Ron Paul essay on legalizing drugs
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Libertarian Party's Ron Paul Sends "Dear Frank" Letter
from the Libertarian Party News, March/April 1987
Following is the text of a letter sent to Frank Fahrenkopf, chairman of
the Republican National Committee, by Ron Paul, former member of Congress
from Texas and now a member of the Libertarian Party.
As a lifelong Republican, it saddens me to have to write this letter.
My parents believed in the Republican Party and its free enterprise
philosophy, and that's the way I was brought up. At age 21, in 1956, I cast
my first vote for Ike and the entire Republican slate.
Because of frustration with the direction in which the country was
going, I became a political activist and ran for the U.S. Congress in 1974.
Even with Watergate, my loyalty, optimism, and hope for the future were tied
to the Republican Party and its message of free enterprise, limited
government, and balanced budgets.
Eventually I was elected to the U.S. Congress four times as a
Republican. This permitted me a first-hand look at the interworkings of the
U.S. Congress, seeing both the benefits and partisan frustrations that guide
its shaky proceedings. I found that although representative government still
exists, special interest control of the legislative process clearly presents
a danger to our constitutional system of government.
In 1976 I was impressed with Ronald Reagan's program and was one of the
four members of Congress who endorsed his candidacy. In 1980, unlike other
Republican office holders in Texas, I again supported our President in his
Since 1981, however, I have gradually and steadily grown weary of the
Republican Party's efforts to reduce the size of the federal government.
Since then Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party have given us skyrocketing
deficits, and astoundingly a doubled national debt. How is it that the party
of balanced budgets, with control of the White House and Senate, accumulated
red ink greater than all previous administrations put together? Tip O'Neill,
although part of the problem, cannot alone be blamed.
Tax revenues are up 59 percent since 1980. Because of our economic
growth? No. During Carter's four years, we had growth of 37.2 percent;
Reagan's five years have given us 30.7 percent. The new revenues are due to
four giant Republican tax increases since 1981.
All republicans rightly chastised Carter for his $38 billion deficit.
But they ignore or even defend deficits of $220 billion, as government
spending has grown 10.4 percent per year since Reagan took office, while the
federal payroll has zoomed by a quarter of a million bureaucrats.
Despite the Supply-Sider-Keynesian claim that "deficits don't matter,"
the debt presents a grave threat to our country. Thanks to the President and
Republican Party, we have lost the chance to reduce the deficit and the
spending in a non-crisis fashion. Even worse, big government has been
legitimized in a way the Democrats never could have accomplished. It was
tragic to listen to Ronald Reagan on the 1986 campaign trail bragging about
his high spending on farm subsidies, welfare, warfare, etc., in his futile
effort to hold on to control of the Senate.
Instead of cutting some of the immeasurable waste in the Department of
Defense, it has gotten worse, with the inevitable result that we are less
secure today. Reagan's foreign aid expenditures exceed Eisenhower's,
Kennedy's, Johnson's, Nixon's, Ford's, and Carter's put together. Foreign
intervention has exploded since 1980. Only an end to military welfare for
foreign governments plus a curtailment of our unconstitutional commitments
abroad will enable us really to defend ourselves and solve our financial
Amidst the failure of the Gramm-Rudman gimmick, we hear the President
and the Republican Party call for a balanced-budget ammendment and a line-
item veto. This is only a smokescreen. President Reagan, as governor of
California, had a line-item veto and virtually never used it. As President
he has failed to exercise his constitutional responsibility to veto spending.
Instead, he has encouraged it.
Monetary policy has been disastrous as well. The five Reagan appointees
to the Federal Reserve Board have advocated even faster monetary inflation
than Chairman Volcker, and this is the fourth straight year of double-digit
increases. The chickens have yet to come home to roost, but they will, and
America will suffer from a Reaganomics that is nothing but warmed-over
Candidate Reagan in 1980 correctly opposed draft registration. Yet when
he had the chance to abolish it, he reneged, as he did on his pledge to
abolish the Departments of Education and Energy, or to work against abortion.
Under the guise of attacking drug use and money laundering, the
Republican Administration has systematically attacked personal and financial
privacy. The effect has been to victimize innocent Americans who wish to
conduct their private lives without government snooping. (Should people
really be put on a suspected drug dealer list because they transfer $3,000 at
one time?) Reagan's urine testing of Americans without probable cause is a
clear violation of our civil liberties, as are his proposals for extensive
"lie detector" tests.
