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The Drug War Is Finished

Drug Warby Jacob G. Hornberger

If you want to see a look of stunned silence on the face of a drug-war proponent, ask him the following question: To win the war on drugs, what do you propose be done that hasn’t already been done during the last forty years of drug warfare?

He won’t know what to say. Everything that drug-war proponents have proposed has, at some point or another, been tried.

Yet, here were are some 40 years after President Nixon declared “war on drugs” and still no “victory.” In fact, the best evidence that victory has still not arrived is the fact that drug-war proponents say that it is still more necessary than ever to continue waging the drug war, perhaps even for another 40 years.

We have seen inordinately long jail sentences meted out to both drug possessors and drug distributors as well as to people who have simply conspired to commit such acts. We’ve seen mandatory minimum sentences. We’ve seen new generations of “maximum sentence” judges replace previous generations of “maximum-sentence” judges. We’ve seen asset-forfeiture laws. We’ve seen massive infringements on financial privacy. We’ve seen enormous violations of civil liberties, especially in the area of search and seizure.

We’ve seen it all, for 40 long years. And still no victory in sight. In fact, as the crackdowns have increased over the years, the situation has only gotten worse.

And then there are the adverse collateral effects of the drug war. There are the robberies, burglaries, thefts, and muggings by which drug addicts try to get the money to pay the enormous black-market prices for their drugs. There are the gang wars, the murders, the assassinations, and other violence that come with black-market drug-war activity. There are the bribes and payoffs to law-enforcement agents, prosecutors, and judges to get them to look the other way or to provide leniency.

It would be difficult to come up with a better example of a government disaster than the drug war.

Of course, some drug-war proponents still hold out hope for one final drug-war program: bring in the military. The idea is that by shipping U.S. troops who have been battle-tested in Iraq and Afghanistan to the U.S.-Mexico border, the war on drugs would finally be won.

What such drug-war proponents fail to realize is that that program has already been tried and, like all the others, has proven to be a manifest failure.

Look at Mexico, where the president of that country deployed the Mexican military to the border regions in an attempt to finally win the war on drugs. The result? Some 50,000 dead people in the last six years alone. Gruesome tales of kidnapping, torture, assassination, and murder, along with massive drug-war corruption within the military and other government agencies. The harder the military cracked down, the worse the violence became.

Let’s also not forget that the U.S. military and the CIA themselves have long played an active role in the drug war, especially in Latin America. The result? No matter how many raids, busts, arrests, incarcerations, or killings have taken place, the situation has only just gotten worse.

The U.S. military and the CIA have themselves participated in the killing of innocent people as part of their drug war activity. Of course, this shouldn’t surprise us, given the mindset of these two organizations. When they perceive themselves at war, the military and the CIA focus on killing enemy combatants, not on protecting the rights of suspected criminals.

Recall the CIA’s 2001 drug-war shoot-down of a plane in Peru, which killed a 35-year-old missionary named Veronica Bowers and her 7-month old baby Charity. And recall the U.S. military’s 1997 drug-war killing of 18-year old Texas goat-herder Esequiel Hernandez Jr.

Drug war proponents never cease to remind us of their good intentions — of how opposed they are to drug abuse or even drug use. They tell us they just want to attain a drug-free society.

To which we libertarians respond: Why should we care about your good intentions? What difference do they make? Do they affect the outcome? Have they prevented the horrific adverse consequences of the drug war? Good intentions mean nothing. All that matters are the real consequences of the drug war.

We should also never forget the most powerful reason for ending the drug war: the state has no legitimate authority to punish a person for engaging in entirely peaceful behavior, including the possessing, ingesting, or distribution of liquor, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, fatty foods, sugary drinks, or any other item that a statist might deem harmful. A free society protects, not punishes, the exercise of such choices.

Unfortunately, all too many statists won’t confront the real reason that so many government officials still favor the drug war despite its manifest failure: power and money. There is an extensive web of well-paid government positions that depend on the existence of the drug war, including judges, prosecutors, court clerks, secretaries, and law-enforcement officials whose jobs depend on the drug war. There are also the bribes and payoffs that come with the drug war, which make some government officials very wealthy very rapidly. And there is the tremendous power that the drug war enables government officials to wield over the citizenry.

The drug war is finished. They’ve tried everything for 40 years, and nothing has worked. The drug war has brought nothing but death, destruction, ruin, and corruption to our nation. It is impossible to find a more direct infringement on the freedom of the American people. There is not one good reason that Americans should permit this immoral and failed government program to continue in existence any longer.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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