In 1991, Milton Friedman was interviewed by Randy Paige about his positioning on the legalization of drugs. Friedman, the Noble Prize winning economist, was one of the great champions of free-market capitalism and was an advisor to Reagan's Republican administration. In sharp contrast to the GOP's current stance on social issues, Friedman argued adamantly that all drugs should be legalized, and that the illegality of drugs was the largest reason for the problems surrounding drug use. In Friedman's eyes, legalization drugs was both an economic and moral issue and his main reasoning for legalizing drugs can are listed below. To learn more about Friedman's stance on free-market issues, try reading his book Capitalism and Freedom. Until then, check out his reasoning below and let us know what you think.
The Case For Liberty:
Friedman argued that the proper role of government is to prevent other people from harming an individual. In his eyes, Government has no right to interfere with an individual for that individual’s own good.
He argued that the case for prohibiting drugs is precisely as strong and as weak as the case for prohibiting people from overeating, which causes more deaths than drugs do. If it’s OK for the government to prohibit drugs because they can harm you, what makes it all right to say you must not eat too much because you’ll do harm? Why don't governments have the right to ban skiing for fear of injury? He asked us listeners to consider at what point to draw the line?
The Case For Morality:
Friedman argued that the case for legalizing drugs is as much a moral issue than an economic one. In his estimation, the prohibition of drugs leads to an average of ten thousand homicides a year. In his own words, "It’s a moral problem that the government is going around killing ten thousand people. It’s a moral problem that the government is making into criminals people, who may be doing something you and I don’t approve of, but who are doing something that hurts nobody else. Most of the arrests for drugs are for possession by casual users."
He asks us to imagine someone who wants to smoke a marijuana cigarette, get's caught for it and goes to jail. In this instance, Friedman argues that the government is "converting people who are not harming others into criminals, of destroying their lives, putting them in jail." If only he was around to see our private prison industry blossom.
The Case For Reducing Drug Cartels:
In an ordinary free market–consider potatoes, beef, anything you want–there's a multitude of both 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. This means that the only people who can survive in such a business are large Medellin cartel types who have enough money so that they can have fleets of airplanes, so they can have sophisticated methods, and so on.
In addition, by keeping goods out and by arresting local marijuana growers, for example, the government keeps the price of these products high. Is this not a perfect scenario for a monopolist? He has a government who makes it very hard for all his competitors and who keeps the price of his products high. That sounds like utopia.
Legalization is a way to stop–in our forum as citizens– a government from using our power to engage in the immoral behavior of killing people, taking lives away from people in the U.S., in Colombia and elsewhere, which we have no business doing.
The Case For Reducing Violence:
Friedman believed that the violence surrounding the drug trade is due to prohibition and nothing else. If you compare this to the alcohol trade, were minimal violence occurs, there is a stark difference. Further, when alcohol was prohibited by the government, it was produced and distributed illegally through gangs and mafia organizations.
Want to learn more? Watch Friedman make his classic economic defense for legalizing drugs below: