United States is, undeniably, the leader of the free
world. When most people, especially Americans, think
of freedom, the first country to enter their thoughts
is the United States. With this leadership role comes
the responsibility to set an example for the rest of
the world, particularly when the United States uses
human rights as a bargaining chip when deciding policy
about trade relations with other countries. What most
Americans do not realize is that the United Statesï¿½
human rights status has slowly but surely degraded over
the past century. The United States is not even in the
top ten of the United Nationï¿½s Human Freedom Index, thanks in great part to the fact that the United States has
nearly one million people in prison for consensual (sometimes
referred to as victimless) crimes. In order for any country to claim
that it is truly free, laws should only be constructed
to protect the person and property of non-consenting
adults from physical injury. Laws against consensual
activities breed real crime, cost hundreds of billions
of dollars, corrupt law enforcement, corrupt the justice
system, corrupt the government, violate the Constitution
and the Bill of Rights, and force the United States
into a position of patent hypocrisy.
Consensual crimes are most properly defined as any
crime in which there is no victim. These kinds of crimes
were often referred to as victimless crimes, until,
that is, real criminals began to co-opt the word when
trying to justify their actions, like robbing a bank
or stealing from a large corporation. Clearly, these
kinds of crimes are not victimless, but nevertheless,
most people still find it hard to separate the two.
Consensual crimes actually are victimless. There is
nobody to report the crime, since there is nobody who
has fallen victim to it. Typically, the victim of a
crime is also the individual who reports that crime
to the authorities. If a person gets mugged, that person
goes to the police. But who reports a crime in which
all participants are completely willing and consent
to the activity? If a person is utilizing the ï¿½servicesï¿½
of a prostitute, for instance, who reports the incident?
Unless there is a law enforcement officer watching (or
entrapping) the prostitute and or her customer, nobody
involved in the crime would claim any grievance. There
are many such ï¿½crimesï¿½ on the law books of most states,
including (but certainly not limited to) gambling, drug
use, prostitution, many kinds of pornography, adultery,
fornication (fooling around with somebody who you are
not married to), cohabitation (living with somebody
of the opposite sex who you are not married to), polygamy,
homosexuality, seat belt and motorcycle helmet requirements,
and suicide. The common thread amongst all of these
ï¿½crimesï¿½ is unmistakable; even when all those involved
in these activities are consenting adults, one can go
to jail for doing them.
Thomas Jefferson once said that ï¿½the legitimate powers
of government extend to such acts only as are injurious
yet the United States government obviously feels it
is perfectly legitimate to imprison over 750,000 people
who did absolutely no injury to anybody, except on some
occasions, themselves. Approximately 3,000,000 people
are on parole or probation for consensual crimes, and
ï¿½more than 4,000,000 people are arrested each yearï¿½
for participating in consensual activities.
Thanks in great part to the prosecution of consensual
crimes (especially the war on drugs), the United States
has one of the highest per-capita homicide rates in
the entire world, as well as one of the highest incarceration
rates in the industrialized world. Compared to the Netherlands,
a country with very few laws against consensual crimes
(which is reflected in their 3rd place status
on the United Nations Human Freedom Index), the United
States had 4.5 times the homicide rate per-capita, and
over 8 times the incarceration rate.
Some might suggest that the cause of the higher crime
rate in the United States is due to factors other than
the illegality of consensual crimes, but considering
that about 50% of all individuals in prison in the United
States are there for committing consensual crimes, it is hard
to support that theory.
Perhaps the single greatest example of the disastrous
affects of the prosecution of consensual crimes is the
war on drugs. The prohibition of substances such as
marijuana, cocaine, heroine, and countless other drugs
has done little to curb addiction, but has cost
the United States about 40 billion dollars a year,
not to mention the millions of lives ruined (or lost)
while fighting this ï¿½warï¿½. Making drugs illegal forces
their market and their use underground, where it is
impossible to regulate, and nearly impossible to help
those who abuse these substances. Nobody has ever heard
of somebody getting shot over a pack of cigarettes (which,
by the way, has directly killed far more people
than all illegal drugs combined), but
it is all too common to get killed over a gram of cocaine.
If cocaine was not illegal, its price would be comparable
(another popular amphetamine), and addicts would hardly
have to kill to raise the funds to sustain their habit.
Many drugs are obviously dangerous, and those that choose
to take them are risking quite a bit for their high,
but making those choices illegal creates a whole slew
of new, far more dangerous problems that not only those
who make that choice must deal with, but society as
a whole must deal with. Abraham Lincoln put it best
when he said, ï¿½a prohibition law strikes a blow at the
very principles upon which our government was foundedï¿½
it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to
control a man's appetite by legislation and makes a
crime out of things that are not crime.ï¿½ The war on
drugs is, in reality, a war on personal freedom.
Many attempt to rationalize all of this away by falling
back on the notion that if drugs were legalized, drug
use would skyrocket, and the problems associated with
drugs would skyrocket with them, so criminalization
is the better of two evils. There are two problems with
this reasoning. First, there is no data which supports
the conclusion that drug use would increase if legalized.
When the Netherlands began their very tolerant drug
policy program, their rate of use increased temporarily,
but soon dramatically dropped off, and eventually settled
at a rate of use between 2 and 10 times lower
than what it was before legalization, depending on the
drug in question.
The Netherlands isnï¿½t alone in their results either.
