The Boycott We Need
Published on: October 11, 2010
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  • Dave

    If anything, you’ve understated the case. Cycles of violence and social destruction from the illegal drug trade are common not just overseas where they’re manufactured, but stateside, where they bankroll vicious inner city street gangs, the modern successors to bootlegger mafia types…

    With that said, I respectfully think you might as well have talked about violence and repression in Afghanistan without mentioning the Taliban… There is no legal industry in the world plagued by the levels of violence associated with the drug trade. Period.

    To hold the feet of drug users to the fire without making mention of the reprehensible and insulting paternalism that is ultimately responsible for this suffering is about as accurate as the USSR’s old assertion that bad winters were causing their food shortages…

  • Bobclyde

    Thoughtful, moral people already do boycott illegal drugs and their dealers. It’s not enough, and never will be. The problem is not with the drugs nor the addicts, it’s with the immense amounts of money generated by the illicit drug trade. There is one clear way to get the money out. This is a lesson we have learned before but refuse now to recall. What lesson? Alcohol prohibition managed by repeal of the 17th Amendment. Legalizing, regulating, taxing drugs will not make addiction disappear. But, it will take the profit out of the business and reduce the threat to civil order.

  • mhr

    The liberal-controlled mass media and Hollywood play a role in making drugs attractive to the young. Entertainers from big to small are lionized for having been arrested for drug possession. Leftwing TV hotshots make jokes about drugs and a movie like Pulp Fiction glamorized it. Mead’s is the only article
    I have found that focuses on the users who make drugs trafficking so profitable.

  • Bobclyde +1. I already boycott illegal drugs.

    Legalize the drugs and then manage what’s left of the problem?

    What to crusade against the bad things that bad drugs do to bad people? Let’s start with legalizing marijuana and see what happens. If the result sucks, we can always make it illegal again. If the result makes sense, we take the next step.

    How about it?

  • RKV

    “The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.” – Broadcast talk 6-11-35 G. K. Chesterton

  • tim maguire

    Paul A’Barge is right. You want to boycott of illegal drugs? Easy, legalize them. Absent a legal alternative, forget it. (FWIW, also like Paul, I already boycott illegal drugs; my own use or lack of it is not the point of this comment.)

  • L Nettles

    I propose we make the purchase of the currently illegal drugs legal upon the purchase of a inexpensive license for each class of drugs and publish the name of the owners of such licenses on the internet. Sellers would also have to purchase an inexpensive published license. I would also make it legal to make business, govermental and other decisions based on such license information

  • Richard Gelb

    The violence is associated with drugs’ illegality. If you legalize them, the incentive to smuggle them goes down. Prohibition was behind the rise of the mob in the 1920’s. You never hear about violence associated with alcohol smuggling anymore.

  • Tom Mathers

    If the “War on Drugs” is the most needless and unsuccessful war in the history of mankind, (perhaps hyperbole, but likely not by much) than almost ANY alternative would be better. I’d rather there were crack cocaine Pez dispensers at every elementary school than continue the schtick that abstinence, temperance, education, and law enforcement will ultimately prevail and see us through to the other side. At this point, there is no moral line that can be drawn between the choices of pot vs. cocaine vs. meth vs. heroin, etc. Legalize them all, tax the [email protected] out of them, and then let God sort ’em all out. (Note: like the author, I too have tried marijuana. Unlike him, I liked it, and would smoke it recreationally if it were legal today.)

    Final thought: it 20 years, I believe we’ll look back on the quaint notions of being worried about pot, cocaine, heroin, meth, etc. and wish those were still our concerns. There are blockbuster drugs being built in labs that will put all of those to shame, which is another reason we need to get the legalization and regulatory hurdles out of the way sooner rather than later.

  • JDSc

    I’ve always wondered what the consequences of drug legalization would be on a local level. Doesn’t the legalization shift the burden from the Fed to the local and state gov’ts to police and regulate. Drug testing, employer/employee relationships, community policies, etc have to be figured out. I assume the laws passed will be very similar to how alcohol is treated at the local level. The drugs may be legal but with heavy restrictions.

  • Tim Gee

    After 4 to 5 decades of “boycotting” certain drugs with legal prohibition, we could reduce the US to a police state and not eradicate the use of these drugs.

