In the Washington Post, Peter Wehner advises the Republican Party to reassert itself as the anti-drug-legalization party. "One of the main deterrents to drug use is because it is illegal. If drugs become legal, their price will go down and use will go up," he writes. "And marijuana is far more potent than in the past. Studies have shown that adolescents and young adults who are heavy users of marijuana suffer from disrupted brain development and cognitive processing problems." Of course, no one is advocating that adolescent marijuana be made legal. And does Wehner understand that prohibition creates a powerful incentive for upping drug potency?
But rather than focus on mistaken arguments common to drug prohibitionists, I want to address a relatively novel claim: "Many people cite the 'costs' of and 'socioeconomic factors' behind drug use; rarely do people say that drug use is wrong because it is morally problematic, because of what it can do to mind and soul," Wehner writes. "In some liberal and libertarian circles, the 'language of morality' is ridiculed. It is considered unenlightened, benighted and simplistic. The role of the state is to maximize individual liberty and be indifferent to human character."
What he doesn't seem to understand is that many advocates of individual liberty, myself included, regard liberty itself as a moral imperative. I don't want to ridicule the "language of morality." I want to state, as forcefully as possible, that the War on Drugs is deeply, irredeemably immoral; that it corrodes the minds and souls of those who prosecute it, and creates incentives for bad behavior that those living under its contours have always and will always find too powerful to resist. Drug warriors may disagree, but they should not pretend that they are the only ones making moral claims, and that their opponents are indifferent to morality. Reformers are often morally outraged by prohibitionist policies and worry that nannying degrades the character of citizens.