Archive for war on drugs


Ending the War on Drugs

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Review of Dean Becker, To End the War on Drugs: A Guide for Politicians, the Press, and the Public (DTN Media, 2014), iv + 337 pgs., paperback.

It was a hundred years ago this month that Congress enacted the Harrison Narcotics Act to make the importation, manufacturing, sale, and distribution of cocaine and opiates illegal without being registered with the Bureau of Internal Revenue, recording each transaction, and paying an annual tax and licensing fee. This was the federal government’s first major salvo in the war on drugs.

Dean Becker has just launched his own salvo, but in the opposite direction. He is a man on a mission—a mission to end the drug war. His new book, To End the War on Drugs, will tell you why Bush drug czar John Walters refused not only to consent to an interview, but to even talk to the author.

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There, I said it: legalize heroin. For those in a state of shock, let me say it again: legalize heroin. And for those conservative Christians who want to use the power of the state to stamp out sin and vice, let me say it again: legalize heroin.

Diacetylmorphin (or morphine diacetate or diamorphine), better known as heroin (or smack), is an opioid used as both an analgesic drug (to kill pain) and a recreational drug (to get high). I mention these basic facts about heroin because most defenders of the war on drugs, although they are adamant that heroin should be illegal, can neither tell you what it is or how it differs from cocaine, LSD, and crystal meth.

I recently came across two articles in which the authors advocated the legalization of heroin. I agree with them, but not because of anything they wrote in their articles. Nevertheless, here are some things they say.

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“Simply arresting and warehousing people has not worked to abate the flow of drugs, and it has caused far worse collateral damage.”
— Jay Hall

Jay HallIntroducing Christians for Liberty Conference speaker Jay Hall from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, who will present about Christians and the War on Drugs. LEAP is an international organization of current and former members of law enforcement who support eliminating the drug war.

Jay Hall has served as a law enforcement practitioner in several capacities. As a police officer in the Houston Police Department for 24 years, he focused on arrests; as a juvenile probation officer in Indiana, he focused on prevention; and as an adult parole officer, he focused on rehabilitation. But over time, he realized that as criminal justice approaches, none of these were a long-term solution to drug abuse and problems caused by the illicit drug market.

“Our drug problem is self-perpetuating; the short-term law enforcement solutions to these health issues are not working,” Jay says. “My job as a juvenile probation officer in Gary, Indiana was challenging because I saw that most of the juveniles I worked with looked up to drug dealers as role models. As a parole officer, I supervised about 100 ex-convicts, and those with a history of drug offenses were always the first to return. Those in our profession can see that the high recidivism rate is a barometer showing that our system does not work to rehabilitate people brought into the criminal justice system for drug crimes.”

Jay, who tragically lost his brother to violence caused by the illicit drug market, has always believed in making a difference by communicating with young at-risk people. “We can teach them about character and encourage them to do better,” he explains. “But simply arresting and warehousing people has not worked to abate the flow of drugs, and it has caused far worse collateral damage. Further, the government no longer has money to keep throwing at the incarceration solution.”

As for a new approach, rehabilitation is key for Jay. “As a spiritual person, I would say that God has a greater calling for your life than being addicted to drugs. From a practical standpoint, people struggling with drug addiction need counseling and treatment for their illness. Rehabilitation involves teaching people how to fish rather than giving them a fish.”

Jay holds an associated degree in law enforcement, a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and master’s degrees in public administration and management. He is currently working on a doctorate degree in organization behavior, management and leadership. In his rare spare time outside of academic work and LEAP, he enjoys chess and exercise.

Find out more about LEAP, and sign up for the Christians for Liberty Conference today!

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The latest ruse of some conservatives to garner the sympathy, support, and votes of libertarians is to declare that they are “constitutionalists.” Although they are sometimes referred to as “libertarians” in the media, sometimes even portray themselves as “libertarian-leaning,” and get ecstatic when real libertarians describe them as “liberty-minded,” these conservative “constitutionalists” are not only not libertarian, they are not even constitutional.

The United States was set up as a federal system of government where the states, through the Constitution, granted a limited number of powers to a central government. As James Madison succinctly explained in Federalist No. 45:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

In article I, section 8, of the Constitution, there are eighteen paragraphs that enumerate the limited powers granted to Congress. Everything else is reserved to the states—even without the Tenth Amendment. Four of them concern taxes and money. One concerns commerce. One concerns naturalization and bankruptcies. One concerns post offices and post roads. One concerns copyrights and patents. One concerns federal courts. One concerns maritime crimes. Six concern the military and the militia. Once concerns the governance of the District of Columbia. And the last one gives Congress the power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers.”

One can search the Constitution morning, noon, and night with an electron microscope, x-ray vision, and night-vision goggles and never see a reference to the national government having the power to identify drugs, regulate drugs, classify drugs, set up a Drug Enforcement Administration, outlaw drugs, pass a single law related to drugs, or have anything whatsoever to do with any drugs.

Any drugs, whether they are stimulants, hallucinogens, or sedatives. Any drugs, whether they are opiates, cocaine, or cannabis. Any drugs, no matter how unhealthy, harmful, or immoral. Any drugs, no matter how addictive, potent, or dangerous. Any drugs, whether they are smoked, snorted, or injected. Any drugs, whether they are used for medical, therapeutic, or recreational purposes.

So why do constitutionalists support the drug war?

The federal government’s war on drugs is a monstrous evil that has ruined more lives than drugs themselves. The drug war has failed to prevent drug abuse, end drug overdoses, reduce drug use, or keep drugs away from teenagers. Instead, it has fostered violence, unnecessarily swelled prison populations, clogged the judicial system, corrupted law enforcement, hindered legitimate pain treatment, destroyed personal and financial privacy, violated civil liberties, and made criminals out of mostly otherwise law-abiding Americans. The war on drugs is truly a war on individual liberty, private property, personal responsibility, and a free society.

For the moral and philosophical case against the drug war, see my book The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom. But aside from this, and aside from every negative thing I mentioned above about the drug war, what is most relevant here is that the war on drugs is a war on the Constitution, limited government, the free market, and federalism—things that constitutionalists claim to hold dear.

This is because the Constitution not only doesn’t mention drugs, it nowhere authorizes the federal government to regulate, monitor, or restrict the consumption, medical, or recreational habits of Americans. This is why when the Progressives a hundred years ago wanted to ban alcohol on the national level, they realized that an amendment to the Constitution was needed.

Constitutionalists claim to revere the Constitution. They say they adhere to the Constitution. They lambaste “activist” judges for not being strict constitutionalists. They criticize those who speak of a “living Constitution.” They talk about following the original intent or original meaning of the Constitution.

But Constitutionalists are hypocrites and enemies of the Constitution if they support the drug war. All of their talk about the Constitution is merely hot air. Just like when Republicans say in their platform that they are “the party of the Constitution.” And just like when conservatives awarded former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the “Defender of the Constitution Award” at one of their Conservative Political Action Conferences.

A real constitutionalist would not support the federal government having an Office of National Drug Control Policy, a Drug Enforcement Administration, or a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. A real constitutionalist would not support legislation like the Controlled Substances Act, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, or the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act. A real constitutionalist would not support the federal government having a National Drug Control Strategy, a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, or a Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.

A real constitutionalist would support the Constitution instead of the drug war.

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Hard Questions on the Drug War

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As I have maintained in all of my articles on the drug war, the war on drugs is a monstrous evil that has ruined more lives than drugs themselves. The war on drugs is really just a war on individual liberty, private property, civil liberties, financial privacy, personal responsibility, the free market, a free society, and freedom itself.

Take the case of Jesse Webster, 46, a former cocaine dealer from Chicago who was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 for “participating in a drug conspiracy and filing false tax returns.”

Webster turned himself in 1995 when he learned that the police were looking for him. Because he refused to become a confidential informant, he was denied leniency and sentenced to life in prison without parole for a nonviolent first offense.

For a sentence like that, Webster said, “I thought I’d have to hurt somebody, do bodily harm.”

The A.C.L.U. “estimates that more than 2,000 federal inmates are serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses.” Like James Romans, someone who is serving a life sentence for selling marijuana. Even worse, “in a sample study of 169 federal inmates incarcerated for nonviolent crimes,” the A.C.L.U. “found dozens who were first-time offenders, as well as many others who had only misdemeanors and juvenile infractions in their past.” And that doesn’t even take into account the state prison population.

Although Webster now shares a 65 square-foot cell in a medium security prison in Southern Illinois, he spent 16 years in maximum security prisons—including Leavenworth—with murderers and rapists; that is, people who committed actual crimes.

“I should have done time,” Mr. Webster said. “But a living death sentence?” “A commutation of sentence which would result in his service of 20 or so years in prison is enough punishment for his crimes,” wrote Judge Zagel (the judge who sentenced him under the harsh sentencing guidelines of the day) to the Office of the Pardon Attorney of the Justice Department.