    We’re already living with the militarization of local police departments, no-knock raids that kill innocents every year, and the state’s seizure of cash and property without being found guilty of any crime.

    Prohibition has been so successful, smart well intentioned folks like Mr. Mead are reduced to begging for a boycott. Sad.

    It is time to try something else.

  • Greg Brown

    The problem with a boycott is that they only work when the target population thinks it is a good thing. The fact that drugs are already illegal means that most of the target population already participates. You say that college students and other young people should lead the way — the problem is that they already see what happens when someone gets wasted — be it on booze or drugs — and see nothing wrong with it. They really do see it as “cool” or “hip.” Ditto Hollywood (maybe, particularly Hollywood). Ask American college students to take responsibility for what happens in other countries? Have you ever seen a college football stadium after a game? If they don’t care about their own messes close to home, they will certainly not get exercised about peoples’ troubles in other countries.

    The facts are clear to anyone who takes a fair and honest look at the situation today: what we are doing and have been doing for the last thirty years, the “War on Drugs” has failed, and the effects on this country have been calamitous. We’ve given the “War” a chance to work and it hasn’t. It’s time to do something different. As you say, legalization won’t solve all the problems, but what we’ve done so far hasn’t worked either.

  • mrbill

    Sorry guys, but the violence crap wont cut it. The only reason violence enters in…is because it is ILLEGAL. Do you hear of violent BEER gangs? Big BEER cartels beheading each other….? Why is that do you think? Why are there no more Al Capones with big Liquor cartels…? Because we can buy it at the store nimrod. Let me grow it on MY Farm here in Kansas, tax it at the liguor store. Let Phillip Morris handle distribution with an already existing logistical system. Do NOT just legalize USE. That still gives the cartels domain on supply etc. It must be able to be grown here LEGALLY or the cartels will still hold sway. And you will lose money. You need to have control of the money from growth to sales. Dont break the chain.

    But Im now sure congress knows enough about business to understand that.

  • Bill Johnson

    boycott the laws penalizing those who choose their own lives.

    you are chasing second-order issues. sure users choose to traffic with the dealer, but it’s John Law who made the sale illegal, thus driving moral nice people from the supply side of the market.

    remember, it’s not ‘legalize it’

    it’s RE-legalize it. your great-grandparents got along fine with all those nasty drugs – laudanum (opium), coca-cola (cocaine), marihuana (early spelling) – even alcohol!

    are we not men? we need no nanny.

  • Bryan

    I’ve been conducting my own personal boycott of illegal drugs since 1970. Welcome aboard!

  • Looking closely

    I don’t know about this crazy new “boycott drugs” concept.

    What would Nancy Reagan say?

  • DonM

    We have already legalized alcohol. Violence in neighborhoods with more liquor stores is higher. Where alcohol is a state monopoly, there are fewer liquor stores, and less violence.

    But we put those bootleggers out of business!

    Oh, that is right, they remained in business selling drugs, lottery tickets and prostitution.


  • DonM

    The legal business associated with even greater violence than the illegal drug trade: Socialism. National Socialism in Germany, Soviet Socialism in USSR, Sinosocialism in China.

  • DSmith

    By what right does the Gov’t make drugs illegal? Where in the Constitution does it say they get to do that? Commerce Clause? But wait a minute, what about that penumbra that emanates a right of privacy that makes abortion a right? Isn’t what a person puts in their body just as much a privacy right as what they take out of their body?

    The harm that comes from drug use is irrelevant to the question; the Gov’t has no right to make drugs illegal. ALL the evils you rightly cite are the result of what the Gov’t does and doesn’t do. Put the blame where it truly lies. If you’re going to ask Hollywood or young people to campaign, ask them to campaign for the right thing.

  • Whenever you enforce prohibition on or severely restrict the trade of something, you create black markets and you get the chaos and violence associated with them. It’s a fundamental law of economics – expecting law enforcement to deal with this in a high-demand area like intoxicants is as realistic as passing a law against gravity.

    Are there areas where trade prohibition should be enforced? Yes, but relatively few. Murder-for-hire, for instance.

    I’ve lost friends and family to intoxicant abuse (drugs and alcohol; separating them is silly and arbitrary). I’ve had plenty of friends that were casual weekend drug users in their 20s and 30s that got through that phase just fine. Contrary to what they told us in high school, a few hits of hard drugs doesn’t make you an instant addict. Personally, I don’t use illegal drugs and I seldom even drink booze anymore.

    Want to cut down on people’s desire for intoxication? Get rid of public schools.



    People get intoxicated for two reasons: to remove social friction, and / or to deal with low self-esteem. The social friction issue is usually a confidence issue caused by stress or middling self-esteem – not really low, but too wound up or uncomfortable to jump in and have fun. These are skills people should learn as kids, and while parents can certainly have an impact, public schools do incredible damage in these areas.

    Can we list the ways? Grade inflation or elimination, prohibitions on rankings, forcing kids to get along whether they love each other or hate each other, and placing the highest premium on not hurting anybody’s feelings and the second-highest premium on absolute conformity. It’s really tough for any kid can develop real self-esteem in this environment. I’m very glad that most of the schools I went to weren’t like that – I can see the difference in myself versus many of the people I know now.

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  • More sweeping than boycotts and more effective:


    What makes a pile of vegetables worth its weight in gold? Government


    You are normally a very clear thinker but I fear your mind has been clouded by DRUGS.

  • And Walter,

    The medical profession has come to the conclusion that drug taking is SELF MEDICATION.

    What you are asking is for people to go without medicine. I have written a LOT on the subject. Perhaps you would care to start with:

  • Michael Chaney

    The problems that you mention are not caused by illegal drugs. They’re caused by black markets. Remove the black market and the rest of it goes away. When was the last time you heard about a liquor truck driving killing a rival?

  • shady

    Good article but I wish folks would learn how Mother Teresa spells her name.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Thanks for the tip!

  • Paul Compton

    Purchasing illegal drugs is a form of wealth redistribution from western recreational drug consumers to indigent subsistence farmers. How dare we propose to deny these innocent villagers of their sole source of income . . .

    Oh, wait.

  • Ben

    I’d be glad to boycott the illegal drug trade if there was a legal alternative. But there’s not, my freedom is restricted, and I will do what I can to get what I want. As soon as politicians allow a legal alternative, this won’t change. That’s the change we need, for politicians to acknowledge reality.

  • Gazzer

    It is not valid to compare 5,200 drug deaths in Mexico with US combat deaths in afghanistan. Soldiers lives are very valuable; gang members lives are not important at all. In fact, if we were comparing Mexican soldiers and American gang members, I’d save the soldiers every time.

  • lumpy

    What makes anyone think the drug lords with their armies will suddenly play fair when drugs are legalized? They already kidnap, torture, and murder to keep their cash flow intact. Why won’t they continue to do so? What do they care if they have to bomb legal cocaine factories or murder the workers? This is what they do to the competition already. Why would they stop?

  • S P Dudley

    I like Singapore’s approach: make possession of illicit drugs a capital offense, punishable by death.

    While their law sounds draconian, it works effectively to prevent trafficking in what would normally be a natural nexus for the drug trade (and indeed it was during the colonial period).

    While Singapore’s approach wouldn’t entirely work here, executing dealers large and small would definitely have an interdicting effect. Concentrate on messing up the distribution channels and then have a separate stream of approach for addicts that keeps them from the main prison population, recognizing that drug use is not quite in the same crime category as theft or murder. Start there, and that should cut down on the demand here.

  • Betty Barker

    What a fabulous piece. The anti-smoking campaign demonstrated the power of public opinion in modifying individual and societal behavior. I have written the White House and the Secretary of State about starting an anti drug campaign with no response. No matter what the laws turn out to be about drugs, we can start a vigorous campaign to make their use socially unacceptable.

  • Bill Reeves

    Mr. Mead would have demanded that Americans boycott Al Capone and the illegal alcohol business. That’s what Carrie Nation did. And it is what made organized crime into the monster it is today. Mr. Mead is just another in a long line of Baptists who are needed by the bootleggers to keep the business illegal and lucrative.

    And since he seems to be a historian I must characterize him as a willing dupe of a Baptist.

