Since the passage of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, the “War on Drugs” has been a ubiquitous term in the United States, when Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “Public Enemy Number One”. Since that time, cannabis enforcement has led to countless systemic violations of natural rights predominantly in communities without the resources to adequately defend themselves, and unseen tertiary effects that impact every facet of society. While public perception of cannabis use is changing for the better, and almost two thirds of Delawareans support legalization, continued illegality (lesser possession is still a civil offense and possession of more than an ounce is a crime) of cannabis in Delaware has continued to provide law enforcement a legal foothold to violate the natural rights of our citizens and waste expropriated resources.
The idea of natural rights stem from the concept of self-ownership and extends to those things justly acquired through innovation and labor. While the phrase “natural rights” does not appear in our governing documents, the concept is a prevalent theme throughout our Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Jefferson substituted ‘the pursuit of happiness’ for John Locke’s original ‘property’). Protections of these natural rights are codified in the first ten amendments of the Constitution of the United States. The most appropriate for this conversation, the fourth amendment, reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…” In identifying cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug with “no currently accepted medical use and high potential for abuse” and criminalizing its use, distribution, and possession, state and federal governments have given law enforcement the mechanism to unreasonably search citizens on the grounds of probable cause. Despite being ‘decriminalized’, the civil penalties for possession still allow law enforcement to conduct searches, and products of those searches are still admissible in legal proceedings. In any other situation, the products of these searches would otherwise be considered fruit of the poisonous tree and considered inadmissible for establishing probable cause. While there isn’t a lot of sympathy for the stereotypical drug user, the normalization of cannabis use for recreational and therapeutic purposes makes this abuse of legal authority a greater threat every day for people who have no other valid reason to be subject to police scrutiny. As cannabis use is normalized, more taxpayer resources will be wasted in the pursuit of low hanging fruit without significant reform of cannabis law.
The impact of cannabis control is not relegated strictly to users either. Despite partial decriminalization in 2016, Operation Summer Harvest, conducted by 10 state and federal agencies, seized 107 marijuana plants in South Delaware. In the same year, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) listed 25,274 natural law crimes ranging from murder, rape, assault, theft, robbery and arson. The excessive focus on enforcement of Drug and Narcotic crimes in Delaware has led to a 93% clearance rate (number of charges filed compared to crimes reported) while the clearance rates for violent crimes is substantially lower at 74% over all, 49% for homicides, 62% for sex offenses (50% for rape specifically), and 37% for robbery. Despite the decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis in Delaware, and while criminal offenses for simple possession have decreased by 4% between 2016 and 2017, civil offenses levied by law enforcement have increased by 98%. Law enforcement has a legitimate responsibility to investigate the violations of property and person for prosecution. While the ultimate responsibility falls on policy makers and not necessarily law enforcement personnel, the misallocation of personnel and resources toward the enforcement of cannabis laws has created a notable deficiency in the ability of the state to hold to account those who commit violent crimes, leaving thousands of victims without resolution of their cases, creating a lack of confidence in law enforcement to comply with their sworn duties, and placing an undue burden on already overtasked systems of justice.
While there are countless reasons to consider legalization for therapeutic and recreational use, ranging from chronic pain relief to anxiety reduction, from creating agribusiness opportunities in the state to the fiscal benefits to our state budget, the most critical reason stands that individuals own and have agency over their own bodies. The current legal status of cannabis can continue to provide countless opportunities for the violation of civil rights, or we can completely legalize home grow, possession, and recreational and therapeutic use, and reaffirm the principle that as long as we do no harm to others, we are free to do with ourselves as we please and focus our collective efforts on the protections of life, liberty and property.
Sean is a retired 16 year Air Force Veteran with service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Southwestern College graduate currently works in logistics and serves as State Chair for the Libertarian Party of Delaware.