Interview with Libertarian Presidential Nominee Harry Browne 7/7/00

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Last week DRCNet reported on the gradations of drug policy reform present in the various camps of the Green Party ( This week we report on another third party, the Libertarians, who held their annual convention last weekend in Anaheim, California.

The national Libertarian Party ( gave Harry Browne a first ballot nod to be the party's presidential candidate. Browne, 67, defeated four other contenders for the nomination and is the first repeat Libertarian presidential candidate. He ran in 1996 and gained nearly half a million votes nationwide.

Browne is an investment advisor and best-selling author. He first gained fame in the 1970s for books such as How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, and You Can Profit from a Monetary Crisis, which reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

More recently, Browne has turned his pen to more political-philosophical themes, publishing Why Government Doesn't Work and The Great Libertarian Offer.

The Browne campaign web site may be accessed at Joining Browne on the Libertarian ticket is vice-presidential nominee Art Olivier, former mayor of Bellewood, California. Olivier defeated well-known California medical marijuana activist Steve Kubby, among others, to gain the nomination.

The Libertarian Party has been a consistent and insistent voice for ending drug prohibition, which it views as just another example of intrusive government interference in the lives and activities of American citizens.

The Week Online interviewed Harry Browne on July 6:

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WOL: Not all of our readers are familiar with the Libertarian Party. Could you explain for our readers your party's position on drug policy?

Browne: Our overall approach is simply that we want you to be free to live your life as you want to live it and not as Al Gore or George Bush think is best for you. We want you to be able to raise your children by your values and not the values of some bureaucrat. As far as the war on drugs is concerned, it is an absolute tragedy, the worst scourge visited on America since its founding. Not only is it unconstitutional, with the huge federal role in law enforcement, it has put a million people in prison who have never harmed anyone. It has led to massive law enforcement corruption. It allows rapists and murderers to go free so we can make room to put pot smokers in prison. Then there's asset forfeiture, search and seizure, and on and on. The drug war is the justification for almost every invasion of civil liberties today. It must end.

WOL: Drugs are one of several issues addressed by the Libertarian Party platform. How big a role will the drug issue play in your campaign?

Browne: It will be a major part of my campaign. What we hope to do is get one or three or five percent of the vote this time. To get those votes, we have to emphasize areas where people have a compelling reason to vote for us and no temptation to vote for Democrats or Republicans. The drug war is one of those areas. People who have been hurt by the drug war, whether they've been arrested or had to endure urban violence, for example, get no satisfaction from either the Democrats or the Republicans. I have been talking about it since beginning my campaign. I've made it a point of stressing that my first day in office I will grant unconditional pardons to every nonviolent drug offender in federal prison today.

WOL: So, you believe that the drug issue is a vote-getter for you?

Browne: Yes, it's the area where the line between us and the other parties is widest. We have other issues, of course, such as repealing the gun laws and the income tax, but on all of those issues people can say that the major parties are trying to move in that direction. The drug issue will be a primary area of concern precisely because, unlike some of these other issues, the distinction between us and the other parties is so sharply drawn.

WOL: Even if we grant that much of the evil we associate with the drug trade is a result of prohibition, there still remains the harm that some users do to themselves and others. How would you deal with these problems?

Browne: If someone does harm to someone else, he should be prosecuted. It doesn’t matter if he was taking drugs or drinking alcohol or eating Twinkies. If a drug user starts beating his wife, he should be prosecuted. If he does harm to his family, say, by spending the rent money on drugs, that's unfortunate, but this happens all the time. It is the height of absurdity to think the government can solve these problems. We cannot mandate an end to personal tragedies. There is no simple political solution to these problems; in fact, the harm comes from thinking there is a political way. We've tried that, and it fails. Then comes the inevitable escalation, the urge to try something else, until the next thing you know, they're monitoring e-mail, they're looking at people's bank accounts, they're using informers to "solve" the problem. Something should be done, say people, but the government can't fix these problems, and this escalation is inevitable any time you try to prosecute victimless crimes.

WOL: What would happen to government-funded drug treatment and prevention programs under a Libertarian administration?

Browne: What, "We're from the government and we're here to cure your drug problem"? That won't work any better than the Post Office. The idea that drug rehabilitation or prevention programs are good seems to lead to the idea that a government program is good, when in fact they are giant boondoggles. No, people in the private sector will do everything they can, just as is the case with Alcoholics Anonymous. Can you imagine if AA were a government program?

WOL: Can you describe how a legal drug regime might work? What it would look like?

