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Editorial: The Drug War Has Many Constants, But is No Constant

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David Borden, Executive Director
David Borden
Phil gave us a preview this week of what he guesses are likely to be Drug War Chronicle's top stories of 2008. As he also pointed out, though, some issues are constant.

One such issue, simultaneously mundane (due to its omnipresence) and spectacular (also due to omnipresence) is that of police corruption driven by the profits and other incentives created by drug prohibition. Out of the 50 issues we published last year, 46 of them include "this week's corrupt cops stories" reports, and three of the four off weeks were when Phil was traveling in Peru and Bolivia. Expect prohibition to corrupt our nation's institutions, as well as those of other countries and global institutions, non-stop until drugs are legalized.

Another issue is that of street prices for purchasing illegal drugs, a barometer albeit flawed of the impact of the drug war. The theory is that by attacking the source of drugs, by doing interdiction and by arresting dealers, the supply of drugs will be reduced and their price will increase, in turn reducing demand. The issue came up last year when the drug czar's office had the chutzpah to brag about an "unprecedented" increase in cocaine prices in 2007 compared to 2006. As analysts pointed out in response, it's not unprecedented -- it's not unprecedented at all, that was literally an outright lie -- and most importantly such increases have been utterly overwhelmed by the price decreases that occurred during most years. As I pointed out in an editorial last fall, in real terms the average street price of cocaine in the US has fallen by a whopping factor of five since the early 1980s when the price-tracking program was established. Expect the drug war to continue to fail to achieve its promised results -- even when measured on its own terms -- until the drug war is ended.

Speaking of the drug czar's office -- formally known as the Office of National Drug Control Policy, or ONDCP, a branch of the White House -- 2007 saw the publication of a revealing book detailing a stunning array of misrepresentations of facts and stats by ONDCP in its annual reports over the past several years. Thankfully -- and uncharacteristically -- mainstream media outlets including NPR and the Washington Post called ONDCP on their coke scam. Sadly, it was only one of the propaganda ploys ONDCP has pulled since the exposé book hit the shelves last March. As the agency's new deputy director pointed out this week, the current administration's team has "one more year" to go on the job. I doubt the next administration's team will be much better, regardless of who wins the election, but you never know. If Bill Clinton's longest-serving drug czar is an indicator, they won't be.

The drug war's most constant circumstances are also its most tragic: the prisoner's dreary day in and day out behind bars; the patient's pain, day in and day out, from denial of medicine; the despair of the child growing up in a poverty-blighted neighborhood plagued by drug trade violence. Our duty is to remember the quiet victims of prohibition, every day; to tell their stories to any and all who will hear them; to match the drug war's cruelty with constant work and constant compassion and constant hope.

When the time is ripe, the changes we are working for will come to be. And that will really be the top story of the year.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Drugs -- Commerce or Contraband?

For the Supreme Court to rule that the war on drugs comes under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution makes "illicit substances" items of commerce. As such, that makes them legal. They should be regulated and taxed.

The Commerce Clause says nothing about contraband. It says:

Congress shall have the power…to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes…

(Art. 1, Sect. 8, Clause 3),

Our founders understood the difference between commerce and contraband. Hemp-advocate Alexander Hamilton understood the danger to liberty that a "war on drugs" would impose. He called it "intolerable in a free country."

In Federalist Paper 12, Hamilton wrote:

In France, there is an army of patrols (as they are called) constantly employed to secure their fiscal regulations against the inroads of the dealers in contraband trade…The arbitrary and vexatious powers with which the patrols are necessarily armed, would be intolerable in a free country.

It sounds like Hamilton is talking about the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The war on drugs is intolerable.

Hamilton clearly understood hemp to be an item of commerce--not an illicit substance.

Hamilton wrote:

Nature has disseminated her blessings variously throughout this continent. Some parts of it are favorable to some things, others to others; some colonies are best calculated for grain, others for flax and hemp… If we were to turn our attention from external to internal commerce, we should give greater stability and more lasting prosperity to our country than she can possibly have otherwise.

Hamilton called hemp a blessing and an item of internal commerce, important to our stability and lasting prosperity.

The war on drugs is a war on American values, the Constitution and a war on liberty and a war on internal commerce, stability and lasting prosperity.

Cannabis-smoking Thomas Jefferson also recognized the commercial value of hemp. He wrote:

…The best hemp…is of the first necessity to the commerce and marine, in other words to the wealth and protection of the country.

The issue of whether or not states can govern the use of substances the federal government says are "illicit," is best answered by our founders understanding of the Constitution.

Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper 22:

The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.

If the people of a state, either by vote or by action of state government decide to make cannabis available for whatever use, that law is supreme over federal law.

Cannabis-smoking James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper 39:

…The proposed government cannot be deemed a NATIONAL one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.

This inviolable sovereignty of state governments functions as a part of the checks and balances on abuses by the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government.

The federal government's war on drugs does not apply to states or Indian reservations. It only applies to those areas under the federal government's direct control--federal agencies, military bases and hospitals, etc.

Good government implies the happiness of the people and the means to achieve that end.

Nothing in the war on drugs promotes the happiness of the people. Nor are its means -- making the use or possession of such substances a felony and mandatory minimum sentencing -- do anything to attain the happiness of the people.

In Federalist Paper 62, Hamilton and Madison wrote:

A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained.

A specious and sophistic Supreme Court twisted the meaning of the Constitution's Commerce Clause to placate the whims and biases of the executive and legislative branches. In so doing, they are thwarting the people from having any say in achieving their happiness. Based on the Court's rulings, strict constructionists are anti-constitutionalists.

The Court's rulings putting illicit substances under the Commerce Clause denuded the judiciary branch of government from having checks or balances on the abuses of the executive and legislative branches. It's also an attempt to strip state governments of their inviolable constitutional sovereign authority.

State governments function as a check and balance on the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government.

When the courts and governments at all levels fail to act to protect the people's happiness then it devolves back to the people to correct that injustice. The people are the original fountain of all legitimate authority.

Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence:

…All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Drug and cannabis users are not interested in abolishing government. They simply want it altered back to its original object of protecting their safety and happiness. The war on drugs does neither.

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government."

— Thomas Jefferson

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