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Twelve Victims of the Drug War


According to the Centers for Disease Control, 37,792 people died from drug overdoses in 2010. That exceeds the number of Americans killed in car accidents (35,080). It was the second year in a row that drug deaths outnumbered traffic fatalities.

The majority of those deaths were caused, not by heroin or cocaine, but by prescription opioid painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin).

There is no question that abusing drugs — legal or illegal — can be dangerous, destructive, and deadly. Taking certain drugs can be addictive, result in financial ruin, and lead to crime to support one’s habit. I would even agree with those who consider drug abuse to be evil, immoral, and sinful.

But it’s not just drugs that have their victims. The War on Drugs has many victims as well. Not in any particular order, here are twelve victims of the Drug War.

The first victim of the Drug War is the Constitution. There is absolutely no authority given to the federal government by the Constitution to wage a war against drugs, concern itself with any substance that Americans choose to ingest, or ban the manufacture, sale, or use of any substance. None whatsoever. If marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, crystal meth, crack, heroin, speed, and LSD were the deadliest substances known to man, the federal government would still have no more authority to ban them than it would have to ban baseball, hot dogs, or apple pie. When the government decided to prohibit the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” during the Prohibition era, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution had to be adopted first. The same should be true of drug prohibition.

The second victim of the Drug War is the English language. Two of the most despised occupations are drug trafficker and drug dealer. Yet how ridiculous it would sound if Americans spoke of spinach traffickers and apple dealers. Drug traffickers and drug dealers are middlemen who bring together producers and consumers. We may not like the products, but we can choose not to purchase them. It is only because of drug prohibition that drug traffickers and dealers are usually such unsavory characters.

The third victim of the Drug War is the American taxpayer. According to a Cato Institute White Paper titled “The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition,” the Drug War costs American taxpayers $41.3 billion per year. And what do they get for their money? The erosion of civil liberties, the destruction of financial privacy, and the erection of a police state. The financial and human costs of the Drug War far exceed any of its supposed benefits.

The fourth victim of the Drug War is common sense. Alcohol and tobacco kill more Americans than drugs, but any adult can purchase those substances and partake of them until he’s dead and no one in the government will do anything to stop him. But possess sufficient quantities of a plant the government doesn’t approve of and you will be locked in a cage. The federal government doesn’t ban dangerous activities such as skydiving, bungee jumping, mountain climbing, mixed martial arts, jumping on trampolines, stock-car racing (Dale Earnhardt was killed in 2001), or drag racing (Scott Kalitta was killed in 2008). Yet the government bans certain drugs, and people support the Drug War, because drugs are dangerous. The number of babies born addicted to prescription painkillers has tripled in the last decade. Not crack and heroin babies, but Vicodin and OxyContin babies. Why hasn’t the government banned those drugs? Oh, and the last time I checked, deaths from marijuana were still a big, fat zero.

The fifth victim of the Drug War is people who conduct business with cash. According to the IRS,

A business must file Form 8300 to report cash paid to it if the cash payment is:

  • Over $10,000,
  • Received as:
    1. One lump sum of more than $10,000,
    2. Two or more related payments that total more than $10,000, or
    3. Payments received as part of a single transaction (or two or more related transactions) that cause the total cash received within a 12-month period to total more than $10,000.
  • Received in the course of trade or business,
  • Received from the same payer (or agent), and
  • Received in a single transaction or in two or more related transactions.

Try depositing more than $10,000 (or a daily aggregate in that amount) in cash in a bank and you are a suspected drug dealer. An insurance adjuster from New Jersey was transporting $20,000 in cash. It was confiscated by an overzealous cop during a traffic stop in Tennessee because, in the words of the cop, “On the street, a thousand-dollar bundle could approximately buy two ounces of cocaine.” The motorist even explained and documented his active eBay bid on a car.

It doesn’t even have to be an unusually large amount of cash. In 2009, Steve Bierfeldt, an employee of the political organization Campaign for Liberty, was detained in an airport after he sent a metal box with $4,700 in cash and checks through an X-Ray machine. He recorded the audio of his confrontation with the TSA, which included threats, insults, and repeated questions about where he obtained the money. He was told by the TSA that he would not be released if he refused to say why he was carrying so much cash. The TSA also threatened to notify the FBI and the DEA.

The sixth victim of the Drug War is people with allergies. The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, Title VII of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, makes criminals of people who want Sudafed for their stuffy nose: Sudafed contains pseudoephedrine, which can be used to make crystal meth. In the House of Representatives, 207 out of 225 Republicans voted for the bill. Every Republican senator voted for the bill.

