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Ernesto Lira Meets the Drug War


The full horror of the federal government’s much-ballyhooed, 40-year-old war on drugs is on display in the case of Ernesto Lira.

Lira’s “crime”?

According to this article in the New York Times, the drug-war gendarmes caught him driving with “three foil-wrapped grams of methamphetamine in his car.”

No, he wasn’t consuming the drugs, and no, he wasn’t high on the drugs. All that he did was possess a small quantity of drugs.

Big deal.

But it is a big deal to statists. For having the audacity to possess three grams of meth in violation of their beloved drug laws, Lira was made to spend eight years in prison.

Oh, but that’s not all. The feds labeled him a gang member despite his protestations to the contrary. Why, everyone knows that any Hispanic who possesses drugs has got to be gang member. That enabled them to send Lira to the super-maximum-sentence prison at Pelican Bay State Prison in California, the “state’s toughest correctional institution.”

Oh, but that’s not all. To make sure the man got his head on straight, they put him in solitary confinement. How long? Oh, just the entire eight years. That’s right, for eight years the drug-war statists forced Lira to spend “23 hours a day in a windowless 7.6-by-11.6 foot cell, allowed out for showers and exercise. His view through the perforated steel door — there were 2,220 holes; he counted them — was a blank wall, his companions a family of spiders that he watched grow, ‘season by season, year by year.’”

Despite Lira’s continued insistence that he was no gang member, they just didn’t believe him. But according to the Times, he was telling the truth. He’s now been vindicated and is out of prison.

Not surprisingly, however, Lara “still struggles with the legacy of his solitary confinement. He suffers from depression and avoids crowds. At night, he puts blankets over the windows to block out any light. ‘He’s not the same person at all,’ said his sister Luzie Harville. ‘Whatever happened, the experience he had in there changed him.’”

All because he dared to possess “three foil-wrapped grams of methamphetamine in his car,” in violation of the state’s beloved drug laws.

The Times focuses on the issue of solitary confinement and the terribly destructive consequences on the minds of people who are subjected to it.

But of course, for libertarians the issue goes much deeper than that. We question the moral authority of any government to do bad things to anyone who is doing nothing more than possessing a drug.

That is what is absolutely phenomenal. Here a guy is driving along, minding his own business, with three grams of meth in his car. Who knows what is going on in the guy’s life? Who knows why he has the drugs? Maybe he’s just taking them home, where he plans on consuming them to make himself feel good or maybe just to relieve some emotional pain. Whatever the reason is, why should that be the business of any statist busybody?

The statists do indeed take a fascinating position. They say:

You do not exist to pursue your own individual happiness. You belong to society. If the government decides to prohibit conduct that is self-destructive, you will obey. We statists have decided that drugs are not good for you. They interfere with your productivity. It is unhealthy for you to consume drugs. We are hereby prohibiting you from engaging in this self-destructive behavior. It’s okay for you to drink beer and liquor because that’s what we statists do, but if you persist in consuming drugs that we don’t approve of, our representatives in the government will catch you and they will punish you, in the hopes that you reform and consume only the drugs that we permit you to consume. We will do whatever is necessary to make you a good, little, productive citizen in society. We will do whatever is necessary to make you one of us.

It’s that statist mindset that is so shocking — so appalling — to a libertarian. For us, the right to live your life any way you want, so long as your conduct is peaceful, is the very essence of freedom.

Sure, drugs might be bad for you. They might damage your body or your mind. Why, they might even kill you. But in a free society, it’s your right to consume whatever you want, to your heart’s content. The state has no rightful authority to prohibit you from doing bad things to yourself. It has no rightful authority to punish you for doing so. In fact, the state’s rightful responsibility is to protect your right to exercise your freedom, not punish you for exercising your freedom.

We all know that the drug war has killed tens of thousands of people and destroyed the lives of many, many more. Despite decades of warfare, everyone has to concede that it has failed in its purported aim — to prevent people from consuming drugs. Yet, it just keeps going and going and going.

Of course, we should note that the drug war has succeeded in expanding government power and corruption, which the state claims has never been its goal. And as any poor Hispanic and African American can tell you, the drug war has also enabled racists to apply their bigoted mindsets to racial minorities in a totally legal fashion and wrapped within a righteous package.

Ernesto Lira is just one more example of the horrors of this immoral, destructive, and racist failed government program, not just because of the mental damage that was done to him in prison owing to eight years of solitary confinement. Ernesto Lira should never have been arrested, convicted, or imprisoned in the first place. His personal possession of drugs was his business, not the state’s.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.