Civil Obedience Against the Drug War

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The Drug War Chronicle reports that antiprohibitionists in Hungary are engaged in a campaign of "civil obedience": turning themselves in as drug users and insisting on prosecution. The protest is aimed at calling attention to Hungary's penalties for drug offenses, which are harsh by European standards: Drug users (including pot smokers) can get two years in prison for simple possession unless they agree to six months of "treatment."

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  1. Are Hungarian prisons as harsh as American ones? I might be willing to spend some time in prison for a good cause, but being repeatedly raped and beaten is another matter.

  2. Civil disobedience? Or freeloading…

  3. I might be willing to spend some time in prison for a good cause, but being repeatedly raped and beaten is another matter.

    Jennifer, Ghandi you are not! Just how strong are your convictions? 🙂

  4. Hungarian prisons are most assuredly, much harsher than American ones. No creature comforts at all. Run by Hun. or Ukrainian mafia.

  5. Sam-
    No, I’m not Gandhi, but neither is the DEA Winston Churchill. Civil disobedience won’t work if your opponent isn’t civil.

  6. They must be high.

  7. Imagine if (I think this is the right number) 14 million in the US did so – not to mention those who did it in the past and no longer do so.

  8. Klay-
    Wouldn’t make a bit of difference. Drug warriors aren’t deterred by failure.

  9. A hell of a lot of people have tried pot at some point. Most of them know, deep down, that it isn’t the end of the world.

    If they all just came out and said it and said publicly that it’s ridiculous to imprison people just for smoking pot, and then voted accordingly then marijuana prohibition would end tomorrow.

    But a lot of people seem to think that even though they did it they really shouldn’t have done it. It wasn’t the end of the world for them, but it was a risky thing that they would have been better off not doing.

    And maybe they’re right. (I’m actually quite puritan in my personal habits, so I actually kind of sympathize with the puritan position on personal behavior.) But even that wouldn’t be enough to keep the drug war going if it weren’t for the final mistake that most of them make: They think that other people really ought to face a legal penalty for doing something potentially risky that they themselves did.

    The drug war won’t be ended with honesty because nobody is willing to admit that their own mistakes shouldn’t form the basis for public policy.

    The drug war will only end if people see just how miserably the public policy has failed. Sadly, things might have to get A LOT worse before they get better. The difference between me and a radical, however, is that I have no interest in making things worse. I’d rather hope that things might get better anyway, because trying to make things even worse would mean that I’d be part of the problem.

    Anyway, I know that was rambling, but that’s my thought on the matter.

  10. Thoreau, you are killing my buzz.

  11. Too many people decide if they had a problem – it was the drugs fault – not theirs for not keeping things in moderation – almost everything is an issue if you do too much of it. I think most people would rather not find fault in themselves.

    I don’t smoke pot anymore (been almost 20 years) – but I never sought other drugs and I think it is better than alcohol.

  12. Well, I spent a year in prison in WV for possession (with intent to deliver assumed) and I want to tell people how futile it is. I got high in prison and got beat up once (slightly) by someone who’d been sharing smuggled grain and was jealous he didn’t get to share the pot.
    When I got out, I was more careful, but still partook for many years.
    The drug war is worse than futile, it’s criminal.

  13. Civil disobedience won’t work if your opponent isn’t civil.

    Well put, Jennifer. A key part of civil disobedience and other pacificistic forms of resistance is the assumption that your opponents are basically good people who can be shamed into realizing that what they are doing is wrong.

    Harry Turtledove once wrote an alternate-history short story called “The Last Article.” During WW2, Nazis invade and occupy British India. Gandhi tries the same civil disobedience tactics against the Nazis that he did against the British. Spoiler warning:

    Gandhi gets a bullet in the head.

  14. kgsam,

    Sorry about that lost year! But I must disagree: The drug war is not criminal, it is simply pure evil. Those that support is are either ignorant fools or evil. If more people had the guts to tell truth to power, we’d have a better world. (I admit I’m not so brave, but I do work the ignorant or evil angle with every friend and family member of mine. I have changed a few minds about the WoD, but I can’t seem to get them to stop voting Republican or Democrat. These sad sacks actually think that their vote matters!)

