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When Laws Go Bad, or Doing the Right Thing

I’ve posted a couple of times now about Jonathan Magbie, paralyzed from the chin down and needing a respirator to breath at night, who was arrested for possession of marijuana and sentenced to 10 days in jail where he died without proper breathing equipment
There’s more at D’Alliance, and a new article in the Washington Post: Another Unnecessary Death in DC by Cobert I. King, details the series of bad decisions that led to the death of Magbie.
I’ve been doing some extra reflection about drug laws and our interaction with them after reading
a commenter at Talkleft, who wrote this about the quadriplegic:


He knew the risks he was taking but took them anyway. …thank’s
[sic] to the utterly poor choices of Mr. Magbie, Magbie had the biggest role in killing Magbie. … Magbie clearly deserved a sentence of 10 days.

The other commenters jumped on him pretty quickly.
This is, however, not a completely isolated viewpoint.
For example, the link to my Drug War Victims page has been distributed on a lot of message boards around the web, and I often like to check out the comments that people have after reading it. The vast majority is horrified, but there are usually a few who will say, “That’s what they get for getting involved in drugs.” When reminded that many of the drug war victims were innocent, they respond, “Sometimes accidents happen when enforcing the law. That’s just the way it is.”
No, it’s not.
I hear “Well, that’s the law,” as if drug laws were some kind of absolute, like the law of gravity. To them, questioning the law is like blaming the ground for being there at the end after you step off a cliff.
Drug laws are not gravity.
I also hear, “The reason marijuana is illegal is that the government determined it was dangerous and so they outlawed it.” This is not only false, but also shows a stunning lack of understanding of how laws are made in this country (or even how they should be made in this country).
Drug laws are not absolute. Nor are they somehow carefully constructed to serve the general good of the people. In fact, they fall into a special category of law: Bad Law.

Understanding Why Drug Laws are Bad Law:
  • Drug laws Don’t Work. In the 30 or so years of the intensified drug war, drug wars have failed to achieve any of their so-called goals.
  • Drug laws have a Negative Cost-Benefit Analysis. There’s simply no way to show that any benefits of the drug war could possibly outweigh the costs (both financial and societal).
  • Drug laws are Scientifically Unsound. Drug laws assume that basic principles such as the economic laws of supply and demand will politely step out of the way.
  • Drug laws use Cruel and Unusual Punishment. The laws’ disproportionate penalties do far more harm than the drugs they attempt to prevent. It would be like forfeiting your car because the parking meter ran out five minutes ago.
  • Drug laws are Contrary to our Nation’s Principles. As Abraham Lincoln said, “A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded… Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes.”
  • Drug laws Promote Lawlessness. Since almost half of the population has used an illegal drug, there is a tendency to hesitate in actively cooperating with enforcement personnel. Additionally, enforcement efforts aimed at drug laws take away from the focus on other crime.
  • Drug laws Promote Dangerous Crime. The demand for drugs under prohibition creates a very profitable black market in the criminal realm. Increased prohibition efforts escalate related violence and other criminal activities.
  • Drug laws Endanger the Public Health. The drug laws prevent safety, age and purity regulations, actually making drugs more dangerous.
Understanding Proper Dealings with Bad Law:
  • Legislating bad law is wrong.
  • Legislating law you know to be bad, but that serves a political interest, is not only wrong, but it’s corrupt.
  • Enforcing a bad law may be necessary, but it’s wrong.
  • Prosecuting a bad law may be necessary, but it’s wrong.
  • Prosecuting a bad law enthusiastically, including tacking on charges or sentences that go beyond even the intent of the law is not only wrong, but it’s corrupt.
  • Imposing sentences based on bad law may be necessary, but it’s wrong.
  • Imposing maximum or increased sentences solely based on bad law in order to send a message or give the accused a lesson is not only wrong, but it’s corrupt.
  • Jury conviction based solely on a bad law is not only wrong, but unnecessary.
  • Breaking a bad law may be wrong, but that doesn’t make the enforcement or prosecution right.
  • Advocating for change of a bad law is not only right, but it is a citizen’s responsibility.
  • Promoting a bad law is wrong.
  • Promoting a bad law through lying and propaganda in order to further political or financial goals is not only wrong, but it’s corrupt.

There’s only one action in that list that is “right.”
Do the right thing.


“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?”

– Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

I say that you cannot administer a wicked law impartially.
You can only destroy.
You can only punish.
I warn you that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys everyone it touches — its upholders as well as its defiers.

– Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, Inherit the Wind
[Tip of the hat for the Thoreau reminder to Vice Squad]

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