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Commentary

Dissenters from the Drug War


     
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Journalist H.L. Menken characterized Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Why the busybodies’ own happiness at knowing that others are unhappy is deemed morally superior is an interesting paradox.

Whether some drugs help or hinder happiness should be for each individual to decide for himself. Nineteenth-century economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote, “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” Who are the statocrats to decide that alcohol, tobacco, this or that drug, sex, or whatever, is good or bad for me, and to arrest me if I don’t agree?

On May 8, the American DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and the RCMP met in Montreal to conspire in the so-called “war on drugs.”

But not all cops are bad. On the same day, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (www.leap.cc), an association of some 2,000 active or retired cops, held a counter-symposium in Montreal. LEAP wants an end to the war on drugs, which it believes is a failure. It has had a high cost, in terms of money (US$69 billion a year in the U. S., according to LEAP). But also in terms of lost liberties: young lives broken by criminal records, prisons overflowing with drug offenders, people who steal or become prostitutes to buy artificially expensive drugs, street violence generated by warring black-market dealers, searches, surveillance, border controls, RICO, money laundering laws and so on, and so forth.

However difficult it is to believe now, drugs were not always illegal. In England, until the 1950s, heroin was not only legal, but considered a medication. In the late 19th century, Winston Churchill’s nanny wrote to him, when he was attending boarding school, “have you tried the heroin I got you—get a bottle of Elliman’s embrocation & rub your face when you go to bed & tie your sock up over your face . . . try it and I am sure it will do you good” (quoted in Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life, London: Heinemann, 1991, p. 27). The U.S. government started the repression in 1914 with the criminalization of non-medical uses of heroin and cocaine. Marijuana was totally banned by Congress in 1970, and Richard Nixon launched the “war on drugs” two years later. Other countries followed, often bullied by the American government.

That this coercive paternalism, hiding the natural trend of the state to grow and oppress, was espoused and fuelled by Ronald Reagan tells much about the confusion of our times. While the left crushes the liberties it does not approve of, such as private property rights and freedom of contract, the right attacks other liberties, such as the right to consume drugs or have kinky sex. James Otteson, a philosopher at the University of Alabama, tells me that, in his state, it is illegal to use a dildo for sexual purposes (as opposed, I assume, for example, to stirring the family soup). Once in power, each adds its own layer of police controls, and individual liberty gets thinner with every session of parliament.

Fortunately, there is resistance. In the case of drugs, LEAP is the vanguard. Meet John Gayder, an active policeman from southern Ontario and LEAP board member, who came to the Montreal counter-symposium “as a private citizen.” John is a muscular, intense 39-year-old, with a shaved head, Mohawk style. He looks like a jack-booted thug from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but impressions are often deceptive. He has clear, straight, honest eyes, and fights for ending the war on drugs, and for our liberties in general.

Like other LEAP members, Gayder claims that “a large number” of his police colleagues share his opinion on the war on drugs, and that “the majority . . . know something is wrong.” The number of Canadian cops who are members of LEAP is less than five, but, he says, that’s mainly because the organization has not yet done much publicity here. Although his own employer does not encourage his LEAP activities, it hasn’t tried to discourage him either.

Another panellist at the counter-symposium was Jerry Cameron, a retired American police chief. “The war on drugs,” he said, “is really a war on people.” Among the other participants was Lionel Prévost, a retired Sûreté du Québec cop.

With men like John Gayder and his colleagues at LEAP, there is some hope for the future of our liberties.


Pierre Lemieux is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Quebec at Outaouais in Canada.






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