  15. I’ll agree that it is evil, I don’t think that takes away from its criminality.
    Of course, as a legal term it probably is not technically criminal as the courts don’t care to properly apply the supreme law. People aren’t guilty unless a jury says so and people are guilty whenever a jury says so.

  16. I don’t really consider it a lost year. It was a major diversion in my life.
    Fortunately, I’ve learned to appreciate the evilness of the state on it own merits.

  17. I think it could be considered criminal considering that the Controlled Substance Act is a misuse of the Commerce Clause. How it passes the Constitutional mustard is beyond me.

  18. I stand (sit?) corrected.

  19. How it passes the Constitutional mustard is beyond me.

    The Supreme Court Justices need to ketchup on their understanding of the Constitution.

  20. Unless and until the people, in sufficient numbers, understand the constitution, the principles of liberty, and morality, we are lost.

  21. But I must disagree: The drug war is not criminal, it is simply pure evil.

    Evil, yes, but no more so than progressive tax rates are. Or vice laws, or zoning laws, or any of countless other things the government does that totally violate an individual’s rights just because 51% of the public wants them violated.

    Civil disobedience won’t work if your opponent isn’t civil.

    The DEA has more than its fair share of thugs. But it just isn’t credible to claim that it is less civil than the British occupation was.

    There are many reasons why civil disobedience won’t work, but the main one is that using drugs is voluntary, while being Indian (or black) isn’t. If you’re being oppressed because you’re black, you really have no alternative other than to resist your oppressors — you can’t stop being black. But if you’re being oppressed because you use drugs, you always have the option to simply stop using drugs. So any would-be disobedience movement is going to have a hard time recruiting, because unlike Gandhi and King they aren’t dealing with an audience that is trapped in a situation with no available exits.

    Then, of course, there’s the fact that the average middle-class drug user never does jail time for drugs. So telling him “I want you to do jail time in order to make drugs legal” is, even if it works, still asking him to do more jail time than he’d normally have to do. Again, hard to recruit people that way. Most of them would rather just smoke pot and hope they don’t get unlucky.

  22. Perhaps we could legalize drugs by having Ron Paul slip some obscurely worded amendment into a 2,500 page omnibus farm bill or something.

    Then everybody finds out that on page 1,423 there’s a provision that ends drug prohibition.

    And if we ask the Congressmen why they voted for it without reading if, they can just say:

    I was gonna go vote nay,
    But I got high,
    I was gonna vote that amendment down,
    But I got high,
    Ba-da-da,
    I ended the drug war and I know why,
    (why man?)
    Because I got high, because I got high, because I got high!

  23. I mean, how hard would it be for a hard-core libertarian to produce something that’s obscurely worded and hard for your average politician to understand?

  24. A hell of a lot of people have tried pot at some point. Most of them know, deep down, that it isn’t the end of the world.

    If they all just came out and said it and said publicly that it’s ridiculous to imprison people just for smoking pot, and then voted accordingly then marijuana prohibition would end tomorrow.

    I agree 100%

    I have a friend who has smoked pot in the past (as well as other acts that Republicans think should be illegal), but she now clerks for a Republican judge. It makes my head explode that she continues to vote republican, when, if they had their way, she would have been in jail and now have a criminal record. Whenever I try to persuade her to vote libertarian, she reluctantly admits that she probably should, but she has to vote republican to keep out the evil, hated democrats. This is someone who reads Coulter’s books, so beating the hated enemy takes precedence over what she knows and admits is common sense. Argh!

  25. Dan is dead on.

    I smoke pot, but I’m not sticking my neck out for a bunch of stoners. With my luck, they would forget to show up the day we all decided to turn ourselves in.

    “Oh man! I thought we said next Tuesday. Sorry dude.”

    Plus, I don’t think the plan would work even if we all showed up. If the millions of non-violent drug offenders we currently have locked down aren?t enough to convince everyone that prohibition is a waste of our time, what difference will a couple million more make?

  26. It makes my head explode that she continues to vote republican, when, if they had their way, she would have been in jail and now have a criminal record.

