Editorial: The Rule of Law 6/13/03

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David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 6/13/03

One of the concepts my friends from Italy's Radical Party talk about is the "rule of law." Along with freedom, democracy and human rights, it makes up the bedrock of their platform extending across numerous policy and social issues, including drug legalization.

Here in the US drug reform movement, the words "rule of law" can evoke a scary image. It's easy to confuse "rule of law" with the "law and order," sound-bite approach -- e.g. "don't break the law and you won't go prison" -- taken to such an extreme in our society with mandatory minimum sentences and millions of people under the control of criminal justice system unjustly.

Of course, that's not what the Radicals mean. "Rule of law" refers primarily to constitutional and statutory restraint on state power, and the obligation of governments to obey their own rules. Human and civil rights promised in governing charters must be guaranteed. Leaders who commit atrocities must be brought to justice. The intellectual or political fashion of the moment must not be allowed to dilute fundamental principles and overturn them in practice or through stretched legalistic misinterpretations of that which has gone before.

The violations of rule of law in drug policy take on numerous manifestations, stretching literally from the top to the bottom of the judicial, legislative and executive branches of political and governmental systems around the world. As usual, this week's drug war news offers several examples:

  • Ontario, Canada police, finally getting the idea that there really is no law against marijuana possession in that province because of court order, until something happens to change that, nevertheless intend to confiscate stashes and take names for prosecutions they hope to bring in the future.
  • Jacksonville police thugs brutalize a peaceful demonstrator and issue a legally unjustified warrant against a speaker who dared to warn people of police presence to protect their safety.
  • Thailand's police forces continue to murder thousands of drug suspects, without even holding trials.
  • An Oregon judge refuses to allow a medical marijuana provider to mount a legal defense for medical marijuana under Oregon's law passed by the state's voters.
  • A patient dies without seeing the victory her long years of effort to legalize medical marijuana deserve, despite conditions of federal law that require marijuana be medically permitted in light of the available evidence on its efficacy and low abuse potential.
Despite the "law and order" types' habitual "tough on drugs" stances, true rule of law does not permit them to do the things they do. The fundamental principles that underlie legitimate systems of law necessitate freedom and an end to prohibition, if they are adhered to with integrity and courage.

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Issue #291, 6/13/03 Editorial: The Rule of Law | Global Social Forum Meeting in Cartagena to Draw Broad Spectrum of Global Activists for Colombia Focus -- DRCNet Will Be There | Anatomy of a Victory: How Reformers Rolled Back Souder and the Drug Czar | Ontario Marijuana Laws in the Twilight Zone | Jacksonville Hemp Fest Marred by Police Violence, Warrant Issued for Organizer for Obstructing (In)Justice | Drug Reform and the Democratic Presidential Nominating Process | Sad Day in the Medical Marijuana Movement: Medical Marijuana Patient and Activist Cheryl Miller Passes Away at 57 | DRCNet Urgently Needs Your Donations -- Sullum Book Offer Still Going | This Week in History | Newsbrief: European Union Presidency Calls for Frank Discussion of Drug Laws | Newsbrief: Demonstrations Mark Thailand Drug War Killings | Newsbrief: Oregon Medical Marijuana Provider Gets Prison Time | Newsbrief: Drug Czar Declares War on Summer | Newsbrief: Supreme Courts Again Says No to Cincinnati Drug Zone Ban Law | The Reformer's Calendar

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