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Reassessing the war on drugs: Patrick Basham

While a policy analyst with the Fraser Institute, Patrick Basham presented the following speech at a conference in Edmonton in 2000 entitled “Reassessing the War on Drugs." Basham’s remarks are part of a growing body of intellectual work opposing the war on drugs from a conservative perspective.

Patrick Basham - September 30, 2009

While the reality of the health, crime, and economic costs of drug prohibition are central to any re-evaluation of the drug war, there's also an important philosophical issue at stake here, one that has the potential to appeal to more than the most die-hard libertarian.

The painful reality is that, as McGill University economist Tom Naylor has documented, our individual rights are being trampled upon by the War on Drugs. Whether it's urine testing, roadblocks, routine strip searches, school locker searches without probable cause or preventive detention, the war on drugs has led to a permanent increase in government power.

In commenting on the consequences of the War on Drugs, Raymond Kendall, a former Secretary-General of Interpol, the international criminal police commission, concluded that, "The prosecution of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens every year is both hypocritical and an affront to individual, civil and human rights."

As I conclude my remarks, I'd like to share with you the conclusions of two very prominent -- but ideologically dissimilar -- commentators. From the Left, international affairs expert Gwynne Dyer observes that, "As far as the technical and philosophical debate is concerned, the war is over; we just haven't declared a cease-fire on the actual battlefronts yet." From the Right, writer William F. Buckley maintains that "It's the duty of conservatives to declaim against lost causes when the ancillary results of pursuing them are tens of thousands of innocent victims and a gradual corruption of the machinery of the state."

To summarize, the War on Drugs has failed to reduce the supply of illegal drugs, or to reduce consumption, but it has succeeded in flooding prisons, fueling the AIDS crisis, and making billionaires out of drug traffickers.

You know, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again, each time expecting a different result. But the continued use of methods proven to fail leads inevitably only to more and to deeper failures.

May I suggest to you this evening that, unless we end the War on Drugs, we're not going to be drug-free -- just un-free.

Thank you.