Cato Policy Report, November/December 1999
Vol. 21, No. 6
|P.J. O'Rourke asks tough questions about drug legalization at Cato's conference, "Beyond Prohibition."|
The day-long conference, which was covered by CNN and C-SPAN, featured three panels of scholars and activists on drug policies and a debate between Daniel Polsby, professor of law at George Mason University, and Daniel Lungren, former attorney general of California.
One major issue discussed was the drug war’s impact on the Constitution. Yale law professor Steven Duke contended that the drug war is an “unwinnable war” that is depriving us all of “precious liberties.” Duke, coauthor of America’s Longest War, argued that “the anti-constitutional effects of the drug war have been so relentlessly obvious for so long that a cynic might wonder whether the Constitution is not the true enemy of the drug warriors.” Roger Pilon, Cato’s vice president for legal affairs, argued that “the war on drugs is being waged utterly without constitutional authority and therefore is inherently illegitimate.” Pilon also pointed out that many self-proclaimed friends of federalism have turned their backs on the Constitution when it comes to the drug war: “Those who have talked most strongly in recent years about the revival of federalism and have championed it at every turn are themselves leading the war on drugs.” David Kopel of the Independence Institute described how fighting the drug war has resulted in the militarization of law enforcement.
|Julie Stewart deplores long prison sentances for nonviolent offenders.|
The panelists agreed that there have been real casualties in the drug war. Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said that we are going through “a shameful period in American history. I look forward to the day that we can look back as a nation at this period with horror that we would deprive people of their liberty for so small an offense, a nonviolent offense, and yet we would take away so many years of their lives.” Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at Cato, argued that “the current drug war has already caused social disruptions, both in the United States and several drug-producing countries in Latin America, and has badly eroded important liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. An escalation could cause social and political havoc in portions of the Western Hemisphere and pose a moral threat to the remaining civil liberties of Americans—even in cases far removed from the drug issue.”
The conference, broadcast live on the World Wide Web, is available for viewing online along with other Cato programs. Excerpts from the remarks made by Johnson and P.J. O’Rourke, Mencken Research Fellow at Cato, are available on the October 1999 edition of CatoAudio.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 1999 edition of Cato Policy Report.