Effective immediately, the “manufacture, distribution, use, possession, purchase, attempted purchase, sale, attempted sale, giving, trading or bartering of spice” is a class B misdemeanor in the city of Ogden and is punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Ogden is the first municipality in Utah to pass a complete ban of the drug.
In phone interviews conducted by Utah Liberty with the city council members that were available, it became evident that popular opinion and the safety of children were the motivating factors behind the legislation. Council member Bart Blair admitted that government doesn’t have the “right” to prohibit consenting adults from putting harmful substances in their bodies, but that the safety of the community’s children made it necessary. However, despite the concern for the children, the legislation bans use for people of all ages. Blair said this was intended to reduce exposure to the drug anywhere in the city. When asked if a law that incarcerates a consenting adult and seizes his property for consuming something is a just law, Blair responded, “In our city it is.”
City attorney Kirk Nord admitted that the council had not conducted or reviewed any studies of the effects of a ban in any detail, but that the legislation was a “responsive effort” to a “community outcry” for action.
“It really comes down to what the people want,” Nord said.
There are many problems with this legislation from a libertarian point of view. First, neither the possession, the use nor trade of a substance violates the rights of any non-consenting individuals. If you use spice, the only person you harm is yourself, and you consent to this. If we decide that the only justification needed for government force is the well being of citizens, the government can really do anything. There are no limits. Just look at the recent health care legislation. ObamaCare is generally despised by Utah’s conservative majority because it constitutes government telling us what we can and cannot do with our bodies. How are drug laws any different?
Second, if we turn a blind eye to the gross violation of rights, we still have practical consequences to consider. The government and residents of this city seem to think that the ban of a substance will result in decreased usage, when in fact the opposite has been shown to be true. They also think that the ban will keep their children safer. This, too, is a baseless hope. When one thinks of Ogden, one thinks of gangs. These gangs survive because there are illegal drugs. Because of this legislation, those who wish to purchase “spice” will be forced to purchase it illegally, and the gangs will be happy to provide the demanded product. This, of course, will result in increased gang activity and an increase in the accompanying violent crime. If Ogden was serious about reducing gang activity, they would get serious about decriminalizing drugs.
Third, this measure will invite even more gross violations of our civil rights as police officers have one more reason to conduct warrantless searches, one more reason to seize the assets of innocent people, and one more reason to use brutal violence against individuals not guilty of harming a soul.
Is “spice” a harmful drug? Yes. Does its presence create a risk to our children? Yes. Would Ogden be a better place without it? Most likely. However, we have a mindset these days that if something is bad, we must prohibit it using government force. This is a mistake, and we aren’t looking at alternatives. We should be, especially when the alternatives have been shown to be successful and government force has been shown to be such a dangerous failure.
Men have tried through centuries to cure these evils and solve these problems and correct these crimes with police, courts, jails and penitentiaries. They have had blue laws to correct Sabbath breaking, obscenity, hedonism, immorality. They have tried wars to end wars. They have tried handouts and outright gifts to solve poverty, especially through taxation. They are trying numerous force and superficial ways to cure racism. They have used the law and the officers and the jails and systems of force to solve problems. Through the ages we have come to know we cannot legislate goodness … The world would legislate goodness and make men fear to do wrong. The gospel would cause men to do right because it makes them happy to do right.
– Spencer W. Kimball
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