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Ben Carson Wants to Intensify the War on Drugs

The retired neurosurgeon is as prohibitionist as anyone running for presidency this cycle—and the reasoning he offers is surprisingly weak.

If elected president, Ben Carson won’t just continue to wage the perennially failing War on Drugs, like all of his predecessors in both parties since Richard Nixon—he would intensify the failed policy, because ... well, better to quote him directly.

Here is the hard-to-follow reasoning he offered in an interview with Glenn Beck:

Glenn Beck: Do you continue the War on Drugs?

Ben Carson: Absolutely.

Beck: You do?

Carson: I intensify it.

Beck: Let me ask you a question. I mean, it doesn’t seem to be working now.

Carson: Yeah, well, go down to the border in Arizona like I was a few weeks ago. I mean, it’s an open highway. And the federal government isn’t doing anything to stop it.

Beck: Okay. Legalize marijuana?

Carson: I disagree with it.

The implication seems to be that the federal government isn’t trying very hard to interdict drugs coming across the Mexican border, or that the double border-fence that Carson advocates would somehow make the War on Drugs a winning proposition.

In fact, multiple federal agencies spend billions trying to interdict drugs flowing in from Mexico, and even if the Great Wall of China stretched across the whole southern border the black market in illegal drugs would continue to thrive. The federal government is not even able to keep illegal drugs out of maximum-security prisons.

Carson said this about marijuana in 2014:

I think medical use of marijuana in compassionate cases certainly has been proven to be useful. But recognize that marijuana is what’s known as a gateway drug. It tends to be a starter drug for people who move onto heavier duty drugs—sometimes legal, sometimes illegal—and I don’t think this is something that we really want for our society. You know, we’re gradually just removing all the barriers to hedonistic activity and you know, it’s just, we’re changing so rapidly to a different type of society and nobody is getting a chance to discuss it because, you know, it’s taboo. It’s politically incorrect. You’re not supposed to talk about these things.

There is, in fact, no taboo against wanting to keep drugs illegal, a position held by the majority of Americans and elected officials. There is, however, eroding support for marijuana prohibition and the drug war. The most recently availableGallup data suggests that a small majority of Americans favors legalizing marijuana and that more now believe that America is losing ground in the War on Drugs than gaining it. 

Many critics of the drug war aggressively press their position, but the notion that “nobody is getting to discuss the issue” is absurd. It is commonly discussed on television and radio, in print media, and in formal and informal debates all around the country. Carson’s attempt to cast the status quo position as one that no one can even talk about is a good example of “victimhood culture” in its movement-conservative manifestation. Carson sensed gain in using an exaggerated grievance to rally third parties around himself and those who share his position on drug policy, casting them as unfairly marginalized victims—even as most drug laws still reflect their beliefs and armed agents of the state daily enforce those laws in all 50 states.

It’s an off-brand tactic for Carson, and makes no more substantive sense than intensifying the War on Drugs even as multiple states move toward marijuana legalization. A Republican can claim to favor small government and the Bill of Rights or the federal prohibition of marijuana, but he cannot stand for all of those things.

Carson has made his choice.