- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

Conservatives should rethink their support for John P. Walters, who has been nominated by President Bush as director of National Drug Control Policy. While they are at it, they should reconsider their commitment to the war on drugs, which is destroying our freedom.

Mr. Walters is a good man, and he would pursue drugs energetically. The problem with Mr. Walters is that he would pursue drugs at too high a cost to our civil liberties and privacy and at the expense of the sovereignty of Latin American countries.

The conservatives' war on drugs is an example of good intentions that have had unfortunate consequences. As often happens with noble causes, the end justifies the means, and the means of the drug war are inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution and our civil liberties.

Think about it. In the name of what other cause would conservatives support unconstitutional property confiscations, unconstitutional searches, and Orwellian Big Brother invasions of privacy?

Early in the 20th century, the U.S. conducted a war on alcohol. After experiencing the results, people came to their senses. They realized Prohibition criminalized the behavior of millions of people and created a class of ruthless and rich criminals capable of corrupting local judges and law enforcement. Fortunately, prohibition was terminated before it overrode the takings clause of the Constitution.

The war on drugs has proved to be equally frustrating. But instead of reassessing the consequences, conservatives have escalated the power of the state, arming law enforcement with more and more draconian powers that violate the Constitution.

The takings clause (Fifth Amendment) is one victim. The takings cause forbids the seizure of private property without compensation. It does not apply to contraband (illegal goods such as drugs). However, the asset forfeiture laws that conservatives created permit the seizure of perfectly legal goods if police assert they have reason to believe the property facilitated a drug crime. If any drugs are found on any property, that property is considered to have facilitated a drug offense

The Founding Fathers put the takings clause in our Constitution to prevent government from confiscating property as punishment for a crime. The British king, for example, could declare the property of a person convicted of a serious crime to be forfeited, thus dispossessing the entire family.

In this respect, the war on drugs has made us worse off than we were under King George III. In 18th century Britain, forfeiture required conviction of the property owner. In 20th and 21st century America, forfeiture has not required conviction of the property owner. Indeed, the property can be confiscated even if another person brings drugs on the owner's property without his permission or knowledge. People have lost homes, motels, boats, cars and airplanes because of the behavior of nonowners.

The Fourth Amendment's restriction on search and seizure is another victim of the war on drugs. Random roadblocks and searches without probable cause are part of the war on drugs.

The effort to prevent drug revenues from being "laundered" has resulted in massive invasions of privacy. The government listens to international telephone calls, snoops on e-mail transmissions, and constructed a massive program, "Carnivore," for monitoring private communications. Banks and financial institutions are required to spy and report on their customers.

Even the legal tender and store of value functions of money have been impaired by limiting cash payments and deposits to relatively small amounts and by seizing cash from those entering or leaving the country with $10,001.

The war on drugs has caused U.S. political and military involvement in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. U.S. drug agents arrest and kidnap foreign nationals in their own countries. These are extremely dangerous precedents and confirm the propaganda that the U.S. is a bully nation.

The war against drugs has proved to be largely a war against drug consumers. The prison population is swollen with young people whose lives are ruined by prison sentences. It is a personal tragedy for a person to ruin his life with alcohol, drugs, gambling or any other vice. But it is a public tragedy when government ruins the lives of millions of its citizens simply because it disapproves of a product they consume.

The "war on drugs" is, in truth, a war on the Constitution, civil liberties, privacy, property, freedom and common sense. It must be stopped.

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