Drug-War Tyranny in Its Purest Form

by Jacob G. Hornberger
Dec. 17, 2012

Stephanie George, who is now 42 years old, has spent the last 15 years of her life in jail. That might turn out to be a short period of time, given that her sentence is life without parole. She has no hope of ever being released from jail. Her crime? Living in a house in which her boyfriend maintained a lockbox hidden in the attic that had a half-kilogram of cocaine in it. The judge said that the lockbox was evidence that George was helping her boyfriend sell drugs.

Forty-seven year old Kenneth Harvey received the same sentence -- life without parole. His crime? He got caught with a vial of cocaine worth $300. Because he had two previous drug convictions, both of which he had received probation for, this subjected him to a mandatory life sentence.

Forty-one year old Scott Walker is also serving a life sentence. His crime? He was a drug addict who financed his addiction by selling drugs to friends. That earned him a mandatory life sentence.

Thirty-eight year old Reynolds Wintersmith is also serving a life sentence. His crime? When he was 17 years old, he got involved in selling crack. He has now spent half his life behind bars.

Robert Riley, 60, has been behind bars for 19 years. His crime? Conspiring to distribute hits of LSD dissolved on pieces of blotter paper. In order to pass the threshold that would give Riley a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole, the feds added the weight of the blotter paper to the miniscule weight of the LSD.

No, none of these people killed anyone. They didn't rob anyone. They didn't steal from anyone. Their actions were entirely peaceful, voluntary, and consensual.

Now, consider HSBC, the world's third-largest bank. The feds accused it of illegally laundering billions of dollars of drug money.

HSBC's sentence? Oh, it received no sentence at all. In fact, the feds didn't even secure a criminal indictment against the bank. Instead, they let the bank off the hook by settling for a fine of $1.2 billion, which equals about two months' worth of bank profits.

What's the difference between Stephanie George, Kenneth Harvey, Scott Walker, Reynolds Wintersmith, and, Robert Riley on the one hand, and HSBC, on the other?

Money and power. The people who received the life sentences were poor and lacked political influence. The fact that three of them are black certainly didn't help. HSBC, on the other hand, is composed of rich and powerful people, most of whom are undoubtedly white.

Federal officials said that they were concerned that a criminal indictment of HSBC could destabilize the global financial system. But given the slap on the wrist to HSBC, where's the justice in keeping those five people in jail? Indeed, where's the justice in keeping any non-violent drug offender in jail, especially when they're letting the rich and powerful off the hook for non-violent drug offenses?

No reasonable person can read about the plight of those five people without feeling a deep sense of indignation and outrage. Every American owes it to himself to read what the government, federal or state, has done to those five people. Here are two articles by John Tierney from the New York Times that detail their real-life drug-war horror story:

For Lesser Crimes, Rethinking Life Behind Bars

Life Without Parole: Four Inmates' Stories

Here's an NYT article detailing the special treatment accorded HSBC:

HSBC to Pay $1.92 Billion to Settle Charges of Money Laundering

Those five drug-war inmates are just the tip of the iceberg. The United States now incarcerates more people than even communist China, and their beloved, decades-long drug war provides government officials with the ability to do so.

But the horrible length of those jail sentences doesn't really go to the core of the problem. The real question is: Under what moral authority does the government punish people for doing something that is really none of the government's business?

Consider Stephanie George's case. Suppose she did know what was in that lockbox. Suppose she was helping her boyfriend sell drugs. So what? Why is that the business of federal busybodies? It's not. It's none of their business. People have the natural and God-given right to own anything they want, ingest whatever they want, and buy and sell whatever they want. It's called freedom.

Our American ancestors understood that. That's why they never permitted drug laws to be enacted in the America in which they lived.

The fact that so many Americans fail to see that fundamental point is as much an outrage as those long, manifestly unjust jail sentences. Never mind that Americans refuse to see that the drug war has proven to be a manifest failure and that it's resulted in countless deaths and ruined lives. How come Americans refuse to see the horrific violation of the principles of liberty when the government claims the authority to punish someone for doing something that involves no initiation of force against another human being?

Ruining the lives of five good human beings -- the one life each of them were given -- for engaging in action that is none of the government's business, even while according the rich and powerful with a permanent get out of jail card -- well, that's drug-tyranny in its most hypocritical and brutal form.

Do the right thing, President Obama: In light of the special drug-war treatment you have accorded the rich and powerful at HSBC, issue a pardon to all non-violent drug offenders who are rotting away in federal penitentiaries. Then, to ensure that these horrors and this hypocrisy never repeat themselves, follow those pardons with a bill to Congress that finally ends the drug war and legalizes all drugs.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News' Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano's show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.

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