  • ms

    Legalization has the potential to do a tremendous amount of harm and very little good. What, you think these thugs will just cheerfully start chipping in their share of FICA? Or billions of dollars to the states like tobacco does?

  • Ben

    The pro-legalization arguments in the comments are as drearily predictable and lazily thought-out as they are wrong.

    While it is obviously true that the illegality of drugs has not stopped their abuse, it is almost certainly true that legalization would vastly increase usage. There are many people who do not currently try drugs because they do not want to violate the law (and risk getting caught) and do not want to take on the stigma of doing something illegal. Make drugs legal and you have just removed this barrier to usage. If this also results in drugs becoming cheaper (which would almost certainly occur), you have just reduced a second major barrier to usage. Taken together, usage — and specifically first-time usage and experimentation with different drugs — would certainly increase. And given that we are talking about addictive substances here, that means overall usage and addiction would also increase dramatically.

    The comparison of current drug laws to alcohol prohibition is vastly off the mark. Most alcohol is consumed with meals or in social situations where intoxication is not the goal. Drugs have no such uses; the only reason for consuming them is to become intoxicated.

    This fact — and the fact that alcohol had been an integral and widespread part of human civilization for eons — is the reason prohibition failed. The government took what had been a perfectly legal and largely innocuous part of human social life and suddenly made it off-limits. Much of the public understandably rebelled against this. Drugs, on the other hand, became illegal only after their explicit usage (e.g., not just hidden in cough syrups and such) started becoming more widespread.

    Comparing alcohol prohibition to laws against drugs is like arguing that since people would be outraged at a national law banning hunting rifles, it follows that we should legalize machine guns and grenade launchers, too.

  • How is this different than the “Just Say No” campaign, which has proven to be a miserable failure?

    So you honestly believe that a “boycott” of already illegal drugs is any way even remotely productive, as if the people who
    are ALREADY BREAKING THE LAW by buying illegal drugs are going to pay attention to a “boycott”? This is so out of touch it might as well be from Pluto.

    I am shocked that Mead believes this is even an option. Sad to see, really.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    As a Libertarian I believe that the Government has no right to tell a person what they can or can not put into their own body. Leftist politicians have been trying to outlaw or tax soft drinks, this is insane.

  • There is no perfect solution. Stop pretending that there may be one, somewhere, somehow. Human nature makes certain that we will always have problems.

    The challenge is not to make them worse than they need to be. The war on drugs makes this problem worse than it needs to be. So does the demonizing of drug users by ordinary people.

    Everything we consume is a drug. Our foods, beverages, even the air we breathe — all drugs. Everything that grows in the earth or seas has evolved to produce drugs of one type or another, including micro-organisms.

    Time for humans to grow up.

  • Dana H.

    “On the other hand, legalization doesn’t always make things better.”

    When it comes to matters that should be left to individual choice based on the premise that we are sovereign beings able to make our own decisions, legalization *does* always make things better. I am amazed at the rationalizations people go through in order to obscure the crystal clear lesson of alcohol prohibition in the U.S.

  • Dyspeptic Curmudgeon


    Prohibition was the 18th amendment repealed by the 21st.

    The 17th amendment was the one which changed Senatorial elections from nomination by the state, to direct election. There are some (Randy Barnett is one) who think that repealing the 17th would help restore balance to the Federal equation.

  • Thomas

    Here’s the problem with the idea that legalizing drugs will take the profit out of it: Some drugs are so inherently dangerous, that the potential product liability costs would be prohibitive. Amalgamated MethCorp would be sued out of business in about a year — or, alternatively, would have to pay through the nose for product liability insurance. That would keep their product expensive.

    Of course, there’s an easy way to avoid litigation costs: Operate in the black market. That takes us back to square one.

    Legalization is no panacea.

  • gs

    Violent crime in the black market for a banned product is a measure of demand for that product. It suggests that the ban is ill-considered or illegitimate. It suggests that the lesser evil is government noninterference with individuals’ choices and the consequences thereof.

    IMHO there are plausible, though not compelling, reasons to refrain from marijuana etc. However, a boycott of the black market for a banned product is a de facto endorsement of the ban: in particular, it is a de facto endorsement of the State’s assertion of regulatory power. Government usually, if not always, looks for pretexts and precedents to overstep its bounds.