Under Reagan, the IRS has grown bigger, richer, more powerful, and more
arrogant. In the words of the founders of our country, our government has
"sent hither swarms" of tax gatherers "to harass our people and eat out their
substance." His officers jailed the innocent George Hansen, with the
President refusing to pardon a great American whose only crime was to defend
the Constitution. Reagan's new tax "reform" gives even more power to the
IRS. Far from making taxes fairer or simpler, it deceitfully raises more
revenue for the government to waste.
Knowing this administration's record, I wasn't surprised by its Libyan
disinformation campaign, Israeli-Iranian arms-for-hostages swap, or illegal
funding of the Contras. All this has contributed to my disenchantment with
the Republican Party, and helped me make up my mind.
I want to totally disassociate myself from the policies that have given
us unprecedented deficits, massive monetary inflation, indiscriminate
military spending, an irrational and unconstitutional foreign policy, zooming
foreign aid, the exaltation of international banking, and the attack on our
personal liberties and privacy.
After years of trying to work through the Republican Party both in and
out of government, I have reluctantly concluded that my efforts must be
carried on outside the Republican Party. Republicans know that the
Democratic agenda is dangerous to our political and economic health. Yet, in
the past six years Republicans have expanded its worst aspects and called
them our own. The Republican Party has not reduced the size of government.
It has become big government's best friend.
If Ronald Reagan couldn't or wouldn't balance the budget, which
Republican leader on the horizon can we possibly expect to do so? There is
no credibility left for the Republican Party as a force to reduce the size of
government. That is the message of the Reagan years.
I conclude that one must look to other avenues if a successful effort is
ever to be achieved in reversing America's direction.
I therefore resign my membership in the Republican Party and enclose my
The Case for Drug Legalization
by Ron Paul, MD
Today in Washington and on the campaign trail, Republicans and
Democrats, conservatives and liberals, are calling for drastic action on
The Reagan administration has made these substances a special issue, of
course. From Nancy Reagan and her "Just Say No" to Ed Meese and his anti-
"money-laundering," officials have engineered mammoth increases in government
spending for anti-drug efforts, and for spying on American citizens.
The Assault on our Privacy
Our financial privacy has been attacked with restrictions on the use of
honestly earned cash, and bank surveillance that has sought to make every
teller a monetary cop.
In the name of fighting drugs, the central government has modernized its
vast computer network and linked it with data files in states and localities,
enabling the IRS, FBI and other agencies to construct dossiers on every
In the Washington, D.C., of 1988, anyone exercising the basic human
right to privacy is branded a possible criminal. This kind of 1984-think,
more appropriate to Soviet Russia than the U.S.A., has grown alarmingly since
Reagan came into office.
As human beings, we have the right to keep our personal and family
finances - and other intimate matters - secret from nosey relatives. Yet the
politicians, who are dangerous as well as nosey, claim the right to strip us
bare. This dreadful development is foreign to our Constitution and
everything America was established to defend. The politicians claim it has
nothing to do with taxing and controlling us.
In this, as in virtually everything else, the politicians are lying. In
fact, I believe that the drug hysteria was whipped up to strengthen big
government's hold over us, and to distract Americans from the crimes of
Washington, and the addiction to big government that is endemic there.
There is Another Way
Instead of spending tax money and assaulting civil liberties in the name
of fighting drugs - usually couched in childish military metaphors - we
should consider a policy based on the American tradition of Freedom. And I
know the people are ready.
I'm traveling full-time now, all over the country, and wherever I go, I
get the message loud and clear: Americans want a change in federal drug
policy. They may wonder about the proper course. But I am convinced that
here, as in all other areas of public policy, the just and efficacious
solution is liberty.
Drugs: Legal and Illegal
Alcohol is a very dangerous drug. It kills 100,000 AMericans every
year. Bit it is no business of government to outlaw liquor. In a free
society, adults have the right to do whatever they wish, so long as they do
not agress or commit fraud against others.
Tobacco is an even more dangerous drug. It kills 350,000 Americans a
year in long, lingering, painful deaths. As a physician, I urge people not
to smoke. But I would not be justified in calling in the police. Adults
have the right to smoke, even if it harms them.
From the decades-long government propaganda barrage about illegal drugs,
we could be excused for thinking that illegal drugs must be even more
dangerous than alcohol and tobacco.
In fact, 3,600 people die each year from drug abuse. That's less than
4% of those doomed by alcohol, about 1% of those killed by tobacco. Yet we
are taxed - and are supposed to undergo extensive other restrictions on our
liberty - to support a multi-billion dollar War on Drugs, which, like all the
other wars since the Revolution, benefits only the government and its allied
special interests at the people's expense.
Not satisfied with the present level of violence, politicians are now
advocating strip-searching every American returning from a foreign country,
jailing people caught using marijuana in their own homes, turning the army
into a national police force, giving customs agents the power and weapons to
shoot down suspected aircraft, and transforming America into a police state -
all because not enough Americans will Just Say No.
Politicians want to mandate random urine drug tests for all employees -
public and private - in "sensitive" jobs. Leaving aside the problem of
defective laboratories and tests, the high number of "false positives," and
the humiliation of having to urinate in front of a bureaucrat, what about the
concepts of due process or innocent until proven guilty? One of the great
American legal traditions, coming to us from the common law, is probable
cause. Because of the experiences our ancestors had with the British
oppressors, it is not constitutional to search someone without probable cause
of criminal activity. And this is a very intimate search indeed.
If this sort of search is justified, why not enter homes at random to
look for illegal substances (or unreported cash)? Not even the Soviets do
that, yet American politicians advocate something similar with our bodies.
The Reagans, emulating Stalin, have even praised the chilling example of a
child informing on his parents and urged others to follow his example.
The 1980's war on drugs has increased the U.S. prison population by 60%,
while street crime has zoomed. Seventy percent of the people arrested for
serious crimes are drug users. And all the evidence shows that they commit
these crimes to support a habit made extremely expensive by government
prohibition. Urban street crime, which terrorizes millions of Americans, is
largely the creation of the U.S. drug laws. That alone is reason enough for
Drug Prohibition in American History
All the drugs now illegal in the United States were freely available
before the passage of the Harrison Act in 1914. Until that year, patent
medicines usually contained laudanum - a form of opium, which is why - at
least temporarily - they were indeed "good for all ailments of man or beast."
First the feds - with the help of organized medicine - restricted
narcotic drugs to prescription only. Thus, physicians were still able to
treat addicts. Then the feds made that illegal, drastically raising the cost
of drugs, with the results we all know.
Yet about the same percentage of the population abused these substances
in 1888 as in 1988. In other words, some people will abuse drugs, just as
some people will abuse alcohol, no matter whether they are legal or illegal.
All the government can do by outlawing these items is vastly increase their
cost, and vastly decrease our liberties. But his is no bad thing to the
government. Government officials - from Washington grandees to the county
sheriff - get rich off bribes and corruption, as during Prohibition, and the
innocent pay through zooming crime and lessened freedom.
That does not mean, obviously, that illegal drug use is a good thing.
As a physician, a father, and a grandfather, I despise it. My wife, Carol,
and I have worked for years with a volunteer organization in our home town
that fights teen drug and alcohol use. But we do it through moral and
medical persuasion. Government force can't solve problems like this, it can
only make them worse and spread the burden to many innocent Americans.
The federal government began the modern war on drugs as part of its
efforts to destroy the 1960's anti-war movement, since so many of its people
used marijuana, often as an anti-Establishment statement. For the feds, this
was a way to jail domestic enemies for non-political crimes.
At the urging of the Nixon administration, which spied on and tax-
audited so many Americans for opposing it, Congress greatly escalated the
drug war in 1969. (Given all the evidence that the CIA has been involved in
drug running since the 1950's, as pointed out by Jonathan Kwitny of the Wall
Street Journal and others, they might not have liked the competition either!)
Today, the feds spend almost $4 billion a year through the Customs Service,
the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, and the IRS. State,
county, and local law enforcement adds billions more.
Despite all this firepower, today one in five Americans from the ages of
20-40 use illegal drugs regularly. Millions over 40 join them, and last year
824,000 Americans were arrested for it, including Elvy Musikka of Hollywood,
Florida. This elderly widow was thrown into jail for possession of four
marijuana plants, even though her doctor has said that without marijuana,
glaucoma will destroy her eyesight. All over America, the prison population
has increased 60% in the last five years, largely due to drug laws.
In spite of the immense sums of money spent on the crusade, drug use has
not decreased. Heroin use has stayed level, while cocaine consumption has
vastly increased, with about 5 million people regularly using it.
During the 1930's and 1940's, Harry Anslinger, the head of the Federal
Bureau of Narcotics, whipped up the first drug fervor. Today the demon is
"crack." To Anslinger, marijuana created "drug fiends," and as a result
government violated civil liberties on a wide scale and imposed Draconian
prison sentences for the possession of small amounts.
The result was not, of course, the elimination of marijuana use, just as
the earlier Prohibition failed to stop Americans from drinking alcohol.
That "noble experiment" attempted by constitutional amendment and
rigorous regulation to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages. The "temperance"
movement called alcohol the main cause of violent crime and broken families,
and called for rooting it out.
