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Editor's Pick

A New Handbook for Ending the Drug War

Jeffrey A. Singer


Dr. Jeffrey A. Singer is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and works in the Department of Health Policy Studies.

Today, the Reason Foundation released the Drug Legalization Handbook, to which I contributed a chapter. The handbook is a guide for citizens and policymakers who seek a world in which governments no longer arbitrarily ban certain psychoactive substances and wage war on people who consume them.

A key word here is “arbitrarily.” For example, governments allow people to ingest alcohol. This dangerous, potentially addictive, psychoactive depressant can cause liver, heart, and brain damage, stomach and esophageal cancer, and, in some people, induce belligerent behavior. Yet governments put people in cages if they consume opioids—which causes none of those problems—unless they get a permission slip from another adult in the form of a doctor’s prescription. Governments allow people to consume psychostimulants like caffeine and nicotine but punish people for consuming stimulants like cocaine, methamphetamine, and other amphetamine derivatives unless they, too, receive permission from a doctor. Meanwhile, governments incarcerate doctors if their prescribing decisions deviate from government‐​imposed “guidelines.”

The drug war created a dangerous black market governed by the “iron law of prohibition”: the harder the law enforcement, the harder the drug. The “iron law” causes a never‐​ending cycle where more potent drugs emerge to replace older versions sold in the underground market. Heroin replaced prescription pain pills in the black market. Fentanyl replaced heroin. Now, fentanyl mixed with xylazine (“tranq”) has emerged on the scene, along with isotonitazine (“iso”), both of which are more potent than fentanyl. As a result, overdose deaths among people who use black‐​market drugs have skyrocketed.

Yet the drug war criminalizes individuals and organizations who want to prevent death and disease among people who use black‐​market drugs by providing them with harm‐​reduction tools.

The US government arm‐​twists other governments into joining its drug war, fueling corruption and destabilizing the governments of our hemispheric neighbors.

America’s war on some drugs has caused innocent people to die, destroyed families, corrupted institutions, destabilized the governments of neighboring countries, and, in the process, fueled the development of ever more dangerous drugs on the black market. It is the most destructive public policy in modern times.


The Drug Legalization Handbook, a joint project of the Reason Foundation, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and the National Coalition for Drug Legalization, shows policymakers how to end the destruction.

The chapter that I contributed to the handbook discusses how drug war enforcers get in the way of providing proper therapy for drug dependence, an example of cops practicing medicine.

Cato Vice President for Research Jeffrey Miron and former Cato Research Associate Erin Partin contributed a chapter called “Taking Drugs Off The Schedule: Eliminating The Controlled Substances Act.”

I encourage people to obtain hard copies of the handbook from the Reason Foundation or download the PDF version and share it with their friends and colleagues.

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