[This editorial appeared in the October 1989 issue of Universitas, the national publication of University Professors for Academic Order. Murphey was editor of Universitas at that time. The editorial is followed here by excerpts from letters he wrote in 1989, 1994 and 1998 dealing with the subject of illegal drugs. Taken together, it all illustrates not so much a fixed position as a variety of suggests he has made regarding drugs.]
Subject: A Suggestion for the War On Drugs
By Dwight D. Murphey
I have a good friend, far more “libertarian” than I, who never tires of calling for the “decriminalization” of drugs. His arguments sound plausible, and there are no doubt members of UPAO—all reasonable men, certainly—who agree with his position.
To me, though, it smacks of Utopian dreaming. We’re not talking about a free market in car tires and hair dryers; we’re talking about the commercial promotion of death and stupefaction.
No, I align myself with those who hold that in any civilization worthy of the name—including most certainly a free society—there is no place for the kind of “freaking out” that is associated with drug addiction. Freedom, civilization and responsibility form a seamless web.
But what sort of “war on drugs” will succeed?
To fight a massive criminal invasion with ordinary court procedures is, in effect, to attempt to “fight a war” by arresting and trying each individual member of the opposing army.
And it has been said that there will always be suppliers so long as there is an insatiable demand.
If this is so, isn’t it time we did something effective to destroy the demand? “Education” doesn’t seem to work; nothing seems clearer than that there are millions who are oblivious to it. Nor is it likely that those same millions will become instilled with a new-found moral sense, certainly not in a society that stresses “empathy” at the expense of moral judgment.
Why not try something radical, something completely disruptive to users and their “enjoyment”? Why not adulterate the supply?
If chemists were to develop an ingredient that would, say, induce vomiting and other severe discomfort, but without permanently injuring the user, and the market were surreptitiously flooded with drugs containing that ingredient, no user would any longer know what he is buying. Some massive “aversion therapy” would begin. Isn’t it worth a try?
Excerpt from letter to friend dated October 21, 1989. The friend had written Murphey about the above editorial.
You wondered whether the idea of adulterating the drug supply has garnered any support in my part of the country. My column in the October issue of Universitas is the only time I've ever seen or heard the idea advanced. It isn't anything that has entered anybody's discussion of the issue yet, so far as I know.
Your letter mentions the experience we had with Prohibition. Virtually everyone agrees that that was a dismal failure. But I think it's important, too, to keep something in mind that generally receives little comment: that what has followed Prohibition has been an absolute disaster, too. I've seen various figures over the years, and I haven't checked them before writing this letter, but what I recall is that approximately 25,000 people a year are killed by drunk drivers. How many people are seriously injured, and how much property damage is inflicted, are things rarely commented upon.
It's somewhat amazing that 25,000 deaths a year aren't perceived as an enormous national catastrophe--and crisis. By some strange anesthesia, we've come to accept them as a given, even though each of us lives under the daily threat of unthinkable violence that intoxicated drivers pose toward us. If we gave the 25,000-a-year the weight they deserve, we'd see that both Prohibition and post-Prohibition have been failures. I say this without having any solution to the abuse of liquor, and without approaching that issue with any personal predilection against drinking, when it is in moderation.
I agree with you that my "adulterate the supply" suggestion has real practical obstacles, not so much in actual implementation or effect as in our society's willingness to do it. It involves using "extra-legal" means to fight a problem that has come to exceed the dimensions of a free society's legal system.
What a tragedy it is that in a few short years we have gone from a culture that was relatively drug-free to one in which our choices boil down to how best to live with their presence! Legalization amounts to that, and it's a quantum leap that I hate to see us take. I agree, though, that the present program--which consists of education where so many seem impervious to education, and interdiction of a never-ending supply without diminishing the demand that calls that supply into being--isn't going to work. You hardly need to wait another year to test that.
Of course, we don't want to lose sight of the broader context in which the drug problem occurs. When we in UPAO decry the cultural slide away from norms, from personal responsibility, and from family influence over children, we are essentially talking about the same thing, except in a different dimension. And I forever recur to the problem of our "alienated intellectual culture." Those who produce our mass entertainment have quite clearly decided that we are to have no norms that might have any resemblance to the values that our society entertained even so recently as 25 years ago. No amount of anti-drug commercials will have any effect in such a milieu.
Excerpt from letter to a friend dated December 1, 1994. The friend had asked Murphey's opinion on a number of subjects.
You asked my opinion on the legalization of drugs. I'm against it. It has never seemed to me that the libertarian arguments are adequate to sanction behavior that is fundamentally at odds with the responsibilities that each person must bear in a civilized and free society. I have recently been tempted by the legalization position because I see a growing abuse of police functions, largely arising out of the continuing (ineffective) war on drugs. But when I've suggested to conservative and libertarian friends that "if we legalize drugs to avoid police abuses, we ought to shift to a policy of treating harshly anybody who then becomes an addict or commits vicious behavior under the influence of drugs," I have gotten a cool reception. Even these friends don't want to be hard on the users! Since it is likely that their attitude would prevail, and that legalization would be followed by still more therapeutic condonation of destructive behavior than we already have in the United States today, I can't see my way clear to favor legalization. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't work extremely hard to see to it that the anti-drug war doesn't continue to lead to police-power abuses, such as the seizure of private property without due process. All told, the widespread use of mind-altering drugs presents insuperable problems that force on a free society a range of bad choices.
Excerpt from letter to a friend dated August 14, 1998. The friend and his wife were confronted in their bedroom at night with a man threatening to kill them with a hammer. He was on drugs, and they gave him several hundred dollars to spare their lives.
Until recently, I would have disagreed with the conclusion you draw from the experience, which is that drugs should be legalized. But the case for legalization is becoming ever more compelling. If the drugs were available at no or low cost [by a government program that would, surprisingly, even provide them free or at prices far below what drug dealers could make a profit at], the profit would be taken out of the business for the drug lords and all their on-the-street representatives. There wouldn't be any more incentive to push it. Addicts wouldn't have reason to rob and kill to get money for it. And the massive police powers that have caused a militarization of the police can be cut way back. All of those considerations are of great importance. They should then be combined with efforts at treatment and early education so that drugs come to have a declining place in our culture.
I haven't supported legalization before, because I haven't considered it a right of any person in a free society to be an addict or to drive or act under the influence of drugs. There's no direct "civil liberties" case for having mind-altering drugs be legal; but when all of the practical issues of "workability" point toward a free society's being better served by legalization, that very workability amounts, in fact, to a serious "civil liberties" rationale--not on behalf of the drug abuser, but on behalf of people like yourselves whose right to life and limb is placed in such great jeopardy when people are robbing and stealing to get money for the drugs.
[It should be noted that the "legalization" here was to be of a special kind, one that would take all of the economic incentive out of producing and marketing the drugs. Everyone Murphey has talked with about this over the years has considered this far too radical an idea, just as they have the earlier idea of adulterating the drug supply. So, after a great many years, the "War of Drugs" continues, with little success. People producing methamphetamine in the homes or apartments are occasionally raided and prosecuted, but their production is far below the amount that is smuggled in from Mexico as part of the immigration invasion. Little is done about this, and indeed two Border Patrol agents were recently [in 2006 or early 2007] sent to the penitentiary for shooting a drug smuggler, who was given immunity from prosecution in return for testifying against the agents. This demonstrates above all else the lack of will to address the problem.]