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No to drug legalization, instead reform the laws

No to drug legalization, instead reform the laws

Wayne Hoffman
June 27, 2023

Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t ask me my opinion about legalizing marijuana, and I haven’t wanted to address the question because it’s not something the Idaho Freedom Foundation spends its time on. I’ve also thought it wasn’t necessary, since our organization’s record is clear. But alas, a couple of weeks ago, as I was making my way from Boise to McCall, I stopped at a gas station and ran into a friendly face, a state legislator from North Idaho. He asked me the question, “Is it true the Idaho Freedom Foundation supports marijuana legalization?” 


Keep reading to understand why.

Cannabis initiatives fail liberty test

All I have seen in Idaho regarding cannabis are proposals to envelop it in a big regulatory state, and we’ve been clear on that point. In 2019, we told people that an initiative to allow medical marijuana in the state didn’t pass the freedom test, and they should reject it. That’s also true of an initiative that has been proposed for the 2024 ballot. Nothing has changed. It would install big government, something  we oppose.  

The 2024 measure, like its predecessor, would create a huge regulatory scheme to be led by the Department of Health and Welfare. It would also create a government registry of buyers, and impose a series of new taxes and fees, which would sustain and probably grow the Department of Health and Welfare bureaucracy. That’s the way it has been with similar cannabis “legalization” efforts throughout the country. Cannabis becomes a cash cow to grow government and keep people under its rule. The same things would happen here.

Drug laws need reform 

That said, I’ve also been clear, writing on the topic in 2016, that the state’s drug laws need to be reformed. They’re not only wrong, they’re offensive to those who value liberty. Idaho’s laws on cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and other street drugs say that if a person possesses more than a certain amount of these substances, that is felony drug trafficking. These are the only laws that I can think of in which a person need not be proven to have committed the crime in order to be convicted of it. Whatever your opinion of drugs is, that's un-American. 

A commonsense definition of a drug trafficker is someone who sells drugs. So a person who is to be convicted of this crime should be proven to having sold those drugs to someone else. Idaho, however, says a trafficker is simply someone who possesses more than a set statutory amount. 

Law enforcement and prosecutors lobbied for laws to make it easier to arrest and convict people for trafficking when the only thing they could prove is possession. Idaho needs these laws, they say, because it is hard to prove that trafficking took place. Better to assume that if you have some quantity, you must be not only a user but a dealer. 

This is kind of like catching a man with a couple of guns and saying he must have shot someone or is planning to do it. Why else have so many guns? It’s like arresting a woman at a bar for DUI because she  drank a lot. She has probably driven drunk before, or probably will, so therefore we'll just say that's what she’s doing. It's too hard to prove otherwise. In America, the fact that proving a crime is hard is not a valid excuse to alter the rules of justice in order to expedite the government's preferred outcome. 

The penalties for trafficking are mandatory minimum prison sentences — even if no exchange of product or money takes place. In the case of marijuana, someone  could land in prison for up to 15 years, if the quantity is big enough. 

It’s not true that someone needs to have a super large quantity of marijuana to be considered a drug trafficker. State law makes no distinction between cannabis in flower form or edibles. Two or three boxes of chocolate edibles from a dispensary in a neighboring state, intended for personal use, is all it would take to land a person in prison. 

What’s more, the law does not care one bit why you may have a significant amount of it on hand. Say you have terminal cancer and rely on cannabis to keep food down or mitigate your pain. No matter; you could be looking at hard time, and that’s a real shame. A better legal framework recognizes the differences, allows people their medical freedom but also severely punishes traffickers for the ill effects of their trafficking, such as murder charges for those  whose trafficking resulted in a drug overdose.

Proposals for a sensible legal framework are hard to get consideration. That’s because they would prompt questions about the medical industrial complex, which is itself very good at trafficking drugs that lead to overdoses. Talking about a sensible framework also would draw attention to the state’s own liquor system, which traffics in alcohol, leading to drunk driving and alcoholism. That’s different, I guess, because the state collects revenue — and a lot of it — for use by the government, and we wouldn’t want the government to shine a light on itself. Then there’s the medical industrial complex which feeds politicians a lot of money to keep people hooked on bottles and bottles of dangerous prescriptions. 

Safer alternatives are also banned 

There’s another reason Idaho’s drug laws deserve rethinking. The pharmaceutical industry is good at delivering phony hope in a pill, but the law frowns on the use and possession of entheogens, natural medicines used to successfully treat a number of mental and physical health conditions. Though they are nonaddictive, they are also considered contraband under Idaho law. 

