Last weekend was the third annual conference of Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK, a student organisation that campaigns for an end to the War on Drugs. Whilst it was both an interesting and valuable experience, it highlighted the differences between libertarians and the rest of those in the drugs policy movement.
As one might expect, the conference was dominated by social democrats, who generally favoured extensive government regulation. We were told, during the first panel discussion, that the way we currently tax and regulate cigarettes was a good model for how we could control all drugs once they were legalised. Cigarette plain packaging laws were hailed as a model to emulate and America was chastised for being ‘behind’ on the issue. Americans' tendency to view advertising as a first amendment right was actually portrayed as a bad thing!
Many were sceptical of drugs being provided by the market. Instead, they argued, drugs should only be provided by the state due to their addictive qualities. When talking to Steve Rolles (of Transform Drug Policy Foundation) later that evening, he tried to persuade me that the public would never get behind the idea of drug liberalisation unless there was an almost excessive amount of regulation involved.
Now this might well be the case, and it certainly gives us in the libertarian movement something to think about. Yet what the conference largely overlooked was the moral case to be made for allowing companies to sell and advertise a legal product. There are, of course, practical considerations as well. If taxed and regulated too much, people would continue to buy drugs on the black market. Libertarians can’t sit back and let the left dominate this issue; we need to remain actively involved to keep the regulators in check.
Ultimately, however, even a heavily regulated legal market would be preferable to the status quo – and that simple fact will ensure that the alliance between libertarians and the rest of the drugs reform movement will remain strong.