are big money whether its alcohol or marijuana and once it is “legalized” just another source of human need will be out of our control.  For whatever reason, you can’t stop humans from consuming drugs and people greedy enough to capitalize on human behavior will do just that as they have with our food and water.

    Grow your own.

    1. Sorry I’m confused. You state that the demand for illegal drugs is out of our control. So do you want supply in the hands of evil drug lords or evil corporations? I couldn’t work that bit out. Here’s a hint, which results in the least harm to drug users and society as a whole?

    2. Brew your own wine if you fancy it. But most people prefer higher quality products for less investment of their time. There are benefits to division of labor and specialization after all.

  16. I really get frustrated when I read about pronouncements from *former* leaders about how they suddenly realize how foolish the war on drugs has been.  Rarely do you see a *current* world leader calling for legalization or a relaxation of prohibition, though it does happen and I have a lot more respect for those individuals. 

    I practice criminal defense law, and I have conversations all the time with prosecutors and law enforcement officers who express their opinion that “we should legalize it already” in a private conversation, but in court and in public push the hard line prohibition position.

    All of this suggests to me that a lot of current political figures who are in office right now really want to see an end to prohibition, but they’re afraid to say it out loud–and they’re also afraid not to call for even more prohibition.

    1. An unfortunate downside to privacy is the potential for sustained hypocrisy. We get situations in which a lot of people privately engage in activities (or hold views) that they would never publicly reveal because no one else dares to be the first to reveal them either. A lot of very stupid social mores retain their prominence because of this.

      Imagine, for instance, if we could perfectly enforce all drug related laws, so anyone who ever used drugs (including through prescriptions from ‘friendly’ doctors) would be fined and/or imprisoned as per the current rules. How quickly do you think those rules would fall (including as a result of everyone in Congress trying to keep themselves out of jail)? To paraphrase Gibson, the problem with the war of drugs is that it is unevenly distributed. 

    2. No, they tend to say it before they come into office either. Current president admits to using drugs (like the two before him), and promises to scale back the persecution of casual, state-legal drug use. Instead, he assumes the throne and goes right back to cracking down. Anyone who is pro-legalization and supported him should be screaming mad. 

      The worst is watching him laugh and chuckle when people ask him these questions in town-hall forums. Laugh it up, asshole – people are being locked up and ruined because you can’t even try to defined a ridiculous policy like an adult.

      The war on drugs has been a driving force in ruining civil liberties and invading privacy for decades now. It’s a big reason the cops are eager to go out toting machine guns and armored personnel carriers. And like any bullshit campaign, it’s merged with the ‘war on terror’ to keep steamrolling more of us into being ‘guilty’ whether we are or not. 

  17. Cato gets 13% of their funding from foundations, and one of those foundations is the Koch charitable foundation.

    One of the foundations that donated is the Marijuana Policy Project, so you might as well say:”Yes, I know: Cato = Marijuana Policy Project, but the Cato Institute’s position on drug prohibition is quite sane.”

  18. It seems like the people in this video, as well as many Americans, only consider two options: All out war with crazy bullying foreign policy that cause havoc in weak democracies or total surrender with complete legalization of pretty much everything. It may not be constructive or wise to force harsh policies on South America, but that doesn’t mean that domestic policies should be abandonded completely.

    Legalization proponents don’t like to talk much about prevention. It’s very convenient to forget that legalization would cause increased drug use. But it’s essential to prevent drug use as much as possible, without draconian measures. Most important is to work against social acceptance of drug use. To legalize cannabis would imply that the government thinks it’s acceptable to use it, and that in itself has an effect on public opinion.

    The idea of ‘winning’ a war on drugs is absurd, if winning means eradicating drug use in a society like our current one. I don’t know if that’s something your politicians are talking about, but among realistic people the goal of eradicating drug use completely is something very distant. Instead the purpose is to limit the damaging effects of drug use as much as possible, in large extent through prevention.

    1. Your comment assumes that drugs ARE intrinsically immoral or dangerous and that we should continue marginalizing people who choose to use them.  The problem is that these assumptions aren’t proven.

      The potential is there for abuse of drugs, alcoholism is one obvious example of detrimental drug abuse and there are others to be sure.  Drug addiction is a disease that absolutely requires medical treatment and support.

      Do you see how making drug users social pariahs and criminals interferes with the process of recovery and getting help to addicts who need it?

      That’s leaving aside the fact that in many societies in history – including our own – the use of drugs or alcohol has been a ritual bringing people together and sharing.  You may or may not have similar experiences of your own, but who should have the right to make that choice?

      1. You can decide for yourself whether you think drugs are immoral or not, but danger more or less follows from the definition of a drug: An addictive substance that is toxic and causes intoxication. (Both physiological and psychological addiction counts.)

        Very few people decide to become drug addicts or occasionally violent drunkards etc. It starts with moderate use of recreational drugs. But for a considerable percentage of drug users, severe problems follow, and these problems also affect others. Here in Sweden (which has lower alcohol consumtion than the European average), about 75% of all violent crimes are committed by intoxicated persons. More than half of all convicted murderes are or have been alcoholics. In Europe about 10% of all deaths are caused by alcohol. This is the most socially accepted drug, and its use is most widespread. Without social acceptance of alcohol use, recreational use of it would be much lower, both in moderation and in excess.

