Barr: “I Was Wrong About the War on Drugs”by Stephen Littau
For those of you who are concerned about Bob Barr’s position on the war on (some) drugs, maybe this article Barr posted at The Huffington Post will help allay some of your concerns. I am among those who would like the congressman to speak out more forcefully on this subject as I have seen him miss opportunities to explain why libertarians oppose the war on (some) drugs.
For years, I served as a federal prosecutor and member of the House of Representatives defending the federal pursuit of the drug prohibition.
Today, I can reflect on my efforts and see no progress in stopping the widespread use of drugs. I’ll even argue that America’s drug problem is larger today than it was when Richard Nixon first coined the phrase, “War on Drugs,” in 1972.
America’s drug problem is only compounded by the vast amounts of money directed at this ongoing battle. In 2005, more than $12 billion dollars was spent on federal drug enforcement efforts while another $30 billion was spent to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders.
The result of spending all of those taxpayer’s dollars? We now have a huge incarceration tab for non-violent drug offenders and, at most, a 30% interception rate of hard drugs. We are also now plagued with the meth labs that are popping up like poisonous mushrooms across the country.
Call me naive, but I think Mr. Barr gets it. The fact that Mr. Barr understands that so many tax dollars are being wasted on incarcerating non-violent drug offenders is evidence of this. According to the Bureau of Prisons, drug offenses account for 52.8% of all criminal offenses. How many of these are non-violent offenders and how many of the violent crimes would be dramatically reduced if drugs were legalized or decriminalized? With 1 in every 100 adults behind bars in the “land of the free,” America incarcerates more people than any country in the world. This needs to change.
However, because our government is divided into three separate branches, there is only so much a president could do in ending the war on (some) drugs. I can think of only three ways a Barr Administration could impact the war on (some) drugs at the federal level*:
1. Pardon all non-violent drug offenders en masse. This would have the effect of limiting law enforcement to going after violent drug offenders as any new offenders would be affected by the mass pardon. This is a question I asked Mr. Barr at the post debate press conference; you can listen to his answer here.
2. Veto any bill which funds the war on (some) drugs.
3. Direct the Justice Department, the DEA, and all other federal agencies not to enforce the existing federal drug laws. Not every law can be enforced; it’s the executive branch’s role to enforce the law. Rather than enforce unconstitutional, draconian drug laws the executive can direct all agencies to focus on keeping the American people safe from anyone who violates the individual’s rights of life, liberty, and property through force or fraud.
As Brad pointed out with some concern, Barr mentioned something about the “current” war on (some) drugs was a failure when he was a guest on the Colbert Report. Did Mr. Barr really mean the war on (some) drugs needs to be fought “smarter” rather than ended?
Barr continues using the tragedy of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit as an example of how a private organization can combat drug abuse without the help of government:
While it is clear the War on Drugs has been a failure, it is not enough to simply acknowledge that reality. We need to look for solutions that deal with the drug problem without costly and intrusive government agencies, and instead allow for private industry and organizations to put forward solutions that address the real problems.
In the wake of the tragedy, the head of the WWE, Vince McMahon, and its other leaders looked internally to recognize these problems and address them. Although in the two years before Benoit’s death, dozens of wrestlers had been suspended, gone to rehab, or been dismissed under the WWE’s recently adopted “Wellness Program,” the WWE strengthened its drug policy further, re-emphasizing that its policy wasn’t merely a document, but the internal laws of the company that would be enforced.
McMahon didn’t wait for Congress to pass a law or parade his wrestlers in front of congressional committee hearings; he took the lead and assumed responsibility over the health and welfare of the individuals who work for the WWE.
As part of the WWE Wellness Program, wrestlers go through regular drug testing and even cardiovascular testing. The latter identified a previously unknown heart condition for the wrestler “MVP” and he was treated for Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. The government’s War on Drugs wouldn’t have done that.
This is one area where the government can and should combat drug abuse; not by locking people up but by allowing businesses and organizations to set their own policies. This means that an employer should have the ability to discriminate against anyone who they believe would harm his or her business (be it drug abuse, alcohol abuse, smoking, obesity, or whatever). Once again freedom is the answer to the drug problem (in this case, freedom of association).
I have only one major complaint with the Barr campaign remaining regarding the war on (some) drugs. I suspect that someone inside the Barr campaign is reading this. If so, please tell Mr. Barr to express these thoughts to the likes of Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, or anyone else on the Right that brings up the war on (some) drugs question.
*I would have to defer to Doug and other lawyers to evaluate the legalities of these proposals but they seem legitimate to me. Maybe there are other legal tactics a president could use that I haven’t thought of or am unaware of.