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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Drug-War Corruption


It’s hard to conceive of a more corrupting government program than the drug war. It corrupts everything it touches.

According to the Associated Press, a former sheriff’s commander in Hidalgo County, Texas, recently pled guilty to taking cash from an accused drug trafficker in return for advising him on what law enforcement was doing. The sheriff of Hidalgo County also recently pled guilty to money laundering.

This is what the drug war does — it seduces people into doing things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do. The money to be earned is so extraordinarily high, owing to the illegality of drugs, that all too many people cannot resist the temptation to participate.

That’s one big reason that the drug war will never be “won.” It’s simply a matter of supply and demand. As the government cracks down with ever-fiercer methods, supply is constrained. Restricted supply means higher prices and bigger profits. That attracts people who wouldn’t ordinarily engage in illegal activity.

But that’s not the only way that the drug war tends to corrupt government officials.

Consider the two states that have legalized marijuana, Colorado and Washington. U.S. officials have decided that the federal government will no longer enforce certain federal marijuana laws in those two states, even while continuing to enforce them in the other 48 states.

Now, that’s obviously something that many residents of Colorado and Washington welcome, but how is such conduct reconcilable with the legal principle of equal application of the law and the political concept of the rule of law? Those two principles hold that once the state enacts a law, justice requires that it be applied equally against everyone, across the board. For the state to wield the power to exempt certain people from the application of the law, which enforcing it against everyone else, is what totalitarian regimes are all about.

If federal marijuana laws aren’t being enforced against people in Colorado and Washington, then they shouldn’t be enforced against anyone. Why should a person who possesses marijuana in New York have his life ruined with a long jail sentence and a big fine, when a person in Colorado or Washington gets a pass for the same conduct?

In fact, the feds are now implicitly acknowledging the brutality and the futility of the drug war with a big clemency campaign. According to an article in the Huffington Post, the Justice Department is expanding the criteria for presidential clemency for drug-war violations and expects to receive thousands of applications from drug-war prisoners.

But every single one of those people who are rotting away in some federal penitentiary received those high jail sentences from federal judges across the land. Some of those judges were straight-jacketed by mandatory minimum laws, which Congress enacted as part of one of its periodic “get tough” campaigns in the drug war.

But lots of those federal judges also relished the opportunity to mete out high jail sentences to drug dealers and drug possessors. You can see it in many of the judges’ sentencing statements to the people who they were sending to jail. Most every time they have sent people to jail, these federal judges have really believed that they were putting a real dent in the drug trade.

It only goes to show how the entire process corrupted their mental abilities. Those high drug sentences accomplished nothing. All they were doing is ruining lives and attracting more people into the drug trade by virtue of the higher prices and bigger profits produced by constricted supply.

Consider the corrupting nature of asset-forfeiture laws. They’ve turned into a license to steal for both federal and state law-enforcement agents.

State and local cops now lick their chops at the prospect of finding poor people on the highways carrying a large amount of cash on them. The reason they lick their chops is because it provides them with the opportunity to steal the money from such people. The stealing is legal owing to asset-forfeiture laws but it’s stealing nonetheless. The cops take the money, even with no evidence that it is drug-related, and say, “Sue us if you want it back.” The cops know that lawyer fees will eat up the entire amount of money seized, which means that most of the time the poor just let them keep the money, which is then used to remodel the cops’ offices, replenish their fleet of cars, or whatever.

The feds themselves have enriched themselves with asset-forfeiture laws, grabbing homes, cars, boats, motels, and anything else of value that they can remotely tie to drug dealing. It’s a way to bring more money into the coffers of the federal government to pay for its ever-growing welfare-warfare state spending.

Yet, everyone acknowledges that all those millions of dollars in asset forfeitures have not brought “victory” in the war on drugs.

Consider the racist aspects of the drug war—how it has been enforced in a vicious and arbitrary way against people of color. Bigoted cops have had a field day with the drug war because it has enabled them to continue beating up, abusing, stopping, searching, and humiliating blacks in a perfectly legal way.

What arguments are left for continuing the war on drugs? The only argument left is an illegitimate one:  that law enforcement has grown dependent on the drug war and doesn’t want to let go of the bribes, drug deals, asset forfeitures, and totalitarian-type powers that come with the drug war.

It’s time for the American people to say, “Enough is enough,” just as Americans did with the corruption that came with Prohibition of booze.

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.