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Gore Vidal

Questioner: Since you have come out for legalizing drugs, what do you suggest we do to breakthrough and accomplish this?

Gore Vidal: Well, “legalize” means just what I say: legalize. Drugs sold at cost — I think heroin would be about five cents. This is money on instruction: just as we try not to sell bottles of vodka to nine-year-olds, you wouldn’t sell heroin to them. The important thing is to remove the profit motive. Once there’s no profit in flogging drugs – with the young or with anybody – crime is immediately out of the picture. That eliminates not only the mafia – big crime – but also the guy who knocks the old lady on the head in order to get money for a fix. Just legalize it. I’ve never seen a country like the United States. You know Europe just shakes its head with wonder at us. We have laws against everything. We go into private behavior in a way that is undreamed-of in the rest of the first world.

The Drug Enforcement Agency, my favorite name. What does it mean? They enforce you to take drugs is what it means. So that they can then play cops and robbers and get big appropriations. They’re going around Europe now, making people change their laws and do this and do that to conform to our idiocies.

Drugs have been around forever. Some people will always get hooked. Some people will die of it. And, well, that’s their choice. Same with alcohol, same with cigarettes. What on earth is this fuss about? Where’s the money to fight this war on drugs?

And I love the bellicose language. Drug “Wars” and “Czars.” It’s nuts.

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From the Q&A session of Gore Vidal’s 1991 State of the Union speech, which can be found in the collection Gore Vidal’s State of the Union 1958-2008.

In several years of looking seriously at this issue, I have moved from a more-or-less conventional stance on the drug war to an earnest commitment to full decriminalization. There is of course a dash of nuance to be added — including a humane reemphasis on education, prevention, and rehabilitation — but the essential point still stands: that it’s time for the drug war to end and be replaced by a rational, adult conversation about the intersection of substance abuse and public policy in the United States. I insist that this is not just the most practical political position, but also the most compassionate one, as it will empty our prisons and allow us to allocate public funds towards more fruitful ends. Like a majority of Millennials, I think marijuana is almost too obvious to bear mentioning, and I’m happy to see my current home city, Washington, DC, voting in November to legalize personal possession and recreational use. The less benign and more lethal, “harder” substances pose a bigger challenge, but many of the same pillars on which pot legalization rests also support arguments to decriminalize even methamphetamine and heroin. These include the fact that experiments in decriminalization have proven successful in other countries, as well as the philosophical stance — convincingly advocated to me by libertarian friends — that unless a fellow citizen is threatening my person or property, she should be able to do whatever she pleases. And I expect the same freedom in return.

Read on:

  • William F. Buckley, Vidal’s political antagonist, comes to the same conclusion
  • Vidal riffs on what ‘the pursuit of happiness’ means today
  • Vidal’s hilarious, prophetic rebuttal to Bush’s Second Inaugural

Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley