Lots of libertarians make strong arguments in favor of drug legalization. Yes, the War on Drugs is a disaster. Yes, people should be generally free to engage in personally harmful practices that don't hurt others. Yes, it's hypocritical that some drugs are illegal while others aren't. And so forth. The thing that holds me back is that we can see what the likely results of drug legalization would be, and it wouldn't be pretty. Just consider alcohol, which is legal but horribly abused in America and all over the world. Does anyone think we wouldn't see worse results from legalized heroin, crack, and meth? Ecstacy? GHB?

Libertarians like to argue that social constraints will limit drug abuse even if legal restraints are removed, but look at how social restraint in Britain is breaking down.

Teenage girls in Britain are binge drinking more than boys, turning the tables on a traditionally male practice, a study has shown.

More than a quarter of girls in the 15- to 16-year-old age group admitted to binge drinking.

Admitted. How many other are lying to themselves as well as the poll-takers?

"The ladette culture has lost its stigma and women are quite happy to go out and drink together. Twenty-four hour licensing will only make matters worse. We do not really know why it is happening but researchers in Australia and America, where there is a similar problem although not so great, think there is a disproportionate amount of advertising aimed at young women.

"Girls have great social freedom in Britain and they think it is okay to get biliously drunk,'' said Prof Plant, professor of addiction studies at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

The problem is, frankly, excessive social freedom. Notice that I didn't say legal freedom, because I don't think we need laws to solve every problem (I'm libertarian-ish). The thing is that when laws disappear, social restraint starts to break down as well. There's social stigma associated with breaking a law, and that stigma can be more powerful than the law itself. However, once social restraint breaks down -- because the law disappears, because people stop caring about the law, or for whatever reason -- then all manner of dangerous and absurd practices can begin to tip the equilibrium of civilization.

On that note, anyone who thinks that the freedom and prosperity we enjoy in America is the "natural state" of life is crazy. Our civilization is not fragile, but it's not indestructable either, and certain groups have been taking sledge hammers to the foundation for quite some time. We need to be careful about major changes we make to the structure of society, and we have to assume that every decision will have unintended consequences that we can't forsee at the time.

(More on drug legalization.)



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