Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Silencing opposition in the war on drugs

Jerry Stratton, September 10, 2005

Congressman James Sensenbrenner wants to make spying on your neighbor, friends, and family required by law. H.R. 1528

SEC. 425. (a) It shall be unlawful for any person who witnesses or learns of a violation of sections 416(b)(2), 417, 418, 419, 420, 424, or 426 to fail to report the offense to law enforcement officials within 24 hours of witnessing or learning of the violation and thereafter provide full assistance in the investigation, apprehension, and prosecution of the person violating paragraph (a).

(b) Any person who violates subsection (a) of this section shall be sentenced to not less than two years or more than 10 years. If the person who witnesses or learns of the violation is the parent or guardian, or otherwise responsible for the care or supervision of the person under the age of 18 or the incompetent person, such person shall be sentenced to not less than three years or more than 20 years.

Sensenbrenner is calling it a “child protection act”. As usual, of course, by “children” they mean as much as they can get away with. Children in this case means anyone under 21 years old. (Some of the original laws make it especially criminal for 18 year-olds to sell to 20 year-olds.) And by “protection” they mean, put their parents in jail for decades.

So if you find out that your 17-year-old kid went to a rave, and you don’t report this to the police, you will go to jail for three to twenty years. Even if your kid is up to 20 years old and at college, if you find out about a violation of that sort and don’t report it, you go to jail for two to ten years. Or if it’s your neighbor’s kid. Or just some stranger you happened to find out about. Even worse, if you do report your friend, neighbor, family member, or complete stranger, the law requires that you “provide full assistance” if the police ask you to do so: if they ask you to help trick a confession by, say, wearing a hidden microphone, well, you do it or you go to jail.

This law is about silencing opposition, pure and simple. Taken to its extreme--and such laws always are--nobody will be able to say that they “know someone” who uses marijuana without falling afoul of a federal crime punishable by a mandatory two year sentence, and up to ten or twenty years. Patients will be unable to talk to their doctors, without risking putting their doctor in jail; doctors will be afraid to take patients for whom medical marijuana is effective medicine. Anti-prohibition activists will be jailed if they find out about someone who uses marijuana, whether recreationally or for medicine, and also has kids.

At least one in twenty Americans use marijuana somewhat regularly. At least a third have used it at least once. Among the “children” covered by this law even more use it. More than 7% of children 12 to 17, and more than 13% of young adults 18 to 25 use marijuana regularly. Everybody knows somebody who uses marijuana. There has always been the fear that outspoken anti-prohibition activists risk their family being investigated. Dr. Joycelyn Elders found her son arrested on drug charges soon after she said merely that legalization was worth considering. Peter McWilliams found his own house raided after writing about book about the dangers of Prohibition. Because so many Americans use illegal drugs such as marijuana, fishing expeditions like that, if they take place, are likely to be very effective.

But this is far worse. Now, whenever someone is convicted of using marijuana or another illegal drug, the authorities can search through the victim’s friends and family and arrest anyone they feel like. Even if the prosecutor can’t prove that the victim’s friends knew about their marijuana use, just having to go to trial can wreck lives. And the arrest will also help justify civil forfeiture of anything the victim happened to touch.

Everyone knows someone who uses marijuana. A law like this cannot but be used selectively. Like every other law that everyone breaks, it will be enforced against minorities or the outspoken or anybody else a pro-prohibition prosecutor wants to “get”.

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