“The last thing in this world I want to be is a pothead hero,” [Sherriff Arvin West] said. “But the laws we’ve got now don’t work. Something’s gotta change.”
Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920s and 1930s, and it isn’t working now. It is moral preening dressed up as morality.
The problem here is not that the nation’s leading official in the war on drugs provided grossly inaccurate information about an important issue, though that is bad enough. The problem is that the U.S. government is making policy based on terrible misinformation and that our top drug official shows no capacity to learn from his mistakes.
The Drug War is a fantasy war.
I don’t advocate drug use. In fact, I advocate the exact opposite: not drug use. Let me make something clear: unless you have a legitimate medical reason to use certain chemicals, you shouldn’t hurt your body with those chemicals. It’s immoral, sinful, counterproductive, and will get expensive. I’m not out to make your choices for you, but if you want my advice, there it is.
Some people imagine that the opposite is anti-drug legislation. They are wrong.
In fantasy land, legislation fixes problems. “Make it a law” that everyone buys health insurance, earns a certain minimum hourly rate of pay, and doesn’t use or sell certain intoxicating chemicals, then magically everyone has health insurance, is both productive on a certain level and compensated for it, and doesn’t use drugs! Done!
A common hacker refrain is that technology is always morally neutral. The culture’s libertarian ethos holds that creators shouldn’t be faulted if someone uses their gadget or hunk of code to cause harm; the people who build things are under no obligation to meddle in the affairs of the adults who consume their wares.
But Alfred Anaya’s case makes clear that the government rejects that permissive worldview. The technically savvy are on notice that they must be very careful about whom they deal with, since calculated ignorance of illegal activity is not an acceptable excuse. But at what point does a failure to be nosy edge into criminal conduct? In light of what happened to Anaya, that question is nearly impossible to answer.
“What’s troubling a lot of people is that this conviction seems to impose a new sort of liability on people that create state-of-the-art technology,” says Branden Bell, an attorney in Olathe, Kansas, who is handling Anaya’s appeal. “The logic goes that because he suspected his customers of doing something, he had a duty to ask. But that is a duty that is written nowhere in the law.”
The challenge for anyone who creates technology is to guess when, exactly, they should turn their back on paying customers. Take, for example, a manufacturer of robot kits for hobbyists. If someone uses those robots to patrol a smuggling route or help protect a meth lab so that traffickers can better evade law enforcement, how will prosecutors determine whether the company acted criminally? If it accepted payment in crumpled $20 bills and thus should have known it was dealing with gangsters? If the customer picked up the merchandise in an overly flashy car? The law offers scant guidance, but prosecutors have tremendous leeway to pursue conspiracy charges whenever they see fit. And as 3-D printers enable the unfettered production of sophisticated objects, those prosecutors will be tempted to make examples out of people who are careless about their clients.
Unfortunately, it seems that the future Aldous Huxley predicted in 1932, in Brave New World, is arriving early. Mockery, truculence, and minimalist living are best, then enjoy the decline. However, we do need a Revolving Door Tax (RDT), learn what Members of Congress pay in taxes, and prosecute politicians and staff and their “family and friends” who profit from insider trading. Oh, and pay “public servants” what they are worth.