Why Don't Conservatives Oppose the War on Drugs?

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The war on drugs is a failure.

According to
the latest National
Survey on Drug Use and Health
conducted by the Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Administration: “Drug use in the
United States increased in 2009, reversing downward trends since
2002.” There was a spike in the number of Americans admitting
to using marijuana, ecstasy, and methamphetamine.

Yet, no matter
how much it costs to wage the federal drug war (more than $41 billion
according to a just-released Cato
Institute study
), conservatives generally support it. I know
of no prominent conservative who publicly calls for drug legalization.
I know of no Republican candidate in the recent election (outside
of Ron Paul) who has ever publicly voiced his support for the decriminalization
of drug possession. Republicans in Congress – by an overwhelming
majority – have even criminalized the purchase of over-the-counter
allergy-relief products like Sudafed because they contain pseudoephedrine.

Negative arguments
about how the war on drugs ruins lives, erodes civil liberties,
and destroys financial privacy are unpersuasive to most conservatives.
None of these things matter to the typical conservative because
they, like most Americans of any political persuasion, see using
drugs for recreational use as immoral.

The hypocrisy
of conservatives who support the war on drugs but not the prohibition
of alcohol should be readily apparent. But aside from a small minority
of conservative religious people that long for the days of Prohibition,
conservatives generally don’t support making the drinking of
alcohol a crime even though alcohol is a factor in many accidents,
crimes, and premature deaths. So why is getting high on drugs treated
differently from getting high on alcohol?

The reason
conservatives should oppose the war on drugs is a simple one that
has nothing to do with positive, negative, or financial arguments.
Drug prohibition by the federal government is simply unconstitutional.
Conservatives claim to revere the Constitution. They regularly lambaste
judges for being activists and not strict constitutionalists. In
the “Pledge
to America
” they released a few weeks before the recent
election, House Republicans promised to “honor the Constitution
as constructed by its framers and honor the original intent of those
precepts that have been consistently ignored – particularly
the Tenth Amendment. ”

In article
I, section 8, of the Constitution, there are eighteen specific powers
granted to Congress. We call these the enumerated powers. Everything
else is reserved to the states – with or without the Tenth
Amendment. Nowhere does the Constitution authorize the federal government
to concern itself with the nature and quantity of any substance
Americans inhale or otherwise take into their body. Nowhere does
the Constitution authorize the federal government to prohibit drug
manufacture, sale, or use. Nowhere does the Constitution authorize
the federal government to ban anything. When the Progressives wanted
the United States government to ban alcohol, they realized that
an amendment to the Constitution was needed.

Drug prohibition
is likewise incompatible with private property, individual liberty,
personal responsibility, free markets, and limited government –
things that conservatives claim to believe in. What happened to
the conservative emphasis on families, churches, private charities,
and faith-based organizations solving problems instead of looking
to the federal government to solve them?

But if conservatives
want a war on drugs or any other personal freedom, then from a constitutional
standpoint it is at the state level that they must wage their war.
From a libertarian standpoint, state (or local) attempts to prohibit
or to tax and/or regulate drugs are likewise attacks on property
and freedom. But from a constitutional perspective, conservatives
should be just as against a federal war on drugs as libertarians

So, if conservatives
want to be both constitutional and consistent, they would have to
say that there should be no National Drug Control Strategy, no National
Survey on Drug Use and Health, and no Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression
Program. They would have to say that the Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration, the Office of National Drug Control
Policy, and the Drug Enforcement Administration should all be abolished.
And they would have to say that the Controlled Substances Act, Comprehensive
Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, and Combat Methamphetamine
Epidemic Act should all be repealed.

Although I
would vehemently oppose their war on drugs at the state and local
level, conservatives could abolish all those federal agencies while
at the same time waging a relentless war on drugs – and all vice
– at the state and local levels.

Why do conservatives,
who profess to revere individual liberty, free markets, private
property, limited government, and the Constitution continue to support
the war on drugs?

Reprinted with permission from the Future of
Freedom Foundation

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