Ninth and Tenth Amendments

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Drug War Casualty: The Bill of Rights and Constitutional Liberty

The Tenth Amendment says "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." This effectively means that if the Constitution does not grant the power to the federal government over something, then it is for the states and people to decide. Some people here would say this is the most important amendment. If the federal government obeyed it, the entire drug war as we know it would be impossible.

In 1909, Hamilton Wright, U.S. official to the Shanghai Opium Commission, complained that the Constitution was "constantly getting in the way" of his drug war ambitions. Indeed, in domestic politics, there is no Constitutional authorization for a federal drug war whatever. Without a grant of power, the U.S. government is supposed to butt out.

In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed the Harrison Narcotic Act into law. There was no constitutional basis for this, but at least by the time alcohol prohibition came around, it was recognized that the federal government would need constitutional authority to ban liquor. They passed the 18th Amendment and repealed the disaster of alcohol prohibition with the 21st amendment.

By 1937, however, there was no more such deference to Constitutional procedure. That year, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Marijuana Tax Act into law, effectively banning marijuana at the federal level. All the major federal drug laws since then had no Constitutional basis, and all of them seemed to come with general expansions of federal power. Just as Wilson’s ban on heroin and regulation of cocaine came during the activist Progressive Era and marijuana prohibition was part of FDR’s New Deal, the next major wave of federal drug law came in the 1960s, during the Great Society, and culminated in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act just as Nixon was continuing LBJ’s policies of guns and butter.

This relates to the medical marijuana debates since the 1990s. When states began allowing medicinal pot, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both cracked down on their dispensaries, and many advocates of states’ rights decried this violation of federalism. A case went to the Supreme Court on 10th Amendment grounds and all the liberals on the court, all favoring a federal government with few limits on its power, upheld Bush’s raids. Three conservatives dissented, including Clarence Thomas, arguing that the federal government had no authority through the commerce clause to interfere with California’s medical marijuana policy.

If Obama indeed stops the medical marijuana raids, it will probably not be because, as his spokesman says, he believes "that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws." On general questions of policy, including the drug war, Obama and most liberals favor federal supremacy. If California goes through with legalizing marijuana outright, will Obama really do nothing about it? Will the administration actually find ways to crack down on medical marijuana while claiming the operations it’s targeting are not for medical use – as it has done before? Is it possible that Obama, not believing in the constitutional principles at stake, will accelerate other aspects of the drug war?

The Tenth Amendment alone invalidates the federal drug war, and so too does the next one down.

The Ninth Amendment says "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

This means that just because a personal right is not specifically mentioned does not mean the federal government can infringe upon it. Certainly the rights to use and sell drugs are being attacked in this very way.

And in moral terms, this is what the drug war means. It is the denial of self-ownership. Someone who can’t decide what to put in himself does not own himself. The logic of the drug war is that the government owns you.

We look at all the rights trampled in the name of the drug war and we see how all rights are connected. People are denied the right to self-medicate and take the treatment they desire. Not just in regard to illegal drugs either, but those that are regulated.

The Food and Drug Administration is tied at the hip to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The pharmaceutical interests who control federal prescription drug policy have a stake in maintaining a control on what drugs people can do. The FDA, by keeping life-saving drugs off the market, has forced tens and tens of thousand Americans to die prematurely. Mary Ruwart puts the number in the millions.

What would amuse me if it were not tragic is that so many liberals defend the FDA even as they question the drug war. But if you have a right to do drugs to get high, you surely also have a right to do any drug that you think might save your life. Medical freedom in its true sense is totally impossible without drug freedom.

Because of the drug war, the right to travel is impeded, and the right to have and transfer money. Laws against money laundering – itself a victimless crime – have sprung up almost entirely because of the drug war. And anyone who believes that the right to practice free enterprise is important and guaranteed by the Ninth Amendment must necessarily oppose the drug war, which violates free market principles in a million ways.
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