Radley Balko, a senior editor at Reason Magazine, has been following the law enforcement tactic of paramilitary raids on American homes, some of which go horrible wrong, and many of which raise questions of propriety and proportion. One of the worst of these, a February raid on a family’s home in Missouri that featured the invading authorities shooting the family dog in front of a young child, is immortalized on this frightening video. The father was charged with marijuana possession and child endangerment, presumably because he used drugs in the presence of his.
Balko, who, like everyone at Reason, is a libertarian, uses the incident to press his opposition to the illegal status of recreational drugs. “This is the blunt-end result of all the war imagery and militaristic rhetoric politicians have been spewing for the last 30 years,” he writes…
“—cops dressed like soldiers, barreling through the front door middle of the night, slaughtering the family pets, filling the house with bullets in the presence of children, then having the audacity to charge the parents with endangering their own kid. There are 100-150 of these raids every day in America, the vast, vast majority like this one, to serve a warrant for a consensual crime. But they did prevent Jonathan Whitworth from smoking the pot they found in his possession. So I guess this mission was a success.”
Employing the misguided use of excessive enforcement techniques as proof that the crime itself is not worth enforcing is intellectually dishonest, and far too facile for a commentator as smart as Balko to offer in good faith. If capital punishment is excessively cruel, it certainly doesn’t justify murder. I don’t think we should waterboard terrorists, but that’s not an argument for accepting terrorism. All law enforcement measures have to be reasonable and proportional to the crimes involved, and raids like this one clearly are not.
Still, the “consensual crime” argument, suggesting, as libertarians believe, that as long as there is consent among the direct participants there is no crime, is old, tired, and unpersuasive. Drug use, abuse and addiction in the culture affects far more than the drug users or their suppliers. I am perfectly willing to stipulate that an unattached hermit, accepting no government assistance or aid, with no family or obligations, who goes off in a shack in the woods and gets stoned out of his mind around the clock should be charged with no crime. But when people with relationships, responsibilities and duties in the complex latticework that is society default on them because they like getting high, when their use of drugs encourages minors to do the same to the detriment of their socialization, education, and value to society, and when society itself has to bear the burden of some or all of the harm done to themselves and others by “consenting” parties, the consent isn’t enough. When drug use by others starts having an impact on my welfare and enjoyment of life, then I need to consent…and I’m not consenting.
Yes: paramilitary raids on private homes to enforce marijuana laws are irresponsible, unfair and unethical. Let’s object loudly and stop them. They are no reason, however, to let our drug culture get any more pervasive and destructive than it already is.