No, Mr. Webster, you should not have done time—any time. And no, Mr. Zagel, 20 years is not enough punishment—it is 20 years too many. This is one prisoner serving time in federal prison who should be released immediately. But not because the sentence was too harsh, not because it was a nonviolent offense, not because it was his first offense, not because he only received three minor infractions in prison, not because his last infraction was in 1997, not because he earned in prison the trusted position of captain’s orderly, not because he has kept in contact with his mother, not because his mother is ill, not because he has seen his granddaughter only once, not because he got religion, not because he has been reformed, not because he has been rehabilitated, and not because we should feel sorry for him.

As much as we may not like the personal habits of cocaine users and the chosen profession of cocaine dealers, in a free society the government has no business regulating, interfering with, or prohibiting the free and voluntary exchange of any substance. The very fact that we have a war on drugs means that we don’t have a free society.

My thoughts on the evils of the drug war are contained in my book The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom and the other articles on the subject that I have written since the book was published in September of 2012.

What I do want to address here is a sincere question from a reader that I received in response to a short blog post I did a month or so ago about the case of Jesse Webster. Like any good libertarian, my reader’s initial reaction was that “there was no crime committed, since neither drug dealing nor tax evasion actually has a victim.” However, a family member of his raised a hypothetical scenario that I’m sure others have broached in the past:

What if he had sold drugs to a 12 year old and that 12 year old died from an overdose?  Would the sentence have still been unjustified?

My short answer is yes. My longer answer is this:

Even if it be acknowledged that someone might justifiably be sentenced to life in prison without parole because he sold drugs to a 12 year old and that 12 year old died from an overdose, that is still no argument for the drug war. It is rather an argument for punishing those who contribute to the death of a minor. What if instead of a 12 year old someone sold drugs to a 52 year old and that 52 year old died from an overdose? Would anyone recommend a sentence of life in prison without parole? Would anyone recommend a sentence at all? The issue here is the legal distinction between minors and adults as it relates to crime and punishment. This I leave to libertarian legal theorists.

Not in any particular order, here are some additional thoughts on the matter.

1. There are some hard questions on the drug war, usually regarding drugs and children. Questions of this nature should immediately raise a red flag because invoking “the children” is a standard tactic of the Left when seeking to justify gun control, WIC, food stamps, Head Start, Medicaid, etc. Much evil has been done by government in the name of child safety and child protection.

2. Just because libertarians oppose the war on drugs and support a free market in all drugs doesn’t mean that they believe it would be a good thing for anyone to use drugs, that they are indifferent to or unconcerned about the dangers of drugs in the hands of children, or that they are naïve about the potentially negative consequences of drug abuse.

3. If drugs were legal, I think it is fair to assume that governments would treat them like tobacco and alcohol; that is, it would be illegal for minors to possess them and for people to sell them to minors.

4. Has the war on drugs prevented drug dealers from selling drugs to 12 year olds? Of course it hasn’t.

5. The question of the legality of any or all drugs is purely a state matter. Even if someone thought that the states should wage war on drugs (I don’t), they would have to at least acknowledge that the federal government has no authority whatsoever under the Constitution to incarcerate anyone for selling drugs to anyone, including children.

6. What if someone sold a nail gun or a gallon of bleach to a 12 year old and that 12 year old died from misusing either product? Would a sentence of life in prison without parole be justified? If not, then why should the sale of certain drugs be treated differently? Just because the government has declared that certain drugs are illegal while nail guns and bleach are legal?

7. It has been estimated that 7,600 Americans die every year from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin. Should someone who sells (or gives) aspirin to a 12 year old and that 12 year old dies from an overdose be locked up for life without the possibility of parole? Would anyone but the emotionally distraught parent of the dead child even think of such a thing?

8. A 12 year old certainly bears some responsibility for buying drugs and overdosing on drugs. The question did not concern someone forcing a 12 year old to take drugs or tricking him into doing so. And neither did the question concern selling drugs to a 2 year old or a 12 year old with the mental capacity of a 2 year old.

9. The parents of a 12 year old who buys drugs and overdoses on drugs may bear some responsibility if they never bothered to warn their 12 year old about buying or taking anything from strangers. And even if the seller was a family friend, the parents still may bear some responsibility if they never warned their 12 year old about the dangers of drugs.

10. Drug dealers, like any “normal” businessmen, want repeat business, not dead customers.

11. Being a drug dealer doesn’t necessarily mean that one is so stupid and/or evil that he would sell drugs to a 12 year old.

12. Would a 12 year old be able to come up with enough money to buy enough of a drug to overdose?

Neither I nor any other libertarian professes to have all the “right” or “libertarian” answers to every question raised about the drug war. One thing is for sure: The world is full of dangerous items and substances, but it is the job of individuals, families, churches, consumer groups, and concerned organizations to keep Americans from using or abusing them—not the government.

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