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Shut Down the Nonessential Drug War

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A few days ago, I wrote about my experience crossing the Canadian border on the train in an article entitled “Dismantle the International Checkpoints.” The article focused on my experience with immigration checkpoints between the United States and Canada. This article will focus on another aspect of my experience at the border — the drug war.

Going into Canada, every passenger was required to disembark from the train and carry his luggage into the Customs station. One elderly lady had two extremely heavy pieces of luggage that she was having trouble carrying off the train and onto the platform. One train attendant said to her, “Next time, pack less.” Another train attendant was nicer and helped her out.

When we entered the inspection area, we handed our passports to an officer, who asked us what the purpose of our visit to Canada was. Once he was satisfied, he waived each passenger through, at which point we were directed to a waiting area from which we would later re-board the train.

That was it. So, why was everyone required to take his luggage with him instead of simply leaving it on the train? Good question, unless it was just to inconvenience people, like that elderly lady, because they never inspected the luggage. Passengers could have been carrying marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs and those government officials just didn’t seem to care. The next day, Canada was still standing as a nation even though, as a practical matter, the border had been open the previous day to the free movement of drugs into the country, at least by train.

It was different on the return into the United States. There, the passengers in each train car were also required to disembark, but this time everyone was told to leave his luggage on the train. Our car was among the last to be emptied and so I had the opportunity to see what the officials were doing in the car ahead of me, which was now empty of passengers.

The officers boarded the train with a drug dog and proceeded to guide the dog through the train, where he would sniff around everyone’s seats. I suppose the dog could smell drugs from a distance because everyone’s luggage was in the overhead container. Interestingly, they took the dog into the empty bathrooms, in case, I suppose, people had hidden their drugs there rather than keep them in their suitcases.

Of course, the officials had the serious, grave looks on their faces that characterize people with these types of jobs. All I could think as I watched them was how sad and pathetic their lives were.

Think about it: What possible good were these people doing in life? They were spending their lives trying to catch someone, probably some young people, who were choosing, for some reason or another, to ingest mind-altering substances. Suppose they caught them. What then? They’d handcuff them and cart them off to jail and have them prosecuted and jailed.

And for what? What good would it do? It wouldn’t do any good at all. It wouldn’t make a dent in the overall supply of drugs into the United States. All it would do is just ruin the lives of more people, which is precisely what the drug war has been doing for decades.

Several days ago, French officials seized 1.3 tons of cocaine on a flight from Venezuela to French. 1.3 tons! Venezuelan officials have now arrested eight members of the National Guard and nine Air France and airport staff in connection with the seizure.

That’s because the more that officials crack down, the higher the price of the drugs on the black market. The higher the price, the higher the profits. Ultimately, the profits become so high that regular people are tempted to get into the business.

Thus, there is no way that the drug war can ever achieve a drug-free society. It is the ultimate in Sisyphus-type exercises. The harsher they crack down, the more that people are attracted to get into the business.

Of course, I doubt whether that reality ever enters the minds of the drug-war officers at the border. All that goes through their minds is, “We’re just doing our jobs.” The notion that it’s none of their business what people ingest never occurs to them. Like all other drug-war agents for the past 40 years or so, they just keep doing the same thing over and over again, thinking that somehow the results are going to be different. Meanwhile, they keep crowing about the many little drug busts they make and their record-sized drug busts, as if that were evidence of progress.

Maybe, just maybe, during a time when 800,000 nonessential federal workers are being sent home for the government shutdown, more Americans will be asking themselves two important questions: (1) What should government be doing and not doing — that is, what is the legitimate role of government in a free society? and (2) Why should the government be doing anything that is nonessential?

If people do some serious reflecting on those two questions, the drug war is doomed and drug-war officers will be given the opportunity to have meaningful, constructive lives.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.