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December 6, 2004 - The Orange County Register (CA)

War On Drugs - A War On Liberty

Demonizing of Private Pot Use Shows Ugly Side of American Conservatism

By Tibor R. Machan, Ethics professor at Chapman University and adviser to Freedom Communications

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The late '60s and early '70s were my graduate school days, at UC Santa Barbara, and there was then plenty of pot smoking going on. Some of it was reckless, just as alcohol consumption or gambling or other peaceful conduct can be quite reckless, but most of it was merely a bit mind-numbing and consciousness-altering.

Many, many young people got high, yet few if any suffered greatly, certainly not by moving on to hard drugs. At least no more so than the number of moderate wine consumers who move on to become alcoholics.

But while the United States was parading itself as the leader of the free world during that Cold War era, it was mostly the champions of patriotism and loyalty to the flag who insisted on making pot consumption a crime.

Their persistence led to the abomination we know as "the war on drugs," an immensely costly and vicious undertaking by government to punish people engaged in the trade and consumption of a substance that does not cause anyone to do anything criminal (even if it does lead some people to become lethargic and temporarily confused). The policy also resulted in making the U.S. a massive home to prisoners who have violated no one's rights at all.

Nothing above is meant to suggest that consuming pot is OK. It is very risky to any user, and extremecaution needs to be exercised with it, just as with alcohol. Indeed, abstinence is probably best, for most of us.

But that doesn't excuse the fact that, in targeting pot, a dominant element of American culture turned directly against the political principles on which the country was founded.

We all, individually, have the unalienable right to our lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness, as the founders stated.

They learned this from people like John Locke, the English political philosopher, and from their knowledge of the history of human community life.

That history showed them that government is to be the hired servant of people, not their ruler - ergo, the importance of asserting those rights.

Sadly, conservatives, who pride themselves on wanting to retain the principles on which their communities are founded, completely jettisoned their commitment to honor this country's most important tradition and switched, instead, to embracing the statist conservatism of Europe and the rest of the world.

Of course, deciding which of several competing traditions to embrace is a continuing problem. So this switch was not all that surprising - just look at the current President Bush and his reversal of Ronald Reagan's efforts to cut back the scope and size of government, all the while claiming to be a conservative.

The price of the drug witch-hunt, however, is staggering.

Thousands of lives have been ruined because these conservatives - and by now others as well - take it upon themselves to disregard the unalienable rights of individuals and impose their will on the rest of us.

We may see a little relief from this shameful tyranny in our "free" society. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether at least some people - those who are likely to gain health benefits from consuming marijuana - will have their right to liberty protected.

If the justices rule in favor of this, they would uphold another conservative ideal, namely, states' rights, something that used to be partisanbut now is embraced not just by advocates of medical marijuana use but many environmentalists. And they would also exempt a few folks from the tyranny of the drug war.

Yet, sadly, they would also affirm a disgraceful policy of discrimination by continuing to classify others with a different but equally peaceful use of pot as criminals.

The real answer is the abolition of prohibition - just as it was, once again, with alcohol.

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