Saturday, January 03, 2004

The Madness of the American Drug War

I'm apparently "strange" for a conservative Christian, but the more I study the issue, the angrier I become: What business does the U.S. federal government have in declaring certain drugs illegal . . . and then seeking to enforce its will by violent means? If you're a Bible-believing Christian, I'd like to ask you: what biblical justification can you think of for governmental behavior like that which I'm about to relate to you?

I found the following story referenced in a December 23, 2003 editorial by
Paul Campos, a professor of law at the University of Colorado, and a regular columnist in the Rocky Mountain News.. . .

Campos said his editorial was inspired by
a story featured in The New York Times about a drug raid at the Goose Creek, South Carolina, high school on November 5, 2003 . . . and by a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 8th.

Let me begin with the Goose Creek High School story. Campos summarizes:

With guns pointed at their heads, students were handcuffed and forced to lie on the floor, or to kneel with their faces to the wall.

One student said he assumed the police "were trying to protect us, that it was like Columbine, that somebody got in the school that was crazy or dangerous. But then a police officer pointed a gun at me. It was really scary."

"After an extensive search," Campos says, "the police found no drugs, but they did terrorize more than 100 students."

I'd want to suggest that they not only terrorized more than 100 students; they put these and other students' lives at risk. And for what? Is the Goose Creek high school a better place, now, as a result of the police raid? Supposing the police had found drugs on one or more of the students: was the implicit (or even explicit) danger of those drugs worth putting 100 or more students' lives at risk?

"What's really scary," Campos notes, "is that incidents such as this seem to stir so little outrage.

What level of government persecution will put a dent in public apathy about the madness that is the war on drugs? If the police at the Goose Creek high school had inadvertently shot a student or two in their zealous search for marijuana cigarettes, would that be enough to distract people from holiday shopping and channel surfing? Or would such an incident be shrugged off as another regrettable accident, of the sort that is inevitable in wartime?

As I said, Campos referenced not only the events at Goose Creek, but a bill he said was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, "a bill that gives the White House drug czar's office $145 million of taxpayer money to run anti-marijuana propaganda ads."

Besides paying for ads (many of which he finds rather preposterous: "My personal favorite . . . is a television ad in which police rough up a high school student when arresting him in the school's marijuana-smoke-filled bathroom. This is followed by a caption reading, 'Marijuana: Harmless? Think again.'"), the most egregious portion of the bill, says Campos, "prohibits any local transit system that receives federal funding from running privately funded ads that call for marijuana policy reform.

In other words, at the same time that the federal government is forcing you to spend your money to publicize its willingness to engage in storm trooper tactics to persecute the tens of millions Americans who smoke marijuana, it is trying to prohibit you from having the freedom to spend your money to protest these same tactics. [All above quotes are from Campos' editorial, "A new reefer madness".]

Lest you think I'm a nut case who is bent on debauching our youth, let me make clear that I am a teetotaler (i.e., I don’t drink alcohol; I am a “total abstainer”). Indeed, I don’t drink coffee, either. I have never used any “hard” or illegal drugs. (Although I believe I have probably committed the felonious behavior of ingesting one or two antibiotic pills that the doctor had prescribed to someone else in my family while I waited to get lab tests to confirm what I was already quite sure was true: that I was suffering from the exact same malady that had struck the other person.)

So why do I harp on federal drug laws?

Because I see no biblical ground for turning a moral issue into a legal one; and I see no extrabiblical (i.e., merely practical) reasons for creating the kind of monstrous police state under which we labor today “just because” some people are unable or unwilling to control their urges to medicate themselves for physical or mental reasons.

Strange: there are strong reasons to believe that even the “bad” drugs like heroin and cocaine are nowhere near as “bad” as government propaganda has led most of us to believe. Far more people use even these “bad” drugs without becoming addicted than use them and become addicted. And far more people use them and continue to live productive lives than use them and, as a result, become antisocial. (How many people do you know who are physically dependent on the addictive drug caffeine and act in antisocial ways as a result of their addictions? Do you believe they deserve to be imprisoned or even put to death for their nefarious behavior?)

I encourage you to see
Jacob Sullum’s “The surprising truth about heroin and addiction,” in Reason magazine, June 2003, 32-40.

Comments? Criticisms? What am I missing?


Don't you think they ought to be put to death? If not, why not? Twenty-seven Republican members of the 104th Congress of the United States signed on as cosponsors of legislation that would have required anyone in the United States who was convicted of owning two ounces or more of marijuana to be executed for their crime. . . . (See
"Death Penalty for Two Ounces of Marijuana!" and its sister document, "Co-Sponsors of H.R. 4170".) Back to article.
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