  • Mel Dashner

    A great article and along the same lines as I’ve been preaching to whomever would listen over the last year. I really work my kids and their friends over with this approach.

    I would like to observe that the violence in Mexico is already spilling over to the US and if Mexico fails (you could argue it’s already too late) we are likely to have an even bigger problem to deal with. For example, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to see some very nasty terrorists take up residence in the lawless parts of Mexico with all that means for cross border terrorism. Further, suppose democracy (such as it is) fails and a Mexican version of Hugo Chavez shows up next door. There is nothing good that can happen with all the corruption festering in Mexico from the illegal drug trade.

  • What I Think

    I’ve got a better idea! Let’s boycott the social engineers, the do-gooders, and the special-interest profiteers that caused this situation.

    Problem solved–except for finding all these parasites something useful to do.

  • Rich Rostrom

    “crystal meth … is generally distributed by the same kind of syndicates that handle cocaine.”

    [references to various ethnic and racial goups deleted here — ed]

  • Think about the history temperance and Prohibition. Sure, there would be a lot of drug abuse in the short-run if drugs were legalized. Over time however the spectacle of drug abuse would make most drugs declasse.

  • legalizing drugs won’t take the money out the question. if that were the case perscription drugs would be as cheap as sin. the legalizing of drugs will just create a more dependent population. most junkies won’t be able to hold a job. what will we do with them? why we put them on the dole. more bought and paid for votes. thats why the legalize drug movement is funded by people like george soros.

  • Victor Erimita

    I too have often marveled at the highly selective “morality” that drives someone to boycott fur, or rage against “the war” (name any,) but utterly ignore the consequences of buying illegal drugs from countries torn apart by the drug lords. Thye argument against illegal drugs has always been a health or a personal morality one. The morality aspect described in this article never seems to occur to anyone.

  • ArtD0dger

    I read about half of this article before it dawned on me that you were actually serious. I thought you were making a point about quixotic leftist utopianism based on the perfectibility of man.

    Yes, drug prohibition is far more disastrous than alcohol prohibition ever was. Which is why you won’t get any buy-in from me to double down on the drug war based on some sort of “boycott” or re-education program.

  • MikeC

    The comparison of current drug laws to alcohol prohibition is vastly off the mark. Most alcohol is consumed with meals or in social situations where intoxication is not the goal. Drugs have no such uses; the only reason for consuming them is to become intoxicated.

    Dance, little sister, dance!

  • It’s been my experience that most people who still support the war on drugs do so out of a vague belief that at some level, the drug war “works” to one extent or another. They argue that if drugs were legal they would be everywhere.

    It is important for us as a society to realize that drugs are already everywhere even though illegal. It is laughable at best and risible at worst to believe that we can keep drugs out of our streets when we can’t even keep them out of our prisons. The drug war does not work on any level.

  • I have to say that from personal experience of the violence along the Mexican border in 2007 that the problem is out of control and growing. I think professor Meade characterizes it accurately. Having buried a son who died of an overdose of heroin in 1999 I am not a big fan of illegal drugs. I am inclined to agree with the libertarian position to a degree, but think the problem is more complex than will admit of simple legalization. One example of what I mean is that opium was legally available in drug stores in California until the mid 30s, but that doesn’t mean we can just roll the clock back. I agree with those who predict that the drug cartels will defend their business with ruthless violence. Also I can’t say for sure that those who speculate that legalization would greatly increase use are wrong. However one thing became clear to me from the circumstances of my son’s death which involved unusually high potency of the heroin available at the time. The idea behind a ‘pure food and drug act’ became much more clear. So it seems to me that any attempt to bring the drug business into the system of legal business will have to control the entire supply chain as pointed out by many commenters plus actually regulate the quality and potency of drugs the way we do now.

  • Mark


    I used to pay more attention to your arguments concerning drug use and legalization before you started calling the Pope a Nazi.

  • Sir,
    You’re backing into the solution, but taking the long way around….
    We do need a boycott of the drugs produced by Latin American and Afghan drug lords, but in favor of a “Buy Local” policy.
    It really is that simple.
    Anyone purchasing an import instead of buying from his neighbor should be publicly shamed.

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