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September 2004
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Ruminations on Freedom and Democracy…

I want to take a moment to comment on a few recent political news items that aren’t specifically related to drug policy, but have undeniable drug policy implications.
“bullet” I Pledge Allegiance…
The House of Representative just passed a bill that says: “No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Pledge of Allegiance . . . or its recitation.”
Now this is silly-season lawmaking. The House loves to pass these kinds of bills that they know the Senate will wisely squash, just so they can score political points.
But it’s bad law, and bad precedent.
In the drug reform community, we depend on every possible protection from government overreaching devised by the framers. For example, we cannot rely on the legislature. They have consistently worked against science and the will of the people when it comes to medical marijuana. So in addition to trying to change the law, we have to pursue other avenues — voter initiatives and court challenges, including the medical marijuana cases working their way to the Supreme Court regarding the federal government and the commerce clause.
Well, just suppose, due to the large campaign contributions from pharmaceuticals, Congress decided to pass a law stating:

“No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Controlled Substances Act . . . or its enforcement.”

Freedom depends on checks and balances on government power.
Regardless of your views regarding the Pledge of Allegiance, tell your Representative that you don’t appreciate them messing with traditional separation of the branches of government.
“bullet” Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism… Act
The Patriot Act is rearing its ugly head again via the newly formed Coalition for Security, Liberty and the Law (see National Review item.
The Coalition has prepared a letter about the Patriot Act, signed by a ton of important sounding people (although seeing William Bennett and Edwin Meese’s names was enough to lose any respect I might have had for the group). Their position:

we ask that no provision of the Patriot Act be allowed to expire and the temporary provisions be made permanent.

The rest of the letter has its share of distortions and outright lies.
As Hit and Run notes, the most hilarious line in the letter:

In passing the Act, Congress extensively debated the commonsense updates in the law and provided safeguards for civil liberties.

That one really had me rolling on the floor.
The Patriot Act has a few minor things in it that could be good. Overall, as a tool for fighting terrorism, it’s not that great. Most everything the country needed to fight terrorism it already had. Federal law enforcement didn’t need more tools — they just needed to focus on the problem rather than spending so much of their resources on the drug war.
There just wasn’t time before passing the Patriot Act to properly develop a set of tools specifically for fighting terrorism (heck, there wasn’t time to read it). The Patriot Act was primarily a Justice Department wish list that they already had lying around to give them more power and reduce the rights of the individual.
Already for decades, the federal government had worked tirelessly, chipping away at individual rights through the courts in the name of the drug war, always using the “compelling government interests” of “dangerous drugs” and “protecting children” but never being forced to prove that

their assertions were true
the drug war was the best way to solve the problem
the drug war even worked at all
the drug war didn’t actually increase the problem

Hence we got civil asset forfeiture, and no-knock warrants, and loosened restrictions regarding searches and evidence, and military-style attacks on our own citizens.. Remember what the 4th amendment used to look like?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Ah, those were the days. Freedom and democracy.
When Ashcroft promoted the Patriot Act, he said that we shouldn’t worry about it. It’s things we’re already allowed to do in the War on Drugs and we just want to add them to the War on Terrorism (why doesn’t that make me feel better?). Of course, if that’s true, the strange thing is that the Patriot Act has since been actually used for more drug convictions than terrorism convictions.
We must not give in to fear. We can be strong and resolute without giving up our rights. Ashcroft wants you to give them up.

It’s to fight the terrorists. Really. We won’t use the powers for inappropriate purposes. You’ll have nothing to worry about. Trust us, we’re the government.

“bullet” The Exquisite Cacophony of Freedom
Recently there’s been a lot of talk about the inappropriateness of government criticism. Some have gone so far as to equate criticism of government policies with treason or aiding the enemy. I find this troubling — in part, because I know it so well.
For decades, the drug policy reform community has operated under a virtual gag order because we’re at war — in the War on Drugs. Ordinary people have been afraid to question drug laws because they might be perceived as druggies. Even today, I have people tell me that they agree with me, but are afraid to speak up, and I’ve had readers email me from anonymous remailers because they’d lose their job if they were seen to be favoring drug policy reform. And I’ve had people tell me that I personally should be held responsible for the deaths of overdose victims, because of what I say on this blog.
It is dangerous (and should appear suspicious) whenever one group is so entrenched in their position that they don’t even want a different view to be heard, and are willing to make outrageous accusations to silence it.
During a June, 1999 Congressional Hearing, Rep. Benjamin A.ć Gilman, from upstate New York declared:

“[Legalization] cannot and ought not be any topic of serious discussion in our nation’s debate of the challenges of illicit drugs.”

In the same hearing, Rep.ćBob Barr asked whether anti-racketeering laws could be used to prosecute people conspiring to legalize drugs.ć
It is not only my free speech right to speak out when I disagree with government policies; it is my responsibility as a citizen in a democratic society.

Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…