The United States House of Representatives approved on Tuesday, by a vote of 412 to three, the INTERDICT Act (HR 2142) that ramps up US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) efforts to interdict fentanyl and other substances related to illegal drugs upon entry to America. While House members are sure to tell their constituents that they did something this week to reduce deaths from drug overdoses, in reality they have voted, as Congress members have for decades in the US government’s war on drugs, for yet another bill that spends millions to abuse individual rights and increase dangers for drug users.
The stated focus of the INTERDICT Act is on providing CBP with additional chemical screening devices to be used to “interdict fentanyl, other synthetic opioids, and other narcotics and psychoactive substances that are illegally imported into the United States, including such substances that are imported through the mail or by an express consignment operator or carrier” and ensuring that there are sufficient CBP employees available to interpret the testing results.
The bill authorizes the spending of nine million dollars to accomplish these objectives. That nine million dollars can be added to the well over a trillion dollars spent on the drug war since President Richard Nixon declared it in the early 1970s. Like many of the other dollars spent before on this nearly fifty years war, the spending in this bill will increase abuse of individual rights and increase harm to drug users.
Entering America is already encumbered by US government employees asking travelers questions and searching their belongings, as well as potentially detaining them for longer periods of time. Now, this legislation threatens to add to the government’s arsenal for harassing people, citizens and noncitizens alike, upon entering America.
The newly funded searches for fentanyl, et cetera will join the other US Constitution-violating searches travelers endure without the protection of the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant obtained upon a showing of probable cause.
The bill also further erodes the privacy of our correspondence and packages that CBP may search.
Even the idea that the US government may, with a warrant, constitutionally search for such substances is inconsistent with the US Constitution granting the US government only limited, enumerated powers. Nowhere in the enumerated powers granted to the US government in the Constitution is the power to wage a war on drugs. Thus, any criminalization of drug possession and drug transactions is properly left to the states and governed by states’ laws, including state constitutions.
The INTERDICT Act’s expansion of the drug war is done in the name of helping protect people from the danger of potential overdose deaths from fentanyl, or other substances that may be found in searches, being included in illegal drugs consumed in America.
Yet, decades of experience in the war on drugs shows that such interdiction efforts do not prevent drug use or overdoses associated with drug use. Individuals involved in the drug trade will find ways to thwart the controls. For example, they will likely pursue improving means of hiding the forbidden substances, paying off people in the CBP or other government departments, finding new delivery means that avoid the risk of testing, and moving production to within America. These are just some options. The key point is that a demand for the product ensures profit motive for delivering the supply. Increased interdiction efforts, then, can be expected to increase the price charged and the ruthlessness of those willing to be involved in the illegal operation, but not to accomplish the primary proclaimed goal.
What, then, would help ensure that illegal drug users are less likely to experience harmful and even fatal overdoses? Legalization fits that bill. With legalization, people could buy their drugs from established businesses that have a strong interest in maintaining a good reputation, can be sued for fraud and other wrongful acts, receive their drugs through regular supply chains not interrupted by government interdiction efforts, and sell drugs that are of consistent quality and thus have much more predictable effects when consumed.
Overdoses should, thus, be much less frequent after legalization. And, when overdoses do happen, drug users, and any people who are with them at the time of an overdose, should be much more willing to seek medical help given that the government threats of punishments — including arrest, incarceration, and property seizure — for possessing drugs would be gone. This greater inclination to seek help in dealing with overdoses should reduce the damage and fatalities from overdoses.
Drug users would also benefit from drug price reductions under legalization. No longer would drug prices be inflated due to the costs imposed by prohibition. Included among these many costs are the loss of some product to interdiction and the need to pay people sufficient money so they are willing to take the risk of consequences including imprisonment and drug turf violence that can arise from being involved in the drug trade. Drug users, after legalization, should thus be left with more money to pay for other things they and their families desire.
Drug users, after legalization, would also no longer bear the risk of being searched, arrested, and incarcerated for possessing drugs. Further, they would not bear the risk of violence and theft that come from having to deal with the current drugs black market.
Even people who shun illegal drugs may be harmed as bystanders in drug turf violence or be stolen from to finance the purchase of drugs, the prices of which are inflated because of the drug war.
Such people may also be subjected to searches, surveillance, entrapment, or SWAT team raids by police because of misinformation, profiling, zealous enforcement efforts, or a desire to reach arrest or property seizure targets. Remember, unlike other crimes where there is often a complaining victim who will finger a suspect or make available information that will aid in finding a suspect, in the drug war police are typically seeking to counter voluntary, victimless transactions. Thus, it is no wonder that people having nothing to do with illegal drugs are often subjected to drug war enforcement efforts.
At a basic level, all Americans would benefit from drug legalization because it would ensure increased respect for their right to do as they please so long as they do not use force against other people. They also would benefit from the fact that ending the war on drugs would end all the wasting of money — the nine million dollars in the INTERDICT Act and the billions upon billions more spent each year in the drug war — on trying to stop people from exercising their freedom either to use drugs or to supply the drugs that people demand.
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