    The typical election is between an pro-war-on-drugs Democrat, a pro-war-on-drugs Republican, and a few third-party fruitcakes with enough crazy ideas to drown out their few good ones. So why the exploding head? You make it sound like there’s a viable political party that’s pro-legalization. As if!

    Anyway, what you’re missing is that while, sure, most people who tried drugs know they aren’t that bad, they also don’t do drugs anymore. That makes it something of an abstract issue for them — they may know at some level that the war on drugs harms their rights and costs them a lot of money, but there are plenty of issues that cost them rights and money that hit a LOT closer to home. Taxes, for example.

  27. I mean, how hard would it be for a hard-core libertarian to produce something that’s obscurely worded and hard for your average politician to understand?

    Huh?

  28. The typical election is between an pro-war-on-drugs Democrat, a pro-war-on-drugs Republican, and a few third-party fruitcakes with enough crazy ideas to drown out their few good ones.

    Dan, you got it right. But Reagan did push up the WoD several manitudes from where Jimmy Carter had it and its been on that pace since. In addition, the Republicans did ratchet up accusations of “being soft on drugs” during their minority reign in the 90’s, especially when it came to Clinton and his “I did not inhale” bullshit, meanwhile, they speak of nada over Bush’s “youthful indescretion” equal bullshit. Republicans in general leave the biggest, foulest stench all over the WoD, even moreso than what they could force a few democrats.

    Therefore, the political path of least resistance to end the WoD does lean to the D’s at this given time. If a true small gov’t republican who truly believes in personal liberties with personal responsibility (similar to former Gov Johnson) stood up, then maybe the Republicans can could be a party of reason. Knowing where former DA John Kerry stood on drugs, I would have rather taken my chances with him as President. But alas, I am not a single issue voter.

  29. s.a.m.-

    The counter-argument is that drug reform will have to come from the GOP for the same reason that only Nixon could go to China. I’m not convinced, but it’s worth pondering.

    One reason to give some credence to that theory is the nature of the objections usually touted from each camp. Lefty critics of the drug war are more likely to complain about the way it gives the cops more power and hurts minorities. Voters who worry about crime might dismiss concerns about police power, and complaints about the effect on minority groups make it sound like the complainer is putting narrow factional interests ahead of the overall public interest. Yes, there are other criticisms that some left-leaning types will make, but those are the ones I encounter most frequently in the media.

    Conservative critics of the drug war are often free-marketeers who focus on the fundamental failure of prohibition and the way that it fuels crime. Harder to mistake them for “soft on crime”, and talking about the failures of prohibition sounds more like a general concern for society, not just a narrow interest group.

    Of course, the biggest problem is that the drug reformers on both sides are few and far between. They may be more numerous and/or persuasive on one side or the other, but they are rare on both sides. In the end, though, I favor the “only Nixon could go to China” theory.

    Sadly, I suspect it will be a while before the drug reform movement discovers its Nixon. In the mean time, we’ll have to work hard for victories on the margin (rehab rather than incarceration, medical pot, etc.). Sad but true.

  30. especially when it came to Clinton and his “I did not inhale” bullshit, meanwhile, they speak of nada over Bush’s “youthful indescretion” equal bullshit.

    And the Democrats ignored Clinton’s bullshit and are still hammering on Bush’s bullshit. I don’t see how you’re getting “the Democrats are better” out of that. It sounds to me like both parties are playing up the “drugs=bad” thing and differ only in which politicians’ drug use they criticize/deny.

    Therefore, the political path of least resistance to end the WoD does lean to the D’s at this given time.

    I don’t follow the reasoning that led you to that conclusion. The examples you cite of Republicans being measurably worse than Democrats are from twenty years ago or more. If we were having this conversation in 1979 I wouldn’t be arguing with you: the Republicans were, back then, inarguably worse on drug issues. But this is 2005, and every major Democrat is a drug war hawk, and there is no measurable difference in the two parties’ drug-war positions.

  31. …the drug reform movement discovers its Nixon.

    *shudder*

  32. dead elvis-

    Good point. Murphy’s Law says that the president who legalizes drugs will be a disaster in every other regard.

  33. Probaby drugs will be legalized to provide a tax base for some new handout for the elderly. God forbid they should actually pay for something themselves — they’re only the richest demographic in the country, after all.

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