The War We Are (Still) Losing: Drugs and Freedom



by Dries Van Thielen

I did not think it was a necessity to combat the war on drugs in 2017. As recently as November 2016, the states of California and Nevada loosened the use of recreational marijuana and other countries are rethinking their stance on drug use as well. In Europe for instance, several youth parties fight the war on drugs actively.

Hélas, on February 9, 2017, president Trump signed “Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking”. Therefore, by strengthening law enforcement and rejecting all privacy laws, the president hopes to solve the drug problem.

The executive Order is utter nonsense. Still, it is an opportunity to cite Milton Friedman to debunk the arguments presented by the president. Citing Friedman is always fun!

End the violence

“These groups are drivers of crime, corruption, violence, and misery.  In particular, the trafficking by cartels of controlled substances has triggered a resurgence in deadly drug abuse and a corresponding rise in violent crime related to drugs.”

By reinforcing law enforcement, the president hopes to decrease homicides. As Friedman and history have shown on multiple occasions, this argument is complete gibberish. During the Prohibition Era, for example, the number of homicides increased steadily up until the point it was abandoned by FDR.


Instead of being produced by companies, the public depended on criminal gangs to fix their booze (Surprisingly, people kept on consuming even though booze was illegal!). Gangs were notorious for killing off competition on black markets – which is rather exceptional in a regulated market. If it wasn’t for Volstead, these people would have lived.

Since Nixon implemented the war on drugs in the 1970s, the number of homicides has risen drastically in comparison with the years before.

Destroy versus Strengthening of Cartels

The main intention of this order, is to destroy the large – transnational – cartels, responsible for the violence and trafficking of drugs. If anything, this bill will exactly result in the opposite: the war on drugs sustains large cartels.


Rather than a free market environment, the strengthening of secret services favors cartels by destroying smaller ‘gangs’, unable to circumvent intelligence. Or to cite Friedman again:

“In an ordinary free market–let’s take potatoes, beef, anything you want–there are thousands of importers and exporters. Anybody can go into the business. But it’s very hard for a small person to go into the drug importing business because our interdiction efforts essentially make it enormously costly. So, the only people who can survive in that business are these large Medellin cartel kind of people who have enough money so they can have fleets of airplanes, so they can have sophisticated methods, and so on”.

New drugs

Opponents of the decriminalization of drugs argue that even if these methods only catch small gangs, it is worth the effort since the consumption of drugs will decline as the amount of smuggled drugs declined. I will counter this argument with a free market example. If one is hungry and (s)he is all out of bread – one has two options. Firstly, (s)he can make an extra effort to leave the house and purchase bread. Secondly, he can consume another crop to crave his needs, like pasta.

Put mildly, the war on drugs was responsible for the introduction of crack, crystal meth and designer drugs (not the band) in the 1980s.


The ban on foreign drugs did not reduce the demand for goods with a similar effect. Since cocaine became more and more scarce, and therefore, more expensive, dealers came up with new supplements to supply cravers with replacements like crack cocaine. Therefore, a ban on drugs does not reduce anything.

In conclusion…

This Executive Order will basically do nothing for the addiction problems in the United States. It leads only to more money being spent inefficiently on law enforcement and it will deprive migrants of their freedom.


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