Monday, July 27, 2009

War Without End

I finally got to see the documentary The War on Drugs, broadcast recently by RTE. I only wish the 22 members of the Council of State had watched it before advising President McAleese ahead of her signing the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill into law last week.

The message from the documentary is very clear: a war on drugs pursued by the state pretty soon becomes a war on its citizens. It's a war that can't be won, and a war that never ends. Perpetual war.

As with all such measures in other countries there is something initially appealing about the proposed changes to the law. Who could be against protecting witnesses? Or punishing the crime bosses and not just their pawns? And who could be against helping the Gardai to be more effective at their job? But it doesn't stop there unfortunately. As the Irish Council of Civil Liberties points out in their own critique of the bill:
This climate is all too familiar to that which preceded the introduction of measures to deal with organised criminal activity in the Criminal Justice Act 2006. However, it is questionable whether a similar response, such as that which is being proposed by the Government, will in fact, have any significant effect in reducing organised criminal activity.

The use of special powers to deal with organised criminal activity tends to lead to the normalisation of these measures and emergency powers remain available (and used) even after a stated emergency has ended. Gradually they distort the tone and ethos of the criminal justice system by extending state powers.
As The War on Drugs makes manifestly clear: no amount of legalistic innovation is going to stop the formation and perpetuation of drug gangs and the industrial scale criminality that goes with them for so long as we choose to maintain a prohibition on the production, distribution and sale of certain substances but not others. What this means, unfortunately, is that a future Minister for Justice will be back asking the President to sign yet another piece of draconian legislation into law as once again our police, our judicial system and our communities are overwhelmed by the consequences of prohibition.

As AC Grayling pointed out in his own critique of the bill:
Authorities in all countries and at all times, even in Western democracies, find themselves inconvenienced by civil liberties, which make the job of policing society more difficult. In particular, and to the great irritation of governments everywhere, civil liberties interfere with authorities’ ability to detect, arrest, prosecute and convict bad people. But there is a good reason why civil liberties make the work of the authorities more difficult: to protect the great majority of people who are not bad. The inconvenience of the authorities is the freedom of the people, and it is a price worth paying.
On the other hand, compromising the freedom of the people for the convenience of the authorities will cost us dearly indeed.


  1. I've said it before: We have scumbags we don't want and we have rendition flights we don't want. Take the pragmatic approach.

  2. Whst is the pragmatic apporach - not sure what your point is 'grow up'.

    Garda powers and civil liberties is always a balancing act, and to be honest I don't have enough faith in our police to allow them such a 'free reign'. We need to be mindful of what happened in Donegal for example, which was not just a few 'rotten apples'.

    Garda in Ireland appear to be somewhat confused about their role - which is to uphold the law, this however, does not make them above the law.

  3. Debaters debate the two wars as if Nixon’s civil war on Woodstock Nation didn’t yet run amok. One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights or to Cuba for political prisoners. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under banner of the war on drugs. If we are all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance credibility.

    The witch-hunt doctor’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. As God witnesses (Gen.1:12), its all good. The administration claims it wants to reduce demand for cartel product, but extraditing Marc Emery increases demand. His seeds enable American farmers to steal cartel customers with better product at lower price.

    An interstate commerce clause provides the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) with a pretext of constitutionality. The CSA’s effect on interstate commerce is to empower outlaws, endanger homeland security, avoid revenue, and throw good money after bad. Official policy is to eradicate, not tax, the number-one cash crop in the land. America rejected prohibition, but its back. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

    Nixon promised the Schafer Commission would support the criminalization of his enemies, but it didn’t. No matter, the witch-hunt was on. No amendments can assure due-process under an anti-science law without due-process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA halted all research. Marijuana has no medical use, period.

    The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. A specific church membership should not be prerequisite for Americans to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. Denial of entheogen sacrament to any American, for mediation of communion with his or her maker, precludes the free exercise of religious liberty.

    Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Puritans came here to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

    Common-law must hold that adults own their bodies. Socrates said to know your self. Statutes should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should not deny self-exploration to seekers. Americans’ right to the pursuit of happiness is supposed to be inalienable.

    Simple majorities in each house could put repeal of the CSA on the president’s desk. The books have ample law on them without the CSA. The usual caveats remain in effect. You are liable for damages when you screw up. Strong medicine requires prescription. Employees can be fired for poor job performance. No harm, no foul; and no excuse, either. Replace the war on drugs with a frugal, constitutional, science-based drugs policy.

  4. Take comfort: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Soon, all will change.


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