January 20, 2020
John Locke on Drugsby Ballard Quass
It's funny. I've read and re-read Locke's Treatises on Government, and I have yet to discover a principle whereby government can justifiably confiscate the naturally occurring substances to which we have legally claimed ownership. To the contrary, section 26 of his Second Treatise of Government (Book 2) tells us:
"The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being."
You'll notice that Locke did not say, ""The earth, and all that is therein, with the obvious exception of psychoactive plants, which the government may justifiably confiscate at will, while vigorously persecuting the owner of the property upon which said demon-plants reside."
Thomas Jefferson shared Locke's views on property, insofar as he wrote to Virginia Lawyer Samuel Kercheval:
"A right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to satisfy these wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the similar rights of other sensible beings."
In other words, Jefferson understood the right to property as existing under natural law.
We cannot therefore suppose that Jeffersonian democracy would countenance a common law exception to property rights based on a politicized scare campaign about dangerous substances - least of all one in which the Drug Warriors claim that alcohol and tobacco, the two most dangerous drugs in the world, are going to be exceptions to the substance criminalization that they otherwise advocate.
Certainly, Jefferson had no need of referencing a list of government-banned plants before arranging his extensive and ever-changing gardens at Monticello. Why? Because Jefferson considered that his right to his own botanical property was self-evident, based on natural law, and thus not subject to abridgement by the common law of a politically motivated government. What's more this ban on government meddling was meant for all time, insofar as natural law is considered to be both universal and immutable.
We conclude therefore that the DEA violates the rational dictates of natural law when it criminalizes naturally occurring plants, and that it is therefore not simply the right of Americans to protest this usurpation, but their duty. For the Drug War represents a repudiation of the principles upon which this country was founded, especially property rights as defined by John Locke (i.e., the right to "the earth and all that is therein").
Considered in this light, the DEA's 1987 confiscation of poppy plants from Monticello should have been a wakeup call for America. In this action, the DEA was demonstrating its scorn for both Locke's natural law and the unalienable rights as alluded to (and partially enumerated) by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson's poppy plants simply had to go. Why? Because the government had decided that this particular bit of personal property was somehow "bad" in and of itself.
Thus the common law was suffered to triumph over natural law, getting things precisely backwards from the Founding Fathers' point of view. And so the champions of Big Government won the day, committing brazen-faced robbery - of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, no less -- under the disingenuous and hypocritical banner of a superstition: the idea that some plant medicines are evil and somehow beyond the ability of free human beings to use wisely.
It was the age of the Christian Science propaganda campaign known as "just say no," when Americans were not only persuaded by the government's superstitious beliefs about plant medicines, but went so far as to renounce their privacy rights in a bid to show their patriotic support of America's new secular religion known as the Drug War, practically vying with one another to be the first to offer their urine for drug testing to demonstrate their allegiance to the new anti-Jeffersonian status quo. Through drug testing, the true believers could be separated from America's new class of enemies, those who, like Jefferson, dared to consider their right to Mother Nature's bounty as unalienable, as established by natural law. Thus big business conspired with government to ruin the lives of those who dared help themselves to Mother Nature's plants in defiance of politically motivated common law.
It was in this anti-American atmosphere that the sight of jackboots invading Monticello failed to arouse so much as a whimper in the hoi polloi. (But was not the freedom-loving Thomas Jefferson literally spinning in his grave!) But then values were all askew back then. This was the era when Bush and Reagan were encouraging children to turn their parents in to the police for using politically stigmatized substances, a law-enforcement strategy that would have earned kudos from Joseph Stalin. What better proof that the drug-war is anti-democratic than that it leads to the normalization of such chilling totalitarian political tactics.
Ominously, this normalization of government evil has continued apace since the DEA's Monticello raid, as the latest Drug War movies from Hollywood openly extol the virtues of torture and murder as means of separating humankind from the therapeutic plants of Mother Nature. In "Running with the Devil," DEA agent Natalie Reyes tortures one "drug suspect" and murders another, in a plot whose script seeks to render her as the hero of the film, a no-nonsense fascist determined to separate humankind from Mother Nature's plants at any price - even that of turning America into a totalitarian police state. If millions of the depressed and lonely have gone without godsend rain forest medicines for 50 years thanks to her agency's ban on drug research, that's not Natalie's problem. She's just doing her job, that is, killing "scumbags" (meaning any Americans who dare to make use of the plants and fungi that grow at their very feet).
The popularity of such fascist-friendly films is a measure of the Drug War's success in alienating Americans from the Jeffersonian legacy of personal freedom and goading us toward the acceptance of a new totalitarianism based on the demonization of Mother Nature's plants. This is an anti-American power grab by anti-Jeffersonian fascists who tell us: "Your pursuit of happiness may go thus far and no farther, lest we confiscate your property and throw you in jail."
The government thus legislates as if Thomas Jefferson had added the following footnote to the Declaration of Independence: "Of course, these natural rights must give way should the government find it politically expedient to insert common law in their stead."
Such a fascist power grab cries out for refutation and pushback by freedom lovers throughout the country - and throughout the world, in light of America's Drug War colonialism, whereby we financially blackmail our trading partners into toeing our government's own superstitious party line about naturally occurring psychoactive substances.
"But actual liberty is dangerous!" cries the Chicken Little Drug Warrior.
Of course, any naturally occurring object can be dangerous when misused -- whether we're talking about Jefferson's riding horses or his poppy plants -- but so what? Nothing in Lockean theory limits a citizen's right to Mother Nature's bounty based on the danger that such liberty might seem to pose in the jaundiced eye of a busybody observer, let alone in the impersonal eye of a jealous and power-usurping government. For when it comes to the natural law on which our rights are founded, John Locke understood what the Drug Warrior has long forgotten, that mere things are neither good nor bad: only people are. Hence it follows that correcting behavior in a free society involves working with people to improve their lives, not scapegoating the ever-changing list of personal property with which we associate their bad or dangerous behavior as time goes by.
This basic understanding is implicit in everything that Locke wrote about natural rights: that people, not things, may be good or bad. If he did not always mention this explicitly, it was only because he never thought that a rational people could be so misled by political propaganda as to come to doubt such a manifest truth.