This means that people with depression and anxiety can get an endless supply of controlled drugs from the pharmacy, but they can’t try other things that might actually mitigate their suffering, because those things have been made illegal. I have met countless people whose depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders have ameliorated by earth medicines like ayahuasca, huachuma, and bufo alvarius. On the other hand, prescription psychotropic drugs, used to treat depression or anxiety, often require a lifetime commitment to such treatments and exposure to pharmacological side effects. 

In certain cases, patients with depression or anxiety equally benefit from faith, meditation, sunlight, changes in diet, acupuncture, friendships, neighbors, or even ice baths as they do Big Pharma's solutions. Yet, primarily through medical welfare programs, government insists on pimping lots of pills to the public. 

None of this ever gets talked about because it’s considered too politically risky. Few politicians want to be seen as wanting to loosen drug laws. And few want to anger the special interests who are often far too happy to write big campaign donations to restrict competition from non-pharmaceutical alternatives.

War on drugs is getting deadlier 

It is obvious that the war on drugs isn’t working; it’s one of many failed government policies. Most damning, this war contributes to even harder and deadlier substances being created and abused, as such is the case with fentanyl. 

In 1999, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne stood on the Statehouse steps and declared that he would lock up “peddlers of poison” and protect kids. He was talking about meth, and his solution was to create mandatory minimum prison sentences and make it harder to buy the items used to make meth. That’s  why when you buy certain formerly over-the-counter drug medications, you have to show I.D. and obtain the medicine from behind a locked counter. 

The governor’s new law didn’t work. Sure, it made obtaining drug "precursors" harder. But it didn't jail cartel bosses. Instead, it locked up users who need help, not years and years in prison. In response to state action, cartels and other dealers moved on to other, more deadly things. And our kids are even more at risk than ever.

When we criticize the war on drugs, some people say things like “Don’t you understand that drugs destroyed California, Oregon, and Washington?” But that’s not exactly true. 

Leftist policies got the West Coast here

Drug abuse, addiction, overdoses and crime are lagging indicators of the harms wrought by political changes. Leftist policies destroyed West Coast states, which have systematically taken away economic opportunity and productivity through strict regulations and laws. They under-educated their residents in terrible, failing government schools, which left them with broken families and hopelessness. Rather than fix these things, state governments responded  with government handouts and faceless bureaucracies. That's the real story of how the West Coast became the Left Coast.

When a population has no knowledge, nothing to do, nowhere to turn, and no hope for the future, the only thing they have left is drug abuse and addiction, with devastating results. 

This problem requires deep thinking beyond just maintaining and adding to the list of chemical combinations deemed illegal and locking people up for years on end for running afoul of the law. 

If we’re serious about helping people — including addicts, including people with mental health problems — and if we’re serious about stopping the scourge of the latest deadly designer drugs, Idaho’s drug laws need to be reformed. The welfare state needs to be dismantled. Both steps will bring hope and promise back to people’s lives. That’s where lawmakers need to start.

The law should, of course, go after people who target our children and those who cause people harm. The law should punish drug cartels and traffickers who profit off of addicting, harming, or killing innocent people. This should be the policy that Idaho’s lawmakers and governor focus on. 

But criminalizing people with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health conditions because they’ve turned to alternative natural medicines is flat-out wrong.

Avoid the mistakes others made

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is pure insanity. Idaho needs to stop its war on drugs, and its resident Idahoans need to get comfortable with that reality. I know some people reading this will find that hard to digest, but the fact is that we’re at a point where drug problems — and associated societal ills — are only getting worse because of government actions Worried about fentanyl? That’s old news. The new problem is tranq, which is even more horrific, eating the flesh of its victims. Who knows what will be next? It could be even worse. We need to do better. 

Politicians enact ineffective drug policies because they think it’s what will get them elected or reelected. "Look at me! I'm tough on crime!" But it doesn’t improve  public safety. We’ve been at this for decades, and new drug prohibitions, very clearly, are only making things worse. 

It’s time to really rethink the strategy, starting with the way government harms people. It serves up a subpar education system, takes away economic opportunity, creates mental health problems, sustains those problems through medical welfare, and criminalizes the resulting bad outcomes.

That's why you'll not hear a call for drug legalization from us. Drug reforms, yes, and simultaneously, reforming or ending welfare. Without the latter, Idaho's own policies will eventually drive our state to become like California, Oregon, or Washington. We’re making all the same mistakes that got them where they are today.  

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