Browne: The federal government would have no involvement whatsoever. The states would be free to set up their own systems. I imagine we would see a wide variety of policies; in some states everything would be illegal, at the other end of the spectrum at least one state would have complete legalization. This would be a natural transition period in which people would look at what works best. I believe that states with the most stringent laws would have the highest crime rates and the worst drug problems. The problem of differences among the states would equalize over time if we got rid of the federal laws.

WOL: Clearly, a global drug producing and distributing industry already exists. What would happen to the international "drug lords" and their organizations?

Browne: I believe that the cartels will lose their markets because big pharmaceutical companies will undercut them. Then the cartels will have three options: First, they can find a market where drugs are still illegal. Second, they can go into another illegal business, such as prostitution. Third, they could just whither away. They'll have to find an honest way to make a living. The important thing, however, is that they will no longer be a threat to us, and that's all we can worry about. We can't run the whole world.

WOL: The Green Party platform also contains strong drug reform planks. Why should someone interested in drug reform vote for you instead of Ralph Nader?

Browne: Our attitude is part of a consistent philosophical approach that is far more reliable than any temporary position the Greens might take. We've been against the drug war from the beginning. That opposition is consistent with our overall philosophy. We are consistently on the side of getting the government out of your life; you don't have to worry that we will compromise down the road.

WOL: Roughly half of the electorate doesn't participate in the electoral process. What are you doing to reach those potential voters?

Browne: Starting in two weeks, we will begin an ad campaign running nationally on cable. If we can raise the money, we'll run ads on the national commercial networks, especially after the conventions when the cheap rates kick in. We would love to advertise on MTV and ESPN and other places where non-voters congregate, but it may not be cost effective. In the final analysis, there is just no cheap and simple way to reach people. We wish there were a drug reform channel, for instance, but there isn't. You have to weigh target groups on two measures: how compelling are their reasons to vote for us, and how easily we can reach them. You don't know how many times I've had someone say, "I'm 28 years old and this is the first time I've thought about voting." This is music to our ears, but we've got to have money to be able to reach these people. And we have more money now than in 1996.

WOL: In the last presidential elections, you gained about half a million votes. What has changed that makes you think you will better that count this time?

Browne: I can point to three things. First, the party is much bigger, stronger and better financed. And as we continue to grow, that growth starts to accelerate. We're beginning to attract more middle-class people with money and not just the disaffected. So, we have more people, and they're better off on average than before. Second, the party has matured in terms of presenting its message. Before, everyone wanted to talk ideological purity or assert their moral rights or whatever. Now, most Libertarians recognize that we have to talk to people in terms of how much better their lives can be. We will talk about safer cities, not other peoples' rights. We've become better campaigners. And third, every year more and more people become disaffected with the two parties and the growth in government. This year we are seeing lots of press and public interest in third parties in general. I'm in the national polls, which is a first for the party. Nader, Buchanan, and I are all below 5%, and I'm at the low end of the three, but we hope to start climbing in the polls after the major party conventions. We might get 5%, 15% would be a real longshot for us, but anything over a million votes would put us in a whole different class. We would have to be taken seriously.

WOL: Al Gore has admitted smoking pot and George Bush has all but admitted to being familiar with cocaine. Should a candidate's history of past drug use have any bearing on his suitability for office?

Browne: It depends on what they're doing now. Bush is signing bills with prison terms for people doing precisely what he did. If I were allowed into the debates, the first question I would ask Bush is, "Do you think you'd be a better person today if you had spent 10 years in prison for your youthful indiscretion?" The same for Gore. But a history of drug use is not relevant, unless you're trying to put someone in prison for doing the same thing. A continuing drug problem could be a concern if it seems compulsive, but I'd like to see a government with so little power that we could tolerate someone with a drug problem because there's nothing he can do to hurt us.

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Issue #144, 7/7/00 Follow That Story: Feds' Drug War Gets 90-Day Reprieve from Texas Border DAs, Dueling For Dollars to Continue | New Mexico's Governor Johnson Speaks Out on Drug Policy in Houston, Sets Up Drug Policy Review Commission at Home, Addressing Shadow Conventions Next Month | St. Paul Cops Pose as Census Takers | Interview with Libertarian Presidential Nominee Harry Browne | Errata: Ralph Nader and Industrial Hemp | Scottish Parliament Members Call for Dutch-Style Coffeehouses as Legalization Debate Heats Up | Nevada Legislature to Consider Marijuana Reform Bill in 2001, Judicial Commission to Call for Similar Changes | Media Scan: 20/20, Christian Science Monitor, | AlertS: Free Speech, California, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Washington State | HEA Campaign | Event Calendar | Job Opportunity in Britain | Editorial: Over the Limit
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