For the millions of people whose lives have been ruined or are going to be ruined by the drug war, so far things are not looking too positive under a Donald Trump administration. That’s because the man who Trump wants to be his attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is one of the government’s most ardent drug warriors.
Sessions opposes the legalization of marijuana, has blocked drug-war reform bills, and claims that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Despite the manifest failure and destructiveness of the decades-long war on drugs, Sessions wants the federal government to continue jailing people for engaging in the quite peaceful acts of possessing and distributing drugs. Like President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, he obviously thinks that the drug war can still be “won.”
Most interesting, with Sessions as attorney general there is a huge likelihood that the DEA will begin enforcing marijuana laws in states where the citizenry have legalized it under state law. Under President Obama, the DEA and other federal law-enforcement agents have declined to enforce federal marijuana laws in those states, thereby effectively immunizing the people in those states from obeying federal marijuana laws.
As a libertarian, I naturally oppose all drug laws and the war on the drugs. But I also believe in the rule of law, which dictates that if a nation has enacted a bad law, it should nonetheless be applied against everyone. When government officials wield the power to selectively enforce the law against some people and leave other people free to violate the law, that is one of the prime characteristics of a tyrannical regime.
Moreover, when a bad law is applied against everyone, everyone has the incentive to work to get it repealed. When government officials are selectively immunizing certain groups of people, the immunized group loses the incentive to fight to get the law repealed. Today, when people in California, Washington, and other states see people in other states getting prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to long terms in jail for marijuana offenses, the incentive is to remain silent. That’s because people in the privileged states know that if they antagonize the feds, the feds can suddenly decide to come after them with criminal prosecutions and asset forfeitures of and all their expensive marijuana-related property and equipment.
As more and more states legalize marijuana, the problem only grows in magnitude. Imagine if states that have legalized marijuana encompass 7o percent of the citizenry. Under the federal policy of selective, privileged prosecution, the feds would be punishing 30 percent of the citizenry for doing what the other 70 percent are doing and not getting punished for it. There is a good chance that the 70 percent wouldn’t protest too loudly in defense of the 30 percent owing to what could happened to them if they did protest.
Just watch and see what happens if Trump, Sessions, and the DEA begin enforcing federal drug laws in states that have legalized marijuana. I’ll guarantee you: the people in those states who are currently possessing, distributing, or consuming marijuana and who have invested large sums of money in their operations are going to scream to the high heavens. Their screaming will be a good thing because it would be likely to bring us closer to ending the drug war. When everyone is impacted by a bad law that is being equally enforced, the chances of pressuring Congress to repeal the law increase exponentially.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if Trump’s appointment of an ardent drug warrior to be U.S. attorney general turns out to be the reason that the drug war is finally eradicated from American society? Not only would it be ironic, it would also be fantastic.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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