The Deceit of the Drug War

The beginning of the loss of freedom is never an open, obvious, or direct process. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

Freedom is lost gradually from an uninterested, uninformed, uninvolved people. With this in mind, one area that cannot be ignored is the government’s involvement with drugs, such as marijuana, through the Drug War. The role of government in drugs must be reviewed and reconsidered.

In 2007 approximately 1.8 million people nationwide were arrested for violating drug laws. Since 1996, roughly 25% of newly incarcerated individuals are put in prison due to violating drug laws. The federal government spends more than $600 per second on the Drug War (in the range of $20 billion per year) and state governments altogether spend at least $30 billion. The Drug War’s ongoing costs are expanding (with enforcing the laws and maintaining prisoners) and cannot be ignored. Let’s start by exploring some of its history.

Several states started enacting prohibitions on marijuana in the early 20th century. In 1930 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was created, and soon thereafter a campaign against marijuana began to help expand the agency. Much of the propaganda the agency used against marijuana was racist, false, and not backed by the American Medical Association (AMA).

The movement against marijuana, hemp, and cannabis was pushed forward by special interest groups who saw hemp specifically as a competitive threat. DuPont had recently patented nylon and jumped on the opportunity to take hemp out of the picture. Hemp was also a legitimate force in the paper industry and represented a threat to that area of the lumber industry. Pharmaceutical companies didn’t appreciate the fact that they couldn’t control the cannabis market, given the fact that people could grow it right in their backyard and didn’t rely on the commercial market.

At this point in time, the word “marijuana” was not included in the dictionary, it was a slang word originally used to describe cannabis. The drug “marijuana” was used somewhat as a cover by the government to limit and prohibit cannabis and hemp. It was all deceitfully lumped together in a way that made it very difficult for those who used hemp and cannabis for industrial uses to oppose the bill. To put it into perspective, it would be similar to the government today running a campaign against “dope.”

Dr. William Woodward of the AMA would explain in Congress that the AMA opposed the legislation, did not recognize any of the violence that the government linked with marijuana, and generally questioned the whole approach that the government was taking with the proceedings. In short, there was little to no medical evidence or support from the medical community that marijuana induced violence, one of the primary reasons for the government’s incessant attack on the substance.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt on August 2, 1937, after several years of racist, medically unsupported, and exaggerated propaganda. Of course, in WWII the Department of Agriculture produced a video, “Hemp for Victory,” encouraging farmers to grow as much hemp as possible for the war effort. I can’t help but get the feeling that when the government needs it, it is okay to farm hemp. But when the government doesn’t have the urgent need for it, hemp is off the table. Tell me again where the federal government gets this power?

It is a shame that hemp got lumped in with the government’s anti-cannabis propaganda. Hemp is currently one of the most (if not the most) efficient prospects for renewable fuel. Hemp is an extraordinary plant that could easily cut down our dependence on oil, reliance on trees to produce paper, and expand the vital element of choice and competition in various areas of the economy. Over 25,000 products can be made with hemp. There is nothing remotely dangerous with hemp that the states and the market can’t work out that justifies prohibiting it from freely competing in the marketplace.

Remember, it was on hemp paper that Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington grew hemp on their plantations. Plus, Benjamin Franklin owned a mill that made hemp paper. Hemp has been a very important crop throughout much of human history.

It boggles me that “small government” conservatives support the idea of the government regulating what plants you can grow in your backyard, what you can put in your own body, and other very individual decisions. The Drug War has been a failed attempt to regulate personal behavior, and all we have to show for it is a larger and stronger government, a less free citizenry, and hundreds of billions of wasted taxpayer dollars.

We can’t forget the lessons of alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s. People did not suddenly stop consuming alcohol, alcohol did not disappear, and as a result it was the gangs and criminals who ran the industry. It is a nearly identical situation we are in today with drugs. As with Prohibition, we are trying to control individual behavior, and the only way to bring it about is through increased government force and infringement on personal freedom.

At least a constitutional amendment was passed to bring Prohibition into law; Congress knew that the Constitution did not originally give that authority to the federal government. These necessary constitutional procedures seem to have been ignored when Richard Nixon signed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) into law on July 1, 1973. This is an incredible amount of power to place with any branch of the federal government, no less the executive branch. The DEA is an agency that occupies 63 countries, employs several thousand agents, and plays a major part in the increased government involvement in individual lives. How does this follow the Constitution when an amendment was needed for the comparatively simple Prohibition of alcohol?

I am not sympathetic to drug users nor do I at all advocate the use of drugs. But as long as people do not intrude on the freedom and rights of others, it is not the business of the government to dictate what people can and cannot put in their bodies, and certainly not what they can grow on their own property.

Freedom means the freedom to make your own decisions, whether they be brilliant or boneheaded. Individual freedom does not mean the freedom to make whatever decisions the government approves of. And most importantly, our government is ruled by law, not men, and there is absolutely no authority for the government to control what we inhale, plant, or consume.

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