Further Reading

What do you think of Szasz's idea of a free drug market?

Dear Stanton:

Hello again. I have read and re-read a recent book by Thomas Szasz entitled Our Right to Drugs: A Case for the Free Market. Have you read it? Szasz makes three major arguments:

  1. Drug prohibition is a failure. The war on drugs should stop.
  2. Drug legalization is only another attempt at government interference and control over drugs (via taxes) and is no better than drug prohibition. It makes even less sense without attacking prescription laws for "legal" drugs.
  3. His solution (one that is hardly ever talked about) is repealing all drug laws, including prescription laws. Both prohibition and prescription are paternalistic attempts by the state to protect people from themselves.

How do you feel about this? Since the main reason prescription laws are in effect is to prevent drug abuse, they create the impression that people cannot use drugs responsibly, a notion you have argued is is false. So, would you support a free market in drugs, at least in principle?

Thanks again. Your site is one of the best on the net.

Rob Ryley


I read Szasz's book. Szasz is an opponent of the current legalization/liberalization movement, an opposition I know Ethan Nadelmann accepts with tolerance. You know, the most remarkable thing about Our Right to Drugs for me was the linking of prescription and illicit drugs, making me aware of how recent the medical control of pharmaceuticals was, and how paternalistic this system is. Szasz's analysis and "prescription" is very appealing—that we can never control all the substances out there, that people must make their own decisions about what they put in their bodies, that nowhere in the U.S. Constitution is this right restricted (since the repeal of alcohol Prohibition), that the results of our elaborate series of regulations and laws on drug use could hardly be worse than the current situation. As you point out, my whole career has involved showing that our elaborate mythology of drug addiction has been put in place, without evidence, as the main reason for supporting drug laws and drug bureaucracies. If you look at my books, like Diseasing of America, I in general terms endorse a free market on illicit drugs, while punishing crime related to drug use. At the same time, I am tied into Ethan's incrementalist approach to drug reform, and so I see it from his side as well.

Thanks for your praise and support and your active and informed interest in the topic of drugs, addiction, drug policy and my point of view on all these things.

Very best,

Stanton