        The social use of alcohol and other drugs is the very foundation of destructive drug use. The pressure to start using alcohol is tremendous in most of the western world. (In other parts of the world the situation is very different. For a majority of the world population, alcohol use is unusual. Most people have actually not drunk any alcohol for the past twelve months.)

        Many proponents of liberal laws concerning drugs argue, like you do, that everyone should get to make up their own mind and decide whether they want to use drugs or not. Everyone has a right to do what they want with their body, etc. The problem is that people don’t live in isolated bubbles without interaction. The right to use drugs conflicts with the right to grow up with parents capable of taking care of you and with everyone’s right not to get beaten up, raped or run down by intoxicated people. Also it conflicts with tax-payers right to have their money contribute to something useful rather than having to be spent on treatment of drug users.

        The less recreational drug use, the better. It’s very hard to convince people who have grown up in a culture or subculture where drug use (usually alcohol use) is accepted or mandatory of this, but at least it’s easier for someone who really don’t want to use drugs to abstain if there are some reasonable people like me out there, supporting them.

    2. No, I am a legalization proponent, and I want to talk about prevention. I want to talk about how jerks are supporting jack-booted thugs that are “preventing” people from getting the medicine they need, especially given that with the current crackdown on prescription pain medicine the War on Drugs has turned into the War for Suffering. How about we talk about cheap and effective ways of preventing unbearable agony as being more important that policing recreational uses?

      1. I’m not an American, and I’m not familiar with the specifics of Americans laws for prescription of otherwise illegal drugs for medical use. As a general rule I believe that medical science should determine what substances are useful in what cases. Policing recreational use is a somewhat separate issue. Like I said: There are more than two options. However policing recreational use of drugs is an essential issue. Drugs are the greatest social problem in the western world. On a global scale alcohol alone kills about as many people every year as wars do.

  19. Alcohol prohibition=Al Capone, Murders, Riches, Crimes, and “crimes” making people wanting a drink CRIMINALS.
    Marijuana prohibition=Cartels, murders, Riches, Crimes and “crimes” making perfectly good honest American citizens into CRIMINALS.

    Doesnt stop one bit of drinking or smoking, in fact its been proven drinking went up during prohibition by an astounding rate.  SO DID CRIME!!

    50% of Young Americans admit to smoking it, another 30% probably would admit it but are afraid.  The only “gateway” is the one CREATED by lying to our children about marijuana in the first place.

    5% of the worlds population=American
    25% of the worlds PRISONERS=American
    Freedom my ass.

    1. Restrictive drug laws = lower drug use = fewer addicts/less violence/better upbringing for kids/fewer problematic kids in schools/less cost for medical treatments/more productive populace/better society overall.

      To claim that prohibition “doesn’t stop one bit of drinking or smoking” is contrary to the truth. Most people do want to comply with social rules and laws.

      The main reason behind the insanely high American prison population is enormous inequality. That old revered constitution should be scrapped and replaced with something a little bit more modern, if you ask me.

  20. Legalize. Control quality. Tax. Use tax funds to deal with social ills from abuse.

    Getting organized crime out of the picture would be a social good all by itself, both in terms of making it harder for them to fund other criminal activities and by removing the incentives for folks to be pressured into trying harder drugs. Lowering the price and thus removing the need to commit crimes to support a habit would immediately eliminate most of the other serious social ills.

    The remaining issues really don’t seem worse than our socially-approved intoxicants. Nicotine is as dangerous as most illegal drugs, but is affordable so it doesn’t tend to ruin lives. Alcohol is as dangerous as most illegal drugs, but it’s cheap,  so while it ruins some lives most folks can handle it.

    I’d even agree to letting the gummint monitor usage, so folks who do seem to be getting themselves into trouble can be steered toward help. And of course sales to minors are probably a bad idea, at least for anything much stronger than coffee.

    A bit of rationality would save a heck of a lot of money, and a heck of a lot of lives both in our own country and overseas.

    I’d also point out that Doc Smith pointed out many decades ago that a war on drugs is by definition ineffective. There’s very little use for military force when dealing with a smuggling and black market problem. You can’t kill the hydra by chopping off heads; you need to go for the body of the problem, and that’s the demand side of the equation.

  21. The legalization movement needs to be more organized. LEAP and a few others are a good start, but the legalization movement needs something viral like globally coordinated mass protests. It’s not just about cannabis, its about freedom to live however you wish. If you choose a poor lifestyle, that’s your own fault and how evolution works. Most people are smart enough to know that smoking crack and shooting heroin will lead to a world of pain, but if you are really persistent I don’t want to waste my tax dollars to stop you finding out the hard way. All the money we save could put people into treatment instead.

    The war on drugs would make 1000x more sense if alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs were all illegal a well. “Who cares if people need medicine to live?” Well not really, it would be counter-productive as hell, but at least it would be more consistent.

Comments are closed.