Thanks to Jonathan Boatwright for this excellent submission.
In today’s political climate, a hot button issue is the legalization of drugs and more specifically that of marijuana. In this essay, I hope to convince you of two things:
- That the Constitution does not grant the authority to deal with matters of drug prohibition to the Federal Government.
- That mixing government and morality is highly dangerous, and as Christians we should be willing to help those who are held in the firm grasp of drug addiction.
Constitutional Reasoning Against Prohibition
As a (Christian) libertarian one of the things in the debate over drug legalization that troubles me is the notion that Federal law trumps state law. When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they delegated to the Federal Government a list of 18 enumerated powers by which the government had the authority and responsibility to fulfill. They also wrote the 9th and 10th amendments, which delegate all other powers to the individual states or to the people of those states. To defend their position proponents of drug prohibition will immediate fall back on the “Supremacy Clause,” and either through willful or forgivable ignorance they forget an essential element to the entire issue: what the Founding Fathers said about the Supremacy Clause.
William Davie, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention from North Carolina said:
“This Constitution, as to the powers therein granted, is constantly to be the supreme law of the land. Every power ceded by it must be executed without being counteracted by the laws or constitutions of the individual states. Gentlemen should distinguish that it is not the supreme law in the exercise of power not granted. It can be supreme only in cases consistent with the powers specially granted, and not in usurpations.”
Mr. Davie’s point is that the prerogatives of the Federal Government, those eighteen enumerated powers, and any laws to that affect, do hold sway over any laws that emanate from the states, but that this authority does not, nor should it be interpreted to exceed, those 18 enumerated power. Anything not enumerated in the Constitution as an area of authority of the Federal Government is the authority of the states or the people. For the prohibitionist point to be valid they would have to cite at least one of the 18 enumerated powers which might in any way give such authority, and having reviewed those eighteen specific enumerated powers it is my opinion that such a grant of authority does not exist. That being the case, what bolsters my opposition on a Constitutional level to the “Supremacy Clause” argument are the aforementioned 9th and 10th amendments. The 9th Amendment to the United States Constitution states the following,:
“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
This does further damage to the “Supremacy” argument because it clearly indicates that the Federal Governments authority is limited to those eighteen enumerated powers in the Constitution. I could leave my argument there, but to be sure that there is no flaw I would offer an explanation as to the 10th Amendments meaning as well. The 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Again, this clearly indicates that the areas of authority of the Federal Government are limited and defined, or enumerated. And that any and all other areas of power are the prerogative of the individual states or the people.
Arguments in favor of the “Supremacy Clause” are at the least unfounded, and at their worst are an interpretation that does away with key elements of the Constitution, the 9th and 10th Amendments, and ultimately make the Constitution a dead letter, as well as making it more easy to simply do away with the rights of the people by Legislative decree.
Moral Reasoning Against Prohibition
First, I want to make one point absolutely clear. Yes, I am arguing for the legalization of drugs, especially marijuana. Does that mean that the consumption of drugs has garnered my tacit approval? No.But for intelligent people to argue against the notion that a man should be allowed to consume in any fashion any substance he chooses is to grant a quiet license to the Federal Government. This quiet license allows the government to legislate on any and all forms of morality, and it goes without saying government is not the best arbiter of what is moral. If the government can legislate on the morality of consuming a potentially dangerous substance where does its assumed authority end? Does it have the right to legislate against speech it deems immoral or dangerous? Does it have the right to bar free individuals from congregating together for the purpose of perpetuating the furtherance of a shared belief that the government views offensive or dangerous? Does it have the right to tell us how to raise our children, where we send them to school or what we teach them ourselves? Or what we teach them about our religious and personal views? Does the government have the right to muzzle our minister, priest, rabbi or cleric in the name of morality? Would we abide by the entrance of a bureaucrat in to our place of worship to tell our minister, priest, rabbi or cleric what he can or cannot preach/teach? Of course not! None of us would abide by the formation of a government agency tasked with the unconstitutional implementation and oversight of such things, nor would we abide by a bureaucrat coming into our home and telling us what books, toys, clothes and food are good or not for our children.
This dependency on government is dangerous and hypocritical. It is dangerous because it does not take into account individual responsibility. It is hypocritical because many who call for prohibition would overwhelmingly defend their right to decide themselves on other matters relating to their own body and beliefs and those of their families. Let us be clear, I am not calling for a libertine society where anything goes. I am calling for individual responsibility. The purpose of the law should be to protect individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We live in a country known for its desire to help, to donate money to charitable, social, religious, and first aid programs. The tsunami in the countries of the Indian Ocean, and more recently the earthquake in Haiti are prime examples of this. The large sums of money, reaching the millions, if not billions of dollars, are an indication that a large portion of society could be willing to donate to organizations or programs whose stated goal is to rehabilitate those who are snared in the vice of habitual drug use, to have family or coworker interventions in their lives. This in essence would give individuals the social, secular and religious impetus to open such institutions. And as it relates to Christianity, it is a perfect avenue for healing the body and soul of those on the fringes of society. The prohibitionist argument, it seems, has ensnared well-intentioned Christians in the notions that all drugs users should be locked up and the key thrown away. We see far less compassion today for habitual drug users than Jesus himself had for a prostitute and a man possessed. Jesus Christ did not see an infirmed man, foaming at the mouth and spouting nonsensical ravings. Nor did he see a filthy harlot. He saw a man and a woman, guilty of sin and on their way to an everlasting hell, and in his merciful love, he stooped to forgive one, and worked a miracle in forgiving the other. As far as drug use is concerned, there remains one key question. When are professing Christians going to stop pontificating about charity and kindness and start putting those principles into practice? Instead of asking coercive government to assume a moral responsibility it was never intended to take, we should be diligently seeking to aid those whom society views as disposable, unwanted or undesirable. I am reminded that for all our modernity there are still those in this country, like the homeless, and drug addicts of the Philippines, who I have seen with my own eyes, who still need our help both physically, financially, and spiritually. What of them? Will we leave them hung out to dry? Or will we use our freedom to help those in need, and to bring them the Gospel which God gave us and decreed that we should take to all mankind.