Drug prohibition is an idealistic, puritan response to an alarming real-world problem, of which limited freedom is the only viable solution. It is a problem that is consistently ignored by the majority of the political class; surprising in these times of deficit reduction and prevailing liberal attitudes. Under the simple justification of protecting its citizens, the state has created a monster that, like many other well-meaning public legislation, creates the exact opposite of protection. Ultimately, prohibition is an unnecessary policy of incredible economic cost based on flawed principles.
The social and economic cost of drug prohibition cannot be overstated. A study by the drug-reform think tank Transform only last year stated that the net cost of drug prohibition is, at their lowest estimate, in the region of £17bn per annum. When compared to the net cost of regulated drug markets at the highest estimate of £11bn, to lowest of £3.5bn, we can see there is a cheaper option. However such conclusions should be obvious. The international behemoth of drug production and consumption is under the immense pressure of the law and thus not able to engage in free markets. This inevitably drives all those involved to keep their trade strictly underground. Freed from public scrutiny, the drug industry is free to wage war against its customers; in the form of ever inflating prices, and in a highly inelastic market pushing many addicts to crime, and its competition; with monopolistic, violent gangs. All such social costs unnecessarily aggregate in the form of high taxes and high crime.
Yet the argument on principle is the strongest, and goes to the core of the freedom debate. John Stuart Mill famously fought for individual liberty and the sovereign individual. But politicians ignored such cries, frightened by the harsh realities of drug abuse, drawing a line through personal freedom by banning any drugs which they deemed necessary. But the principle demands politicians meddle further – it compels they ban all dangerous activities, from horse riding to driving – a flawed logic in many respects.
Therefore freedom and regulation is the only solution that would deal with the problems drugs bring to society. Market forces will control drug prices, thus crime. Addiction should be dealt as a health issue, as is currently for the legal drugs in society; alcohol and cigarettes. It will eventually be seen that freedom of choice is ultimately better for society than prohibition and control.
Daniel Meeson is the 3rd prize winner in the 2010 Young Writer on Liberty.