« 2008 Supplement for Sentencing Law and Policy casebook now available | Main | Posts of interest around the blogosphere »

September 11, 2008

Libertarian Bob Barr speaks out against federal "war on drugs"

Providing exactly the politicial tonic to the usual tough-on-crime bromides, Libertarian Patry Presidential candidate Bob Barr has this new commentary at the Huffington posty speaking out against the federal war on drugs.  Here are extended excerpts from today's must-read:

As both a U.S. Attorney and Member of Congress, I defended drug prohibition. But it has become increasingly clear to me, after much study, that our current strategy has not worked and will not work. The other candidates for president prefer not to address this issue, but ignoring the failure of existing policy exhibits both a poverty of thought and an absence of political courage. The federal government must turn the decision on drug policy back to the states and the citizens themselves.

My change in perspective might shock some people, but leadership requires a willingness to assess evidence and recognize when a strategy is not working. We are paying far too high a price for today's failed policy to continue it simply because it has always been done that way....

Whether we like it or not, tens of millions of Americans have used and will continue to use drugs. Yet in 2005 we spent more than $12 billion on federal drug enforcement efforts.  Another $30 billion went to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders....

We simply must bring our system back into balance.  First, the federal government should get out of the "drug war" and allow states to determine their own drug policies. Rather than continuing to arrest and imprison people for offenses that do not directly harm other people, we should focus federal law enforcement on crimes involving serious fraud or violence, with identifiable victims.  Even then, only where there is a clear and specific federal interest, should the federal government be involved....

I also would review my presidential pardon and commutation powers as a possible means to reduce the number of people in federal prison for non-violent drug offenses.  We can no longer afford the human and economic costs of imprisoning so many thousands of people for drug possession. This is the most destructive impact of drug prohibition....

None of this means that I believe drug use to be harmless, or appropriate for minors. For that reason I would encourage people and institutions throughout America, from churches to social agencies to sports leagues, to work together to address drug abuse. One of our nation's greatest strengths is the willingness of people to organize outside of government to solve human problems.

But treating what is, at base, a moral, spiritual, and health problem as a matter of federal criminal law has solved nothing. The next president must put politics aside and take a long, hard look at the failure of the federal war on drugs.  We must reestablish the primacy of individual choice and state's rights in deciding these issues.  This always has been the greatest strength of America, and should be again.

Wow!  Great stuff on a topic that should be a much bigger part of the national political conversation.  Kudos to Bob Barr for this potent commentary.  I am now hoping Barr gets to participate in some way in some of the Presidential debates.

Some related posts:

September 11, 2008 at 08:41 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Libertarian Bob Barr speaks out against federal "war on drugs":


I must have missed all of the drug-war reform bills Barr introduced while a republican congressman. Must have been hard to, what with all the impeaching of Clinton to do.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 11, 2008 10:55:22 PM

A policy such as this would free thousands of convicts in California whose only crime was buying a joint or some pills. Whiel drug abuse is horrible, few politicians have the guts to admit that the "war on drugs" is the wrong approach. If states were given teh right to decide their own drug policy, states would save money and individuals would be free to make their own choices.
Posted this comment incorrectly, had to repost.

Posted by: JT | Sep 12, 2008 12:40:57 PM

It is not just the war on drugs IT is tha stupid sentences for white collar crimes that overload the federal prisions. Putting a perosn away for years and years how do they pay restitution? It is hard enough for them to find housing/work shouldnt they be out working if they can find it to pay the victims back. What is more important paying the victims back or locking them up I cant see both happening.

Posted by: | Sep 12, 2008 4:38:07 PM

I seriously disgree with the above poster. First, in most white collar crimes the notion that the criminal is going to pay restitution is wrong. He may be ordered to pay it but it rarely gets paid in full. Second, white collar crime is different because it is very easy to engage in the practice that justice is for sale. All you have to do is pay the money back and "no harm, no foul". Would you really buy that logic in a stabbing? The wound will heal and after the wound heals why should the person still be in jail? It makes no sense, the harm has gone away.

White collar crime isn't being punished enough because many see it as "just money" forgetting that people worked their entire lives for that money.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 12, 2008 7:43:00 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB