Civil Liberties, Constitutional Law, Free Speech, Mike Krause

Turning booksellers in to drug felons

The First Amendment scored a recent win in a Denver bookstore.  But new federal legislation expanding the war on drugs, and supported by both of Colorado’s U.S. Senators, may make that victory ring hollow.

When the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sent an administrative subpoena to Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore seeking the sales records for an individual under investigation for a drug offense, owner Joyce Meskis said no. When agents of the North Metro Task Force accompanied by Denver police officers showed up at the Tattered Cover store with a search warrant for said records, Denver District Judge Martin Egelhoff said no and temporarily quashed the warrant (there is a July 26th hearing scheduled to decide the validity of the warrant and Joyce Meskis has stated she will appeal the matter as far as possible).

This should serve as an inspired reminder that in America, principles matter, the authority of the government is limited and what kind of books people buy are quite simply not the business of the drug police; nuances that the DEA, the Denver District Attorney’s Office and the North Metro Task Force don’t seem to grasp.

But if the federal government has its way, the ability of booksellers such as Ms. Meskis to stand on principle, and for diligent local judges to make wise decisions on such matters will be taken away.

A new law will allow the federal drug police to arrest any pesky booksellers who happen to Icon_2016_Op_Edsell a politically unacceptable book. The Senate recently passed S.486, the “Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act,” the latest expansion of government power at the expense of the Constitution. The Act’s assault on the Fourth Amendment has already been exposed (for details see Dave Kopel’s “Fourth Amendment Sneak Attack“).

Also tucked away in the massive bill is a stealth assault on the First Amendment. The act makes it a federal crime to ” distribute by any means information pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of a controlled substance.  So if Ed Rosenthal’s “Marijuana Growing Tips” or Mary Cooper’s “The Business of Drugs” appears among the several thousand titles on the Tattered Cover’s shelves, will Joyce Meskis be a drug felon rather than a First Amendment stalwart?

It’s bad enough that the war on drugs has turned the honorable profession of peace officer into that of drug warrior.  Now will we have the book police? Perhaps it should also be a federal crime for a politician to be found in possession of his good sense, or a copy of the Constitution.

This flies in the face of the idea of free expression, unfettered public discourse and the acquiring of knowledge, even politically incorrect knowledge. The Unabomber had a copy of Al Gore’s “Earth In The Balance”.  Should Mr. Gore be liable as the author for Ted Kaczynski’s anti-technology crimes? Should a book on sex found in a brothel make the publisher an accessory to prostitution?

Both Senators Allard and Campbell voted for the act, even though the above-mentioned provision seems to violate Republican principles of limited government and individual liberties. How Colorado’s congressional delegation will vote on the House version has yet to be seen.

Is this really what America is about? The havoc the war on drugs has wreaked on civil society and Constitutional liberties is staggering. From the seizing of people’s property and money without benefit of charges, perjured warrants, the militarization of local police agencies, a steady expansion of federal power, and an unnerving zeal to incarcerate people. The Cato Institute has shown that it took America 200 years to jail its first million prisoners, but a scant ten years for its second million — with 80% of the federal prisoners being drug offenders. Do we really want to start adding booksellers to that crowd?

As the destructive war on drugs (read war on American citizens) continues to lose popularity, the federal drug junta has turned to burying its anti-liberty agenda, which would not pass muster on its own, inside large pieces of legislation with politically expedient titles.

People of principled sensibilities should be heartily outraged by this.

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