Pubdate: Sun, 01 Apr 2001
Source: Star-Ledger (NJ)
Copyright: 2001 Newark Morning Ledger Co
Author: Paul Mulshine


The issue of illegal drugs was being debated before the U.S. Supreme Court 
again last week. This latest case involved medical marijuana use in 
California. A few weeks before that, the justices heard arguments on the 
question of whether police can use thermal sensors to detect whether a 
private homeowner is growing marijuana.

The drug debate brings up some tough questions for conservatives, as is 
shown in the following quotations from two political theorists.

"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any 
member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to 
others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient 
warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will 
be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in 
the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right."

So says John Stuart Mill, the 19th-century English philosopher and author 
of "On Liberty." Now here's 20th-century American philosopher Bill Bennett:

"The reason the American people don't like drugs, whatever the critics 
might think, is not simply because they can hurt you physically, but 
because they hurt you and destroy your capacity as a human being. They make 
you a jerk.  They make you stupid. Marijuana makes you stupid. The only 
reason to take these drugs, unlike alcohol, wine and beer, is to get 
blotto, to get stoned, to alter your consciousness."

Compare the two quotes. The quote from Mill nicely captures the major flaw 
of the drug war from a conservative perspective. It is not the business of 
government to protect people from themselves. That type of social meddling 
is best left to the left.

Now look at the quote from Bennett. It nicely captures the major flaw of 
the war on drugs: It is being run by people from Washington. And people 
from Washington can't be trusted with power.

In the case of Bennett, you have to wonder if he can even be trusted with 
car keys. That quote is from an interview Bennett gave while he was drug 
czar under the first President Bush. Which brings up a crucial 
question:  Shouldn't the drug czar know something about drugs?

"Blotto" is a term that describes what happens when you drink too much. 
Drinking too much can also make you stupid, a jerk and even, in rare cases, 
a stupid jerk.

Marijuana does nothing of the sort. It is the preferred drug of the artsy 
types, the characters who do macrame while listening to Joan Baez. You 
could make a decent conservative argument against any drug that leads to 
the purchase of Joan Baez CDs, but that is not what Bennett is arguing.

What he is arguing is that bureaucrats inside the Beltway should be 
empowered to structure the lives and thoughts of the citizens of America. 
There is nothing remotely conservative about this argument.

And there is nothing remotely conservative about the government's case 
against that marijuana collective in California. In that case, the Clinton 
administration sued a group of distributors of marijuana in California to 
make them conform to federal law on marijuana even though California 
permits its distribution. If conservatism means anything, it means that the 
federal government is a creature of the states, not the other way around. 
No conservative could support the federal government in this case.

It's hard to see how a conservative could support the government in that 
prior case either, the one that involved police using infrared sensors to 
determine how much heat was escaping from a house in which pot was being 
grown.  Conservatives are fond of quoting the original intent of the 
founding fathers. If the founding fathers knew they were creating a country 
in which the government could look through your walls with a device so 
sensitive that they can tell whether you're having sex, their original 
intent would have been to stick with King George III. Even he wasn't that 

The serious thinkers in the conservative movement - those who reside 
outside the Beltway - long ago turned against the big-government approach 
to drug control. Perhaps the best example is Milton Friedman, the 
free-market economist whose ideas did more to promote freedom in the last 
quarter-century than any other thinker. Friedman argues that all drugs 
should be legalized and subject to market forces.

That may be politically impossible. But it's not asking too much for the 
alleged conservatives in Washington to at least follow conservative 
principles, such as non-interference with the political processes of the 

Or of other countries, for that matter. The United States was humiliated in 
1998 when Bennett's successor as drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, went to 
Holland and started lecturing the Dutch for letting people smoke pot in 
cafes.  "The murder rate in Holland is double that in the United States. 
The per capita crime rates are much higher than the United States -- that's 

No, that's ignorance. The murder rate in the United States is four and a 
half times that of Holland.

Marijuana may not turn you into a stupid jerk, but becoming drug czar seems 
to accomplish the task wonderfully.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom