Thursday, February 10, 2005

The War on Drugs – Conservatives vs. the U.S. Constitution

How do you tell if a Conservative really believes in the United States Constitution? It’s easy – just ask them how they feel about the War on Drugs. The majority of Conservatives support the War on Drugs but then hasten to add that we’re spending too little money on it. They’ll talk about “Moral Decay and Drugs” and “Terrorism and Drugs”. But they won’t talk about whether the War is constitutional or not.

It’s fascinating to me to see how Conservatives, while they profess their belief in the Constitution and limited Federal government, become hypocritical when it comes to the War on Drugs. They continue to support the Federal Government’s draconian (and expensive) efforts to stop some people from getting high. Why? Cynics will say that the definition of a Conservative is “a person who is terrified that someone, somewhere, at some point in their lives, might be enjoying themselves”. I think there’s some truth in this and that Conservatives who support this War do so because it fits in with their “Moral Values” agenda. What they have forgotten (or ignore) is that the US Constitution is an enumeration of limited, specified powers and responsibilities that are granted by the states and the people of those states to the Federal Government. And they ignore the Tenth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, which makes it crystal clear that the Federal Government does NOT have the power to do anything else, except via the Amendatory process (unless, of course, you believe in a “penumbra of powers”). It’s instructive to note that the closest parallel we have is the “War on Alcohol”, conducted early in the 20th Century, and that the Federal Government of that period did not participate in this until a Constitutional Amendment had been passed giving them this authority.

I’m certainly sympathetic to the arguments that we need to protect our children against the hazards that recreational drugs can represent. I am the father of three children. Two of them are minors. If I ever caught someone trying to sell drugs (or alcohol or cigarettes) to them, they better hope that their life insurance is paid up. But my oldest child is now long-past the age of majority. And, I would hope that she doesn’t allow drugs (or alcohol or cigarettes) to ruin her life. But she’s AN ADULT. These decisions are hers to make, not mine and certainly not the Federal Governments. And, if someone I care about ever became addicted to drugs (or alcohol or cigarettes), I would want it treated as a medical issue, not a criminal one.

Recreational drug policy needs to be decided on a state-by-state basis, not by the Federal government. It’s my personal opinion that Recreational drugs should be treated like alcohol and cigarettes; regulated by the State and forbidden to minors. It’s none of the Fed’s business, and any attempt to justify it otherwise willfully ignores what our country's founding principals are. Conservatives need to have the courage to recognize this fact. If they really want the Federal Government to have a role in this, they should get behind a Constitutional Amendment initiative to grant it this power. Otherwise they should limit their efforts to state-based legislation and accept the fact that Massachusetts and California will probably have more liberal policies than Alabama and Wyoming. Deal with it.

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