Sunday, March 3, 2013

How I learned to stop worrying and love the sequester

Many people are upset about the slight decrease in the increase of money that the US government will spend over the next several years. I live in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, which is home to, among other things: the National Security Agency, Fort Meade, the Naval Academy, various defense contractors, and a ton of Federal workers. We are artificially wealthy as a result of the disproportionate amount of taxpayer money spent here. Because of this, our state and federal elected officials are concerned over the impact of the "budget cuts".  I can't blame them. They are looking out for their constituents.

With concern over unsustainable spending, cuts to defense spending and entitlements, and the prospect of increased taxes, it may be helpful to remind our friends on the left and right about one area of spending we can do without - the drug war. Critics will point out that ending the drug war will hardly solve our budget problems. But they should remember Benjamin Franklin's advice that a small leak will sink a great ship. And the drug war is a bigger leak than many people realize.

The proposed 2013 Federal budget for drug control is well over $25 billion dollars. Well over half of this is for law enforcement. The rest is for treatment related programs. Conservatives, who claim to believe that the Federal government is one of enumerated and limited powers, should be reminded that nothing in the Constitution authorizes this spending. Those who claim to believe in personal responsibility should also be opposed to the government "helping" people with drug treatment. Liberals, who claim to believe in personal freedom, should question the benefit of funding enforcement, but also treatment, which is usually done under coercion, either directly or indirectly.

Ending the Federal drug war would not only save $25 billion a year, but would also increase revenue if drugs such as marijuana were taxed on the Federal level, much like cigarettes are now. Prohibition is also a drain on the economy, in more ways than most people realize. Ending the drug war would spark economic growth which would also help with the budget.

We should welcome the current focus on the budget and the across the board cuts as an opportunity to inform others about the costs of the failed war on drugs. We should argue that the drug war should be cut first, before anything else is touched.

But the benefits of the sequester may be more immediate as well. Mike Riggs at Reason suggests that it could be beneficial to the medical marijuana industry. It will be interesting to see if the DEA uses its decreased resources more wisely or still continues with its destructive war against cancer patients and State's rights. I am not as optimistic. It is not hard to imagine them putting their fight against the cartels on the back burner so they will continue to have resources to raid dispensaries. 

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