Monday, June 28, 2010

End Federal Drug Prohibition

Recently John Stossel used his program on Fox Business to renew the debate over drug prohibition. While I personally believe that Mr. Stossel has this totally right, I would like to focus on the notion of drug prohibition by the national government. (N.B., using the term "federal" when our national government is so centralized is an abuse of the term "federal".) You see, I believe that national drug prohibition is unconstitutional.

Consider that legislation and enforcement of nearly all criminal behavior is done by the states. (The major exceptions are treason and counterfeiting, and patent infringement.) By criminal behavior, I mean actual crimes by any selfish enough to use violence or treachery or mistreat the (tangible) property of others: murder, assault, rape, armed robbery, theft, vandalism, and so on. Even non-criminal behavior, that is a crime against a state, so-called victim-less crime like prostitution or unlicensed vending, are all managed by the state, its subdivisions, and its chartered cities and districts, not the supposedly federal government. So for what reason can the central authority in Washington impose or intrude upon what the citizens of each state choose?

This time our journey into federal over-reach starts with the Pure Food and Drug Act from 1906. As laws goes, it is certainly a reasonable one for a state to pass because it discouraged fraud in sales of tonics and syrups and encouraged meat inspection. But it set up the scenario for the national government to start the bloated and unnecessary FDA and set precedent for interventionism by the feds in drug use. What should have happened is competitive private laboratories should be used to test truth-in-labeling and food safety in accordance to the standards for each state. This law was superseded the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938.

Next we have the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act which is "An Act to provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax on all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes." The courts initially interpreted this to mean that physicians could prescribe narcotics to patients in the course of normal treatment, but not for the treatment of addiction. This was later overturned and now federal law has no authority over treatments in medical practices. Although technically illegal for purposes of distribution and use, the distribution, sale and use of cocaine was still legal for registered companies and individuals. But the biggest problem here is that for the first time individuals had to register with the national government to possess something. This is totally unacceptable.

The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act was a significant bill on the path that led to the criminalization of cannabis. The bill was passed in order to destroy the hemp industry, largely as an effort of businessmen Andrew Mellon, William Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family. This alone makes it clear abuse of power by Congress. In 1969 in Leary v. United States, part of the Act was ruled to be unconstitutional as a violation of the Fifth Amendment, since a person seeking the tax stamp would have to incriminate him/herself. In response the Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. The 1937 Act was repealed by the 1970 Act.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 created the Office of National Drug Control Policy, headed up by the "drug czar". Today that office (mis-) employs over 100 people alone!

All of these laws have one thing in common: they violate the principle of federalism which is the bedrock of the US Constitution. In doing so they increase the power of the federal government at the expense of the states and what's worse, legitimatize the use of government resources against the very individuals it is designed to keep free!

All of these silly laws should be repealed as soon as possible.