Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger and Cato Institute Executive Vice President David Boaz took part in an Oct. 1 Federalist Society event titled “Modern Prohibition: Has the Drug War Been a 40-Year Failure?”
Boaz led off the discussion by stating that it is “simply wrong to tell adults what food, drugs or drink they can put in their bodies.”
He pointed out that while it took a congressional amendment (the 18th) to ban the manufacturing, transportation and sale of alcohol within the United States, no amendment was ever passed to ban or regulate drugs such as marijuana, heroin or cocaine.
The drug war, Boaz said, has been “an illegal and unconstitutional usurpation of a power never granted to the federal government.”
He noted that the murder rate rose during the 14 years of Prohibition and declined after the 21st Amendment repealed the ban on alcohol in 1933.
“Crime is caused by prohibition, not the drugs,” Boaz said.
Shellenberger agreed with Boaz that the nation had not “won” the war on drugs but said this was no time to abandon the fight.
“Say there’s a semi-tractor-trailer driver behind you – how many of you would be happy if that guy had just smoked a couple of doobies?” he asked.
Shellenberger also wondered if people would be willing to trust their retirement account to a manager who smoked marijuana.
He disagreed that legalization would end criminal behavior related to drugs, citing current “turf wars” in Baltimore over Oxycontin, a prescription painkiller that was stolen in bulk from pharmacies during rioting this spring.
Concluded Shellenberger: “The war on drugs is not a failure; it’s an ongoing struggle.”
Professor Amy Dillard moderated the noontime discussion, which was held in the moot courtroom.