Over at NRO, Jeffrey Miron argues that the Tea Party movement should take a stand against the War On (Some) Drugs:
If the party is true to its principles — fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets — it must side with the libertarians.
Fiscal responsibility means limiting government expenditures to programs that can be convincingly said to generate benefits in excess of their costs. This does not rule out programs with large expenditures, or ones whose benefits are difficult to quantify; national defense is guilty on both counts, yet few believe that substantial military expenditure is necessarily irresponsible.
Any significant expenditure, however, should come with a credible claim that it produces a benefit large enough to outweigh both the expenditure itself and any ancillary costs. From this perspective, drug prohibition is not remotely consistent with fiscal responsibility. This policy costs the public purse around $70 billion per year, according to my estimates, yet no evidence suggests that prohibition reduces drug use to a significant degree.
And prohibition has unintended consequences that push its cost-benefit ratio even farther in the wrong direction. Prohibition generates violence and corruption by pushing drug markets underground and inflating prices. Prohibition inhibits quality control, so users suffer accidental poisoning and overdoses. Prohibition destroys civil liberties, inhibits legitimate medical uses of targeted drugs, and wreaks havoc in drug-producing countries.
Moreover, as Miron points out, the drug war also raises serious Constitutional concerns:
Drug prohibition, at least when imposed at the federal level, is also hard to reconcile with constitutionally limited government. The Constitution gives the federal government a few expressly enumerated powers, with all others reserved to the states (or to the people) under the Tenth Amendment. None of the enumerated powers authorizes Congress to outlaw specific products, only to regulate interstate commerce. Thus laws regulating interstate trade in drugs might pass constitutional muster, but outright bans cannot. Indeed, when the United States wanted to outlaw alcohol, it amended the Constitution itself to do so. The country has never adopted such a constitutional authorization for drug prohibition.
Miron’s argument is powerful and, if it were true that the Tea Party was a limited-government/libertarian movement, it would be impossible to refuse. However, its become patently clear that the Tea Party is little more than a shill for the Republican Party. So, I doubt anyone will listen to Miron’s excellent argument.