Forbes on Drugs

During the dismal 1996 presidential campaign, Steve Forbes was the only "serious" candidate who looked even remotely appealing to me. In fact, I was highly frustrated when he dropped out of the race.

Perhaps, as John J. Pitney Jr. suggests ("Capitalist Tool Time," July), Forbes will again be the most tolerable candidate in 2000. But his vocal advocacy of the war on drugs (which I wasn't aware of in 1996) will be a bitter pill for me to swallow, even though, as Pitney notes, most likely every other major-party candidate will endorse drug war dogmas.

I'd like to be able to ask Forbes a couple of questions to see if his position on the drug war is one I can live with: Given that the resources of the criminal justice system are limited, if he wishes to maintain drug prohibition, which does he consider a higher priority: consensual drug offenses, or violent and predatory crime? Which is more important to Forbes, fighting drugs or defending the Constitution? Would he favor eliminating all "drug exceptions" to the Bill of Rights and requiring the police to respect citizens' rights, even if that means fewer drug arrests and convictions? Would he make a serious effort to halt civil-liberties horrors, such as no-knock drug raids on the homes of people who turn out to be innocent and asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement officials to seize property without trial? Or does he share the all-too-common view that this is a "war on drugs" and it's OK for civil liberties to be shoved aside during "wartime"?

Forbes's answers to these questions could determine whether I vote for him (if I get the chance this time) or once again "waste my vote" on the Libertarian Party candidate.

Bill Henley

Mr. Pitney states that while Steve Forbes is not the perfect candidate, who else is there? Libertarians will never get a good candidate if they settle for someone with Steve Forbes's qualities. The war against drugs has fueled domestic budget growth as well being one of the chief reasons that the Bill of Rights is shrinking and we are losing our privacy. Unless we choke off the drug war, we have nothing to look forward to other than growth in the prison-industrial complex and the loss of our precious freedom.

Henry Schwan
Seagoville, TX

Threats and Intimidation

Jacob Sullum appears to have fallen head over heels for the lies of the pro-life movement ("Mouths Sued Shut," July). The real facts are:

1) No one has ever gone on record as opposing pro-lifers' right to free speech, except when that speech becomes either a threat of force or screaming-in-your-face harassment. Do you really believe that it's anti-liberty to restrict those?

2) Perhaps blocking doorways to abortion clinics should be labeled coercion rather than extortion. It's still a use of force, and should be banned, and the ban should be enforced.

3) The pro-life movement, and the leaders of Operation Rescue in particular (including its jailed founder) have been on record many times with the message: "Our ideal is a country where abortion may be legal, but no one can obtain one." If that isn't proof that they use force in order to intimidate abortion providers and customers out of their legal rights to do business, what is?

John David Galt

Jacob Sullum replies: As I noted, the use of force or threats to disrupt abortion clinics is already illegal under state and federal law. RICO lawsuits are not needed to punish crimes such as trespassing and assault; they are needed to cast a wider net, punishing provocative speech that can be said to encourage such crimes. And although the plaintiffs are ostensibly seeking compensation, the real aim is not obtaining damages but encouraging self-censorship.

Abusing Guns

Max Schulz's "Smoking Guns" (July) detailing Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell's threatened lawsuit against the firearm industry missed the mark on a number of key observations about our industry and the American Shooting Sports Council.

While the mayor's political posturing definitely prompted our initial meeting (lawsuits after all are terribly expensive even if you hold the winning hand), our subsequent discussions resulted from the industry's sincere and legitimate concerns over the criminal abuse of our products.

This willingness to open a dialogue is hardly evidence of our attempting to "buy off" anyone. Nor have we "acquiesced" to any of Rendell's draconian demands, as Schulz claims. To the contrary, I emphatically told reporters immediately following Rendell's speech at our Washington conference that the industry would oppose such proposals as one gun purchase per month, or anything like a gun ban.

As I informed the mayor, along with representatives of the U. S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, and the National Association of Counties at our most recent meeting (June 8), we must all begin thinking beyond the "box" that has thus far limited the debate over criminal violence and firearms if we are to advance towards cooperative solutions.

That is what this colloquy is all about. To wit: a reasoned, rational discourse which seeks realistic, workable solutions to a problem that plagues us all.

Richard J. Feldman
Executive Director
American Shooting Sports Council Inc.
Atlanta, GA

Max Schulz replies: I sympathize mightily with the position in which Mayor Rendell has placed the firearms industry, threatening legal action modeled on the tobacco lawsuits if it doesn't give into his demands. It is as if the mayor were shooting at gunmakers' feet and insisting they dance.

The ASSC's tactic of suing for peace might work. Then again it might not. Since the story ran, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has made it known he is considering a similar lawsuit against gun manufacturers. Other mayors may pile on board. Good luck.

Crop Yields

In "Deadly Crop" (Citings, June), Jacob Sullum cites Marijuana News, saying Thomas Jefferson "raised more than 100 acres of hemp, which was used to make sailcloth and rigging." So far so good. But then he says, "With a typical yield of 150 plants per square yard, multiplied by 4,840 square yards per acre, that's more than 70 million plants per year."

One hundred fifty plants per square yard allows 8.64 square inches per plant, a space less than three inches square, which would produce small, weak, spindly hemp. And simply multiplying the square yards per acre by 100 acres doesn't allow for roads and paths through the acreage, which are essential for planting, weeding, and harvest.

As a convicted cannabis grower, I would consider 10 plants per square yard a much more realistic figure. But even at that, Jefferson would have been growing close to 5 million plants, enough for him to be executed under the 1995 Omnibus Crime Control Act 80 times over.

Rycke Brown
Southern Arizona
Correctional Release Center
Tucson, AZ

Jacob Sullum replies: While I defer to Mr. Brown's expertise, the estimate of 150 plants per square yard is from Marijuana News.