THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 172, May 6, 2002
Owned by the Anti-Drug Cartels
by Rick Gee
Special to TLE
When New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson announced on CBS's 60 Minutes that he had used marijuana and cocaine in his younger days and -- gasp! -- liked it, a cacophonous uproar ensued. Elected and appointed officials from both major parties knocked each other over in the rush to denounce the governor for this unpopular and dangerous stance and vowed to oppose any decriminalization or legalization schemes.
Of course, Johnson waited until after he was reelected to drop this bombshell on the public, but who could blame him? Politicians, even a maverick like Johnson, live for the next election. If he had publicized his controversial views before the election, Marty Chavez would now be the governor of New Mexico instead of settling for his old job as the mayor of Albuquerque. Johnson could afford the Alfred E. Newman attitude because he had already announced that his second term would be his last.
Before Johnson, the only elected official to take this stand publicly was Kurt Schmoke, mayor of Baltimore from 1987-1999, who did so with class and enthusiasm. Schmoke was popular and won elections even after his views became widely known.
Think for a moment how many big city mayors, governors, representatives, senators and presidents have held public office in the past fifteen years and ask yourself how it can be that only two of them have publicly questioned the pervasive and invasive war on drugs. Do the rest of them truly believe that the inhalation of an herb or the ingestion of a pill or the injection of a mind-altering substance is a crime that should be punished? Do they believe, as Harry Browne wondered aloud about his presidential election opponents Al Gore and George Bush, that they would have been better off if they had served a prison sentence for their own "youthful indiscretions"?
Youthful indiscretions or not, self-medication has been a hallmark of human civilization since man first pulled himself out of the primordial swamp, but drug prohibition is a recent trend, historically speaking. Most of the laws originated during the "Reefer Madness" era of the early 1900s. The unmitigated failure of alcohol prohibition should be a model for the legality of all mood- enhancing substances. Alas, the War on Drugs is really a War on Some Drugs. Alcohol and nicotine are legal for adults of a certain minimum age despite the fact that those legal drugs kill far more people than all illegal drugs combined.
So why are marijuana and other drugs verboten? The cynical (but obvious) answer is that the ruling elite love to control the rest of us. In 2000, over 730,000 Americans were arrested for the heinous act of simply possessing or using marijuana. Our prisons are so full of drug users (most of them marijuana users) that the United States now houses 25% of the world's prison population.
The Unreason of Drug Laws
Drug-legalization proponents have offered many common-sense reasons to reform our nation's destructive drug laws. One of the most common arguments is that drug dependence is a health issue rather than a crime issue, i.e., treatment makes more sense than incarceration. Others point out that rates of illicit drug use bear no meaningful relationship to interdiction and enforcement efforts. Most reasonable people recognize that smoking a bowl is not tantamount to armed robbery or rape. Therefore, those individuals who are inclined to experiment with mind-altering drugs are not likely to abstain from doing so just because a bunch of corrupt politicians pass some laws.
Some argue that illegal drugs are not nearly as dangerous as the government and media would have you believe. After all, far more people die as a result of taking legal prescription and over-the- counter drugs each year than die from ingesting all illegal drugs put together. Critical thinkers recognize "marijuana is a gateway to hard drugs" for the canard that it is.
Civil libertarians decry the loss of privacy and Constitutional protections. "Know Your Customer" regulations forced upon banks are ostensibly designed to ferret out drug dealers. Asset forfeiture -- the despicable practice in which government thugs with guns are permitted to seize private property upon the slimmest suspicion that the property in question might be remotely connected to illegal drugs -- has rendered the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure impotent. And forget the presumption of innocence; victims must prove they are not guilty to regain their property, despite the fact that in the majority of such cases, no charges are filed.
Civil rights spokesmen expose the racist dimensions of prohibition: blacks are incarcerated at a rate grossly disproportionate to their population, and penalties for crack cocaine use are harsher than those for the powdered variety.
Critics of bloated government point out that the War on Drugs is a massive waste of tax dollars. Realists maintain that even successful interdiction operations make only the slightest dent in the volume of drugs coming across the country's extensive borders and into its countless ports. Armchair economists comprehend that supply will always meet demand.
Who Owns You?
All of the above arguments (definitely not a complete list) for ending The War on Some Drugs have merit. Some are practical, some are self- serving. But none of them carries the moral weight of the single most important reason for complete drug legalization: if I am the owner of my self and my body (and surely I am), nobody may tell me what I may ingest into it.
In a free society that recognizes private property rights, the right of the individual to determine what he will smoke, ingest or inject into his own person should be paramount. What right does the politician or bureaucrat have to tell one otherwise?
Endemic in the halls of our rulers is the mindset that the poor sheeple cannot fend for themselves and therefore need the gentle, guiding hand of the bureaucrat. An exchange with a do-gooder nanny wannabe typically goes something like this:
"If drugs were legal, we would experience an epidemic of drug addiction."
"So, if drugs were legal, would you use them?"
"No, of course not."
"Why then do you assume everyone else will?"
"Well, I can control myself, but some people can't."
So what? In a free society, some individuals will make poor decisions about a whole host of things: what to eat, what to drink, what college to attend, what career to pursue, whom to marry, or whether or not to ingest "illegal" drugs. None of these decisions should be usurped by government. Each and every one of them must be left to the sovereign individual.
The War on Some Drugs is really The War on Some People.
If you want to drink a fifth of Scotch a day and die from cirrhosis of the liver, that's OK as far as the government is concerned. But if you want to relax after a hard day at work with a few tokes on a joint, you are a criminal and may go to jail.
The government's war on peaceful people who engage in certain activities on a purely voluntary basis does not stop with criminalizing drug use. Also forbidden by law is the world's oldest profession, both for the entrepreneur and the customer. Placing a bet on a professional football game is illegal in most jurisdictions, but don't forget to buy your tickets to the State-run Powerball! Gambling is OK as long as the State gets its cut, and besides, don't you know it benefits education? Sure, some of the lottery loot is spent on the corrupt and decrepit public school system, but that only serves to free up other stolen tax dollars for the pols to spend on what they do best: rewarding their friends and punishing their enemies.
If Schmoke and Johnson have been the only prominent elected officials to have had the gonads to decry the war on drugs, that is still two more than have had the courage to criticize another victimless crime: "drunk driving." Oh, you say, but drunk drivers kill over 25,000 people in the US every year. What about those victims? True, but many people are also killed by drivers who are drowsy (or even asleep), tuning their radios, eating their Big Macs, talking to their passengers, or who are just plain BAD DRIVERS. Should we therefore outlaw eating and talking and listening to the radio if they are done within the confines of a moving automobile? Vehicular manslaughter is the crime and should be punished severely. But if you have a few beers at your local watering hole and then drive home safely, without incident, what exactly is the crime? Who is the victim?
Are You Government Property?
Unfortunately, government at levels has strayed far wide of its putative raison d'Ítre -- to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens. When you can lose your driving privileges for driving safely home, something is wrong. When you can suffer incarceration for using a particular drug in the privacy of your own home, something is horribly amiss. Perhaps such is the ineluctable result of ever- expanding government; politicians must portray themselves as "tough on crime." But when all the murderers and rapists are caught, the minions of the State must justify their own existence by making voluntary activities between free people illegal.
Nevertheless, these assaults on free men and women must end, and they must end for one reason: your person and your body are your property, and you should allow no one -- least of all some politician in the statehouse or in Washington -- to get away with dictating what you do with your property.
Who owns you?