Diane Avera, a 45-year-old grandmother from Meridian, Mississippi, was stopped by the Demopolis, Alabama, police department for making an out-of-state Sudafed purchase in Alabama. She was arrested, abused, humiliated, and jailed for 40 days before being released on $51,000 bail. The police state is alive and well in America — thanks to the Drug War.

The seventh victim of the Drug War is crime. Every crime needs a victim. Not a potential victim or possible victim or a supposed victim, but an actual victim. Bad habits, poor judgment, dangerous activities, and vices are not crimes. The 19th- century classical-liberal political philosopher Lysander Spooner explained the difference: “Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.” Criminalizing drug use or drug possession distorts the nature of crime.

But drugs have other victims besides those who use them, do they not? John Stossel points out in his book No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed that conservative talking head Bill O’Reilly has often cited a statistic that comes from the former HEW secretary Joseph Califano that 75 percent of child-abuse cases are caused by adults on drugs. But it turns out that the figure is based on an old survey in which the term “drugs” includes alcohol. It is actually legal alcohol that causes more harm than illegal drugs.

The eighth victim of the Drug War is law-abiding Americans whose lives or families are ruined because they were arrested for drugs and are in prison or will carry the stigma of a criminal record for the rest of their lives. In 2010, more than 1.6 million Americans were arrested on drug charges.

The ninth victim of the Drug War is law enforcement. The War on Drugs takes finite law-enforcement resources away from fighting real crime. It has militarized the local police. It has clogged the judicial system. It has swollen the prison population. It has corrupted law enforcement. It has resulted in ridiculous sting operations, as in Orange County, California, where the sheriff’s department’s crime lab manufactured crack cocaine for the police in Santa Ana to ensnare unsuspecting drug buyers. Thank God for the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

The tenth victim of the Drug War is people who suffer with genuine pain, such as Miss Ann Lenhart of Dallas, Texas. She was arrested for trying to refill her Norco prescription after undergoing knee reconstruction surgery. When she arrived at her local CVS, a police officer escorted her outside and said, “We believe that you have forged your pain pill prescription and we are calling your doctor now. But I’ve worked with this pharmacist a number of times and he’s never made a mistake.” She was arrested, spent a night in jail, and was charged with the felony of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. The charges were later dropped. Lenhart is suing CVS for false imprisonment and defamation.

The eleventh victim of the Drug War is doctors who prescribe pain medicine. Fewer doctors are going into pain management. And no wonder; it might eventually land them in court, as it did Dr. Cecil Knox. Dr. Knox was seeing patients in his clinic when more than a dozen helmeted, shielded, bullet- proof-vested federal agents burst through the doors with guns drawn. He was dragged out in handcuffs and leg irons. His assets were frozen and his bond was set at $200,000. He and several employees were handed a 313-count indictment, including charges of drug distribution resulting in death or serious bodily injury, prescription of drugs without a medical purpose, conspiracy, mail fraud, and health-care fraud. Jurors ultimately acquitted Knox of about 30 out of 69 charges, but they were deadlocked on the rest. Prosecutors then refiled the case with 95 charges, including racketeering, mail fraud, and multiple counts that his prescriptions of opioid medications were outside the scope of legitimate medical practice and led to death or serious bodily injury. He eventually surrendered his medical license and DEA registration number, pled guilty in a plea deal, and received five years’ probation. So, as Maia Szalavitz wrote in a lengthy article about drug warriors who put the fear of prosecution into physicians who dare to treat pain,

In their attempt to prevent prescription drug abuse, the DEA and the DOJ in effect have taken upon themselves the authority to regulate the practice of medicine, traditionally the province of the states. Worse, they have transformed disagreements about treatment decisions into criminal prosecutions, scaring physicians away from opioids and compounding the suffering of patients who have trouble getting the drugs they need to relieve their pain.

Did Dr. Knox help people in chronic pain? Certainly. Did he overprescribe pain killers? Perhaps. But did he drug anyone or did he force anyone to take drugs? (Ironically, the CIA and the military have done both.)

The twelfth victim of the Drug War is individual liberty. Ultimately, this is what it all comes down to. The War on Drugs is a war on individual liberty. It is a war on personal freedom. It is a war on private property. It is a war on the free market. It is a war on personal responsibility. It is a war on personal and financial privacy. It is a war on the Constitution. It is a war on federalism. It is a war on the free society.

The U.S. government’s War on Drugs violates the natural, moral, civil, personal, and constitutional rights of all Americans to drug freedom. Whether drugs are used for medicinal, therapeutic, or recreational purposes — or just to get stoned out of your mind — doesn’t matter. The right of an American to be left alone by his government as long as he does “anything that’s peaceful” is the real victim in the Drug War.

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