The result of the war on drugs of the 1920's was disaster. Gangs of
bootleggers replaced ordinary businessmen as sellers of the now forbidden
substance. Notorious criminals such as Al Capone achieved their status
through their control of the illegal trade in drink, just as criminals today
derive much of their revenue from the market for illegal narcotics. Of
course, drinking among the public did not disappear, though adulterated and
poisoned alcohol led to many deaths.
However unsuccessful they were at stopping drinking, government agents
did succeed in suppressing civil liberties. We owe wiretapping to the
Prohibition Era, and warrantless searches of private homes were common. Some
federal agents, not content with what they viewed as an overly slow judicial
process, destroyed supposed contraband on their own authority. And as
happens today, government raids on bootleggers often resulted in shootouts
with the innocent caught in the crossfire. A government policy calling for
total victory, at whatever cost, over something many people wanted, meant
inevitable death and destruction.
Unseen Effects of Government Intervention
Today and then, one of the unexpected results of outlawing desired
substances is to increase their potency.
A uniform tax on gasoline of so many cents per gallon promotes the
production of higher octane gas, which sells for more and gives the consumer
better performance. A uniform "tax" of the danger of going to jail imposed
on making and selling alcohol during Prohibition stimulated the production of
such items as White Mule whiskey, with "twice the kick," as well as of often
dangerous substitutes such as synthetic gin made of wood or denatured
alcohol. It also favored the production of whiskey itself over beer and
wine. During Prohibition, distilled spirits accounted for more than 80% of
the total underground sales. Before and after the criminalization of
drinking, the figure was 50%.
In the legal drug market, the trend is towards LOWER potency, as with
low-tar, filtered cigarettes, decaffeinated coffee, and "lite" beer and wine.
But with illegal drugs, as with alcohol during Prohibition, the reverse
is true. Stronger cocaine, heroin, and marijuana have lead to more deaths,
as have the adulterated products which kill most of the people listed dying
from drug overdoses.
But what if the feds could seal the borders tight, and prevent the
domestic cultivation of all illegal plants? We would see a massive increase
in an already visible trend: "Designer Drugs."
These chemically engineered artificial substances are up to 6,000 times
as strong as morphine, and their toxic effects are bizarre and unpredictable.
They are far more dangerous than heroin or cocaine, yet the government is in
effect stimulating their production by focusing on their competition.
Unlike natural narcotics, a few pounds of designer drugs could supply
the entire U.S. market for a year. And they can be manufactured by the same
clandestine chemists who now extract morphine from opium and convert morphine
What if We Tried Legalization?
When the American people got fed up with their rights being trampled,
they organized and supported candidates who pledged to erase the Prohibition
Amendment from the Constitution. When they succeeded, most states legalized
the distribution and sale of liquor, and the criminal gangs dominating the
trade went out of business. The repeal of a bad law accomplished what the
indiscriminate use of force and tax money could never do: the end of
criminal trade in liquor. It would be no different for drugs.
If the use and sale of drugs were not illegal, the power of crime
syndicates now controlling these substances would disappear. These
organizations derive their power and influence only from the fact that their
business is illegal.
Though the benefits in the destruction of criminal organizations more
than justify an end to government intrusion in this area, a policy of
decriminalization would have many other good results. For one thing, the
users of drugs who now commit violent crimes to pay for heir "fix" would have
much less incentive to do so. Prices of drugs, now subject to open
competition, would drop sharply. Since narcotics are "downers," addicts
would have no incentive to act any different from "Bowery" alcoholics.
Instead of raving criminals, they would become street people.
Even addicts would be better off. The major cause of death is not from
drugs' narcotic properties. It is from poisoned drugs and adulteration. It
is impossible for the user to know how much he is taking. Illegality causes
these problems - the drug user can hardly ask his pusher for lab tests.
A legal market would be an entirely different affair. Just as a
customer in a liquor store need not wonder if his whiskey contains poison, or
what he percentage of pure alcohol is, the consumers of drugs would no longer
face a danger that is 100% Made in Washington.
Also, the use of contaminated needles by narcotics users has been a key
factor in the spread of AIDS. Through the availability of sterile needles in
a free and open market, decriminalization would help control the spread of
But if we legalized the trade in narcotics, wouldn't we have many more
drug addicts than today? Wouldn't a lower price increase demand?
Leaving aside the "forbidden fruit" phenomenon - the fact that many
people find something more desirable precisely because it is illegal - the
law of demand does not tell us how much consumption will increase with
lowered prices. In fact, the data show that consumption of drugs remains
fairly constant under widely varying conditions.
Just as the sharply higher "price" of the escalated war on drugs has not
lowered drug use during the 1980's, legalization would not increase it. Just
as the availability of alcohol does not make everyone a drunkard, so the
absence of criminal sanctions would not convert everyone into a drug user.
