It is increasingly uncontroversial to argue that the War on Drugs has failed on its own terms. Drug use and the black market have not been constrained. Obscene numbers of non-violent offenders are imprisoned in the US. Addiction is cruelly treated as a crime, despite there being no evidence that this helps addicts or their communities. And ludicrous amounts of government money and police time disappear annually into this quixotic farce.
However, critics of the drug war often miss the fundamental ethical issues at the heart of the matter. Whilst the drug war could never possibly have ‘succeeded’, the intent behind it has always been reprehensible. Both the means and the end of prohibiting drugs are essentially barbaric. The central premise of prohibition – that governments have a right to control what people can do with their own bodies and lives – is antithetical to everything valuable about civilised society.