Prior to Thanksgiving, President Obama continued the presidential tradition of pardoning two turkeys. Too bad he didn’t use the occasion to also pardon every single victim of the U.S. government’s decades-long failed and destructive war on drugs.
I’m referring, of course, to all the people who have been convicted of violating federal laws against the possession or distribution of drugs, especially those people currently serving time in some federal penitentiary. Those people have no more business being in jail than people who have used, possessed, or distributed beer, liquor, wine, tobacco, fatty foods, or any other substance.
In an era in which Americans in various states are thumbing their noses at the federal government by legalizing marijuana and in which more people than ever before are challenging the very existence of drug laws, the fundamental question must be asked: What business is it of government to punish people for engaging in non-violent conduct?
The plain and simple answer to that question is: The government has no business punishing people for such conduct, whether it entails adultery, covetousness, pornography, possession of booze, marijuana, tobacco, or any other substance, or any other non-violent conduct.
That’s simply not the role of government in a free society. The legitimate role of government is to punish people who engage in violent behavior, such as murder, rape, theft, and burglary.
How can a society genuinely be considered free when the government wields the power to punish people for doing nothing more than ingesting substances that the government says are harmful?
In fact, let’s concede the point that drugs are harmful. Again, what business is that of the federal government?
Answer: It’s none of the federal government’s business. The concept of freedom necessarily entails the right to do whatever a person wants to himself. If people aren’t free to ingest harmful substances, whether they actually do engage in such conduct or not, the fact is that they are not a free people. They are serfs whose lives are controlled, managed, and dictated to by the state.
Federal officials point out that drug use has bad side effects, such as family abuse and violence.
Okay. And their point is? Again, what business is that of federal busybodies? It’s none of their business. Alcohol and tobacco abuse also have terrible collateral consequences. Does that make the possession or distribution of alcohol or tobacco any business of the feds? Of course it doesn’t.
In fact, while we are on the subject of negative collateral consequences, let’s look at just a few of those that have come with the federal government’s drug war:
- Drug gangs, drug cartels, and drug-gang warfare. None would exist but for the drug war.
- Official drug-related corruption within judges, DEA agents, cops, and other law-enforcement personnel.
- Robberies, muggings, burglaries, and thefts to get the money to pay for the soaring prices of drugs, which are caused by the drug war.
- Asset-forfeiture laws by law-enforcement personnel are stealing money from innocent people.
- Countless instances of racial bigotry through discriminatory enforcement of drug laws.
- Kidnappings, extortion, and assassinations in Latin America, not to mention the 60,000 (yes, sixty thousand!) drug-war related deaths in the last 7 years in Mexico alone.
Have you ever heard one single drug-war proponent accepting individual responsibility for any of those ongoing consequences of the drug war? I haven’t. They all want to be judged on their good intentions, not by the actual consequences of their programs.
And then, of course, there are the countless lives ruined by the drug war. People with federal felony convictions on their record for doing nothing more than engaging in a purely peaceful activity. Many of them are rotting away in America’s overcrowded prisons just because federal officials didn’t like what they were consuming, possessing, or distributing. Thousands remain locked up behind federal bars without any hope of ever seeing the light of day again, after having already spent a large portion of their lives in prison for drug-war violations.
President Obama, who himself, by his own admission, has possessed and consumed illicit drugs, spared the life of those two turkeys prior to Thanksgiving. Too bad his compassion didn’t extend to the thousands of drug-war victims in America’s federal prisons. He still has time to issue a blanket pardon before Christmas.
Of course, Congress could and should do it’s part by ending the federal war on drugs through the repeal of every singe law that criminalizes the use, possession, or distribution of drugs.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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