Another important point: not all consumers of either alcohol or drugs
use them at problem levels. Most people who use liquor are not alcoholics,
and many users of drugs try them only occasionally. Most drug users are not
"addicts" dependent on their daily use.
What About Children?
Would decriminalization place drugs in the hands of children? No, in
fact, outlawing them has done it. Because of the severe penalties inflicted
on adult drug suppliers in the 1970's, criminal syndicates now use juvenile
distributors. Youngsters, even if prosecuted, are tried in special courts
which cannot impose severe penalties. Thanks to the government, pushers now
have every incentive to involve children in their business. Just as a free
society properly has laws against selling liquor to minors, we would bar the
sale of drugs to them.
Law Officials Advocate Legalization (In Private)
A few years ago, a friend was a consultant to a gubernatorial campaign.
To aid the candidate in forming his anti-crime policies, my friend assembled
a group of top DA's. All were glad to help, but they also unanimously
agreed, - off the record, of course - that nothing significant could be done
about crime until "drugs are legalized."
They will never be legalized, said one famous prosecutor, because too
many government officials make too much money off the drug trade: from the
feds to the county sheriff: "BILLIONS of dollars." These men were also
furious because of spending priorities. Every dollar spent pursuing drug
dealers and users who didn't aggress against the innocent was a dollar less
available going after criminals.
Bok Kwan Kim, a 49-year-old electrical assembly worker, lived peacefully
in a tiny apartment with his wife, three daughters, and 78-year-old mother-
in-law in Newark, California.
Then late on the night of May 12th, nine narcotics police broke down his
front door, handcuffed him and beat him until he was unconscious, handcuffed
his wife and shoved her to the floor as their daughters screamed, and
ransacked the apartment. Not one piece of furniture was left unbroken; every
pillow or piece of upholstery was torn and emptied of its stuffing. All their
dishes and porcelain were shattered. Only a picture of Jesus on the wall was
left in one piece.
Why? The narcotics police had gotten a false tip from an informer that
Kim had a stock of amphetamines. Why the beating? The police said Kim had
"resisted" the destruction of his home and few possessions.
Kim is still in the hospital, and his daughters have nightmares every
night. The head of the narcotics squad apologized, but noted that "this is
Yes, but war on whom? We now have Republicans and Democrats passing
laws - over the Pentagon's wise opposition - to turn the military into narco-
police, which arrest civilians. And if anyone's rights are violated? The
military narcotics police are to be immune from suit.
Under the government's so-called Zero Tolerance program, boats and cars
are being confiscated right and left. Recently a $3 million yacht was
commandeered by the Coast Guard because a few shreds of marijuana were found
in a wastebasket. The Coast Guard had boarded the vessel despite there being
to probable cause of crime. The owner was not on board, and his employees
were transporting the ship. Who did the marijuana belong to? It didn't
matter. A yacht - which an entrepreneur had worked all his life to own - was
stolen by the U.S. Government, and will be sold at auction. What's next? A
house confiscated because someone finds pot in the garbage can? (Now that
the Supreme Court says police can search your garbage without a warrant.)
Mises on Drug Prohibition
Ludwig Von Mises, the outstanding economist and champion of liberty of
our time, as usual summed it all up in 'Human Action'
"Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But
once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect
the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be
advanced against further encroachments. A good case can be made out in favor
of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government's
benevolent providence to the protection of the individual's body only? Is
not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more dangerous than
bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad
plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues, and from hearing bad music?
The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both
for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic
"[N]o paternal government, whether ancient or modern, ever shrank from
regimenting its subjects' minds, beliefs, and opinions. If one abolishes
man's freedom to determine his own consumption, one takes all freedoms away."
Ron Paul, MD, is the Libertarian Party's 1988 candidate for President of the
Paid for by the Ron Paul for President Campaign
1120 NASA Road 1, Suite #104
Houston, Texas 77058
Transcriber's note: it is now 1990 and Ron Paul received roughly
400,000 votes in his campaign for president. As far as I know he was the
only candidate to openly support legalization and in my opinion it is a shame
that the Women's League of Voters didn't let him debate with Bush and
Dukakis. I am sure both of the latter would have had a rough time handling
questions which actually pertained not only to the issues, but also to
objective reality. If you like what Congressman Paul has to say, or if you
are just curious, write for FREE information to:
Advocates for Self-Government
5533 E. Swift
Fresno, Ca 93727
Libertarian Party National Headquarters
1528 Pennsylvania Ave, S.E.
Washington, DC 20003
The Dak, 7-22-90
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"Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best
state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."
- Thomas Paine, 1776