Libertarians spotlight drug war casualties

As election day approaches, those of us who are thinking about voting will be considering many issues and personalities. One issue that doesn’t seem to be making its way out of the dark abyss of misguided policy is the drug war. It is apparent to many that this war is not being won — and, in the meantime, is trampling on the freedoms of many Americans, whether or not they use drugs. Yet neither Bush nor Gore has indicated any willingness to curtail or end this futile war outright. Although the Libertarian Party probably goes a bit too far in its push to eliminate nearly all government functions, it does, in my opinion, make a good case for ending the war on drugs. The following is an excerpt from Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne’s acceptance speech, delivered July 2:

“In 1996, [Peter McWilliams] was diagnosed as having both AIDS and cancer. His doctor prescribed a daily regimen involving an enormous amount of pills. The medication was so intrusive to his system that he continually vomited the pills back up. He couldn’t keep the medicines down until he began smoking marijuana. [H]e found that marijuana kept the medicines in his stomach. Marijuana kept him alive.

“But that wasn’t a good enough reason to smoke marijuana, as far as the federal government is concerned. The Drug Warriors imagine this sends a bad message to our children — a message that we let people save their own lives by smoking marijuana. So the feds moved in on him and took his marijuana away. Without marijuana his medicines were ineffective, and [a few months] ago Peter McWilliams died.

“Democrats and Republicans treat someone’s death as an opportunity to pass new laws that will take away more of your freedom. But the reason so many people in this convention have spoken of Peter McWilliams (author of Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country) is because he was a friend to all of us.

“Despite all the persecution brought upon him, he always said the enemy isn’t the individual Drug Warriors, it is ignorance. To me he showed a dignity and benevolence throughout his ordeals that went beyond the limits of a saint.

“So it was truly a loss for us when he died. He was an inspiration to us, and we miss him. [H]e died of an overdose of government.

“Let me tell you [a] second story — about a woman named Debbie Vineyard. She didn’t use drugs or sell them. But one day, she received a phone call from a man she barely knew. The fact that she accepted the call and recognized the man’s name was treated by federal agents as confirmation that she was the man’s accomplice in a drug deal. He had already been arrested, and, because of the insane drug laws, the only way he could reduce his sentence was to inform on other people.

“It didn’t matter whether the people he fingered were guilty or innocent, because it isn’t necessary to produce drugs or money as evidence at a drug trial. All that’s needed to convict someone is the testimony of one person — even a person who’s already facing prison and can get a reduced sentence by saying anything the prosecutor wants. And so Debbie Vineyard, who was pregnant with her second child, was separated from her family and sent to prison for 10 years. Shortly after arriving there, she was taken in handcuffs, a belly-belt and shackles to a prison hospital to deliver her second baby.

“This is the real effect of the War on Drugs — not the protection of our children, but the destruction of the Bill of Rights. This is what happens not to drug users, not to drug dealers, but to innocent people like you and me. We are the ones who are in jeopardy because of the War on Drugs.

“And, finally, let me tell you a third story. This is about Lonnie Lundy, a 32-year-old businessman who had never smoked, touched alcohol or done drugs of any kind in his entire life. In 1993, an employee of his got in trouble with the law for dealing drugs. The employee was faced with a 20- or 30-year prison term. His only hope for a reduced sentence was to put the finger on other people. So he identified Lonnie Lundy as his supplier, as the kingpin drug dealer.

“When the case went to court, no drugs or money were produced as evidence. Nothing was offered in evidence except the testimony of the convicted drug dealer. And Lonnie Lundy received a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. Later, the informant recanted his testimony. But that’s no help to Lonnie Lundy, because letting Lonnie out of prison might send a bad message to our children.

“There is a further twist to this story. Lonnie’s father wrote to his U.S. senator, Richard Shelby of Alabama — a Republican Drug Warrior. He pleaded with Sen. Shelby for help. The senator wrote back: “We must take a strong stand against drugs, and I support strict punishment for individuals involved in the possession or distribution of illegal drugs. The protection of innocent citizens must be our top priority, and mandatory sentences are a deterrent for future drug activity.”

“Five years later, Sen. Shelby’s son, arriving at the Atlanta airport from London, was arrested with 13 grams of hashish in his pocket. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor possession charge, paid two fines totaling $860, performed 40 hours of community service, and was on probation for one year. He didn’t spend a single hour in jail or prison.

“In case you’re wondering, Sen. Shelby is still an ardent Drug Warrior, as [are] Sen. Grams, Sen. Lugar, Rep. Cunningham and all the other politicians whose family members have been caught with drugs — family members who didn’t serve the sentences that would have been imposed on you or me if someone put the finger on us.

“Sen. Shelby still believes in the Drug War. All the other Drug Warriors still believe that putting young people in prison for 10, 20, 30 years without parole will somehow make them better persons — as though Al Gore and George Bush would be better people today if, for their “youthful indiscretions,” they had served 10 years in prison.

“And so, today, to all those people whose lives have been harmed, injured, or even destroyed by the War on Drugs; to those families who have lost property to government through the oppressive asset-forfeiture laws spawned by the War on Drugs; to the people who have been searched and harassed and had their doors broken down; to those denied medical marijuana to relieve their suffering; to all these people, we say to you:

“Lift up your hearts.

“We know what has happened to you. We care what has happened to you.

“We will not forget you. We will not forsake you.

“We are Libertarians, and we will not rest until your lives are made whole again.”

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