I enjoyed the first two seasons of Narcos dealing with the rise and fall of the Medellin cartel and its charismatic leader Pablo Escobar. I found myself on the side of the CIA and DEA, as the writers intend, even though in a sense they are the real bad guys. After all it's hard to sympathise with the murderous scum to whom Drug Prohibition, just like Liquor Prohibition before it, has delivered control of the narcotics business.
So often though in such matters it's not the story that we can see that matters. It's the one we can't. Like the story of the respectable businesses who would replace the scum in a heartbeat if Prohibition ended. How many customers of criminals would be alive today if they could have bought from, say, Boots the Chemist — making clean and reliable cocaine of consistent quality? How many addicts could be helped if cocaine were sin taxed like other potentially harmful products?
I don't use myself but then I don't smoke and drink little. I love my life. It's comfortable inside my head and I have no desire to get out of it. But I know for sure that many of my friends and former colleagues use and I think no less of them. I am happy to have friends who make different choices in all aspects of their life, and love living in a world that permits them to do so. I don't even think myself particularly virtuous in this respect. I doubt anyone reading this would end a friendship because the friend used drugs. They might worry about them, counsel them, even nag them a little. But dump them? No. Yet they certainly would not smile indulgently on a friend they found out as a murderer, robber or rapist. Why? Because those are real crimes; crimes against morality. I think it's a useful libertarian rule of thumb to say that nothing should be a crime that would not lose a decent person's friendship if known.
I think it was Jonathan Ross who observed that everyone in Britain who wants drugs has them. Swabs taken in the lavatories at the Houses of Parliament suggest many of our political leaders are users. Yet those leaders and the forces they command are at "war" on drugs. Was any war ever more comprehensively lost? So why does it continue? There's a clue to that in episode 1 of series 3, which turns its attention from the destroyed Medellin Cartel to the Cali Cartel that (in collusion with the authorities) assisted in that destruction. The show is based on the true story and the DEA hero mentions that Cali had a budget of $1 billion per annum at the time it's set (during the Clinton presidencies) just for bribes to government officials, police and others. Also to telecommunications staff intercepting phone calls for them, hoteliers and taxi drivers helping them to track their enemies — the so called Cali KGB.
I resist conspiracy theories. Conspiracies happen but cock ups happen more (and are easier to cover up). Most government types are too incompetent to keep a crime secret, but it's natural for such mediocrities to cover their mistakes — and necessary for them to cover their corruption. If your prosperity depends on persuading voters to entrust more and more decisions to you, you're instinctively going to cover up the big dirty secret of government as an institution; that state employees are no more honest, noble, intelligent or competent than the people they claim to be protecting.
Maybe Prohibition began as a sincere attempt to protect the weak from error. Maybe. But the most powerful question for arriving at truth — Cui bono? — must lead us to suspect that the direct corruption of bribery and the indirect corruption of jobs and pensions that depend on the "war" continuing have something to do with the refusal to acknowledge not only that the war is lost but that the only people dying in its trenches are the weaklings it's supposed to protect. Theodore Dalrymple suggests that addiction itself is largely a fiction promoted by the public servants providing "support" to addicts. He says addiction support employees depend far more on the addicts than the addicts depend on them. That's surely just as true of the officials in law enforcement whose mortgages are paid and families raised on the back of the drug trade and whose lives would be wrecked if it were legalised.