When Barack Obama campaigned for president in 2008, he promised to end the War on Drugs.
As a candidate, he suggested the century-long war had been a failure and America would do better with a public health approach to drug abuse.
As the president, he’s done the exact opposite. Obama has intensified tactics… and now his policies have sacrificed our rights to:
Keep our medical records private
What do I mean? Read on… the reality is shocking.
Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), routinely “data mine” travel itineraries to determine who might be carrying cash. There’s no warrant required. Then, they use the incredibly lax civil forfeiture laws to seize said cash on suspicion of illegal acts taking place without any real evidence of a crime being committed. It’s a racket, and DEA units posted at 15 of America’s busiest airports have used it to confiscate more than $200 million in cash over the past decade.
What makes them suspicious, you might wonder?
Basically, paying for your ticket in cash, or buying a one-way ticket on a plane, train, or bus, could result in a shakedown by federal agents, or local police working with the DEA. In the vast majority of cases, you won’t be arrested or detained. Agents will simply give you a receipt for your seized cash, and send you on your way.
But hold on a second. You might say, “Don’t such practices violate the Constitution or Bill of Rights?” If only that mattered these days. Issue here is, if a police dog smells drug residue on the cash, you’ll probably lose it. The obvious problem is more than 90% of circulating cash contains such residues.
Another involuntary sacrifice you’re forced to make to fight their drug war is your medical privacy. This part of the war focuses on prescription medication, so even if you’ve never touched marijuana, cocaine, or heroin in your life, you’re still under surveillance.
So far, 32 states already share prescription data with the DEA. And the Obama administration has sued the remaining states in federal court to force them into line. It claims it has the right to obtain this data using only an “administrative subpoena.” This demand for information requires the agency issuing it to demonstrate that the information sought could be useful for law enforcement purposes. There’s no probable cause, no warrant… no “due process” whatsoever.
The Obama administration argues that you have no expectation of privacy in your prescription records because you have submitted them to a third party – a pharmacy. This is the same logic, incidentally, the government successfully used in a series of cases before the Supreme Court in the 1970s to persuade it to uphold the Bank Secrecy Act, which effectively ended financial privacy in the US.
Obama, of course, is only the latest president to pursue the War on Drugs. The war unofficially began in 1914, when Congress restricted the marketing of opiates and coca/cocaine products. Advocates for the new law spoke of “drug-crazed, sex-mad Negroes” murdering whites and “Chinamen” seducing white women with opium. Congress later imposed similar restrictions on marijuana.
Federal penalties for drug possession were stiffened in the 1950s, and in 1970, Congress enacted a law that gave federal prosecutors the right to confiscate the property of anyone convicted of drug trafficking in a process called criminal forfeiture. That same year, justifying the War on Drugs and Organized Crime for doing so, Congress passed the Bank Secrecy Act. Eight years later, Congress gave prosecutors the ability to seize the property of anyone suspected of involvement in the drug trade through civil forfeiture proceedings. (Executives at Phizer, Bayer and the rest of big pharma don't count here of course).
Today, nearly one-fifth of the inmates in America’s state prisons are there after being convicted of a drug-related offense. And drug offenders represent about half of all inmates in federal prisons.
And the results? In 1900, somewhere between 2% and 5% of people living in the US were addicted to drugs, primarily morphine. Today, the numbers are still in that range, according to the United Nations.
In the meantime, the War on Drugs has become a huge industry. Direct spending by the federal government to fight this war eats up about $15 billion annually. State and local governments spend billions more arresting, processing, and incarcerating people for drug offenses. Merely operating the nation’s prisons costs over $80 billion each year.
Ending or even relaxing the War on Drugs would inevitably lead to law enforcement budget cuts. And the status quo is defended by legions of lobbyists and by bureaucrats who have spent a lifetime fighting this war. The only choice, then, is to ramp it up. And that’s exactly what Obama is doing.
All to pursue a strategy that’s not only invasive of privacy, but hugely expensive and completely ineffective.
The right to self-ownership of our bodies, including what we put into them, is about as basic as freedom gets. Our founding fathers understood this principle well. Thomas Jefferson wrote that a government controlling what food people can eat and the kind of medicine they take will soon try to control what people can think.
But the drug war makes it clear that this “self-ownership principle” is null and void. You have no right to determine what substances you voluntarily introduce into your own body. As with everything else, Big Brother knows best.
The experience of the last century brings to mind the words of one of my favorite authors, H. L. Mencken. In 1925, five years after the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages, Mencken wrote:
There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.
In 1933, the 18th Amendment was repealed. It’s time to do the same for the War on Drugs. But given political and bureaucratic realities, I’m not holding my breath.
Incidentally, many other countries have already decriminalized or even outright legalized formerly illicit drugs. Uruguay has fully legalized marijuana. Portugal has decriminalized all drugs – even heroin. The Czech Republic has followed a similar approach.
As with so many other aspects of life in America, if you don’t wish to become part of the ever-escalating War on Drugs, maybe it’s time to think about planning your exit strategy.