When the United States ending prohibition in the 1930ï¿½s,
alcohol use dropped off dramatically, although it remained
higher than it was before Prohibition started in the
first place. Secondly,
the majority of the problems often associated with drugs,
such as violent crime and health risks, are not caused
by the drugs themselves, but instead by the fact they
are illegal. People die from heroine overdoses most
often because of impurities in the heroine (which are
often added to increase the weight, thereby increasing
the sale price), and uncertainty of the proper dosage.
The same goes for cocaine and most of the other illegal
If these and all other drugs were legal, they could
be regulated by the government, and the dangers of doing
these drugs would decrease dramatically. In addition,
once legalized, the price would fall and crime related
to these drugs would drop off dramatically. Both of
these conclusions are supported by the results that
the Netherlands has had.
Laws against consensual crimes are often justified
under the premise that if something is considered immoral,
it should also be illegal. The reasoning goes something
like: murder is immoral, and it is illegal, therefore
all things that are immoral should also be illegal,
or all things illegal are also immoral. The fallacy
in this logic is a classic case of non sequitur. Yes,
murder is illegal, but it is not illegal because it
is immoral. Murder is illegal because a society which
condones murder would fall into anarchy, and
the act of murder can be prevented legitimately by government
because it involves the physical harm of a non-consenting
other. Similarly, stealing is typically considered immoral,
and it is also illegal, but it is not illegal
because it is immoral. The idea of what powers
the government legitimately has is outlined clearly
in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The 1st
Amendment to the Constitution states that ï¿½Congress
shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging
the freedom of speechï¿½ï¿½ The framers of the Constitution
were very careful when crafting this famous document,
and were vague when they wanted to be vague and specific
when they wanted to be specific. The fact that the 1st
Amendmentï¿½s ï¿½no lawï¿½ clause could cover almost any act
(since pretty much everything could be treated as ï¿½religiousï¿½
or ï¿½speechï¿½), but is very specific about forbidding
Congress from making any law respecting those acts,
suggests that the framers would be apposed to any laws
against consensual activities. This is further supported
by the independent writings and speeches of many of
the founding fathers. This alone wouldnï¿½t necessarily
be enough to abolish these laws, since the founders
viewed the Constitution as a ï¿½livingï¿½ document, and
that it should be modified (carefully) as the needs
of the country changed. But the Constitution (which,
again, outlines the legitimate powers of government
- sometimes referred to as the law), coupled
with the plainly documented detrimental affects of the
illegality of consensual activities, provides clear
and sound reasoning to justify the disposal of these
violations of human rights.
To thoroughly explore the issue of consensual crimes
would take many hundreds of pages (692 pages, to be
exact), and is beyond the scope of this brief overview.
Many of the facts used to criticize the United Statesï¿½
policies come directly from studies funded by the government
themselves, and are cataloged brilliantly in Ainï¿½t
Nobodyï¿½s Business if You Do ï¿½ the Absurdity of Consensual
Crimes in Our Free Country, by Peter McWilliams.
The book is available online, for free, at http://www.mcwilliams.com.
Tragically, and ironically, Peter McWilliams died in
2000 by choking on his own vomit because a judge would
not let him smoke the marijuana he needed to help him
keep his cancer medication down. Who Peter McWilliams
was hurting when he smoked a joint in the privacy of
his own home is beyond reason.
Freedom is not an all or nothing kind of issue. The
United States is obviously a far freer country than
China, or Cuba, or all but 12 other countries around
the world, but the millions of people in the United
States who have had their lives dramatically changed,
ruined, or destroyed by consensual crime laws donï¿½t
care about how much better the United States is than
other countries. People must educate themselves about
the facts surrounding the many laws they take for granted
every day, for ï¿½if a nation expects to be ignorant and
freeï¿½ it expects what never was and never will be.ï¿½
Human Freedom Index
ï¿½ p. 3
ï¿½ p. 3
Netherlands and the United Statesï¿½
and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugsï¿½
ï¿½ p. 150
McWilliams ï¿½ p. 150
ï¿½The Netherlands and the United Statesï¿½
McWilliams ï¿½ p. 494
McWilliams ï¿½ pp. 291, 292
Bowman, Rebecca. ï¿½Jeffersonï¿½s Religious Beliefs.ï¿½ Monticello.
Thomas Jefferson ï¿½ï¿½ Foundation. 19 May 2002.
Levine, Harry G., Ph. D. ï¿½Has the War on Drugs reduced
addiction? ï¿½ No.ï¿½ Moyers on Addiction. PBS Online. 19
McWilliams, Peter. Ainï¿½t Nobodyï¿½s Business if You
Do ï¿½ the Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free
Country. 1996. Prelude Press.
ï¿½Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the
War on Drugsï¿½ May 2000. Vol 12, Num 2. Human Rights
Watch. 19 May 2002.
Szasc, Thomas. ï¿½A Brief
History of Drugsï¿½. Cerimonal Chemistry. ï¿½ï¿½ Doubleday/Anchor. Garden City, New York, 1975. 19 May 2002.
ï¿½The Human Freedom Indexï¿½. United Nations Development Programme Report. ï¿½ï¿½
1991. MIT. 19 May 2002.
ï¿½The Netherlands and the United States.ï¿½ Drug War Facts.
Common Sense for Drug Policy. 19 May 2002.
White, Larry C. ï¿½Cigarettes on Trial: The Public Health
Balancing Actï¿½ Priorities. ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ 1991. Vol 3, Num 4. American
Council on Science and Health. 19 May 2002.