Right and the Drug War
by Anthony Gregory: We’re
All Branch Davidians Now
began publicly criticizing the drug war in December 2010, and he
has become more vocal since. Unlike the vague critiques often heard
from prominent figures even Barack Obama has called the drug
war a failure Robertsons insights have been precise,
and consistent, and deeply-rooted. We here in America make
up 5 percent of the worlds population, but we make up 25 percent
of jailed prisoners, he noted in March, appearing genuinely
moved by the issue. I really believe we should treat marijuana
the way we treat
alcohol, he told the New York Times.
Beyond the practical argument, Robertson sees the moral dimension:
I believe in working with the hearts of people, and not locking
In light of
his key role in the religious right, Robertsons comments take
on special significance. The man speaks to a particular strain of
social conservatives, not straying from their rhetorical comfort
zone even as he champions drug legalization for principled reasons.
He even blames the left for a burgeoning police state: Every
time the liberals pass a bill I dont care what it involves
they stick criminal sanctions on it.
adopt a more tolerant view on drugs, it would shake the entire right-wing
on the issue. They would be the last prominent faction to demonstrate
skepticism. The American right has long had its share of drug-war
critics. William F. Buckley articulately defended legalization on
a half-hour PBS special in 1996. George Will has often explained
the unintended consequences of prohibition, although he still falls
short of calling for decriminalization. Barry Goldwater expressed
skepticism toward the criminal-justice approach.
either not cared much about drugs and other domestic matters or
have sometimes embraced drug decriminalization as a nod to their
social liberal side. Fusionist and libertarian-leaning conservatives
have tended toward decriminalization. Right-wing talk radio, the
information source for millions, has also featured many voices skeptical
of drug laws, from the sensationalist Michael Savage to Jeffersonians
like Mike Church. The common-sense center-right has often decried
the futility of marijuana prohibition in particular.
the conservative approach to the issue has been an understanding
of the grave threats prohibition poses to the social institutions
that cultural conservatives, including the Christian right, hold
dear. If Robertson foreshadows a coming shift in the Silent Majoritys
sentiments, this void will finally be filled. Despite the prominent
critics among their ranks, everyday conservatives have consistently
revealed themselves in polls as more hostile to decriminalization
than liberals and moderates. A socially conservative turnaround
on the issue would change everything. Just as many moralists who
championed temperance turned against alcohol prohibition after seeing
the social destruction it unleashed in the 1920s, todays social
conservatives could play a defining role in ending drug prohibition.
The drug war
embodies secular leviathan like few other government efforts. The
federal anti-drug crusade began with Woodrow Wilsons signing
of the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914, escalated with Franklin Roosevelts
signing of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, and tyrannically expanded
to cover previously legal psychedelics and other substances during
Lyndon Johnsons Great Society. Bill Clinton increased marijuana
arrests and drug task force spending, greatly accelerating the Reagan-Bush
drug war. Under Obama, the policies have once again enjoyed a boost:
his 2009 stimulus bill included major hikes in drug enforcement
spending that had dwindled under George W. Bush.
prohibition qualified as the progressives greatest domestic
triumph in the early 20th century, drug prohibition has achieved
even more as a usurpation of traditional morality and the social
order. Constitutionalism, states rights, subsidiarity, community
norms, traditional medicine, family authority, and the role of the
church have all been violently pushed aside to wage an impossibly
ambitious national project to control people in the most intimate
of ways. For years, the federal DARE program encouraged children
to rat out their parents for minor drug offenses, an intrusion into
family life all too reminiscent of Soviet Russia.
gang warfare has not only inflicted violence upon the social fabric;
the crime wave has also served as a rationale to weaken the very
civil liberties that conservatives most cherish particularly
Second Amendment rights. Bloodshed on city streets attributed to
the 1920s liquor trade spawned the National Firearms Act of 1934.
Congress specifically targeted drug users in its Gun Control Act
of 1968. The 1990 Crime Control Act focused on creating drug-free
school zones, but semi-automatic rifles also came under its ambit.
Even the 1993 Waco standoff, rationalized by the Clinton Justice
Department as an anti-assault-weapons operation, started with search
warrants dubiously directed at finding a meth lab. In the 1980s
drugs had served as the excuse to carve out exceptions to the 1878
Posse Comitatus Act forbidding military involvement in domestic
law enforcement. The radicalized grassroots patriots in the post-Cold
War 1990s who saw national police power as a threat to their liberty,
their guns, and their families should have recognized Americas
drug laws as a principal culprit.
money finances not just domestic gangs but foreign thugs as well.
In the last decade many reporters have commented on how opium profits
have enriched the Taliban a nearly unavoidable result of
Americas drug policies, which keep narcotics highly profitable.
But today the most conspicuous violent foreign threat comes from
Mexico. The cartels, whose killing spree has taken tens of thousands
of lives in just the last couple years, have shattered the peace
on the border and become the subject of the Obama administrations
most notorious scandal. Some conservatives have wondered aloud whether
the Fast and Furious program of arming Mexican drug
gangs was intended to create an excuse to crack down on American
gun ownership. Regardless of the ATFs intentions, the drug
violence has indeed served as a rationale to restrict American liberties,
including the right to bear arms. But very little of this would
be possible if these cartels could not fund themselves with the
amplified profits that drug prohibition produces. (No wonder all
of the conservative movements heroes of economic science
Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman were unambiguous
in opposing the drug war, on practical as well as moral grounds.)
the rest of the article
Gregory [send him mail]
is research fellow at the Independent
lives in Oakland, California. See his
webpage for more articles and personal information.
© 2012 The American Conservative
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