Few things better illustrate the origins of the vast increase in the reach of the federal government than federal intrusion into what are, under the Constitution, state and local responsibilities for criminal law enforcement.
The justification for this overreach is always couched in terms of protecting children or ending some “epidemic” of criminality, but libertarians have always harbored the strong suspicion that much of it is really about members of Congress having the opportunity to praise themselves for being in favor of “law and order.”
The latest example of this phenomenon is legislation against synthetic drugs that would duplicate exiting DEA actions and add even more federal drug crimes to our already over-federalized drug laws.
As writer Jacob Sullum recently observed in an article in Reason Magazine, “The Drug Enforcement Administration already has imposed "emergency" bans on chemicals used in ersatz marijuana (a.k.a. K2 or spice) and imitation speed (a.k.a. "bath salts")." Yet senators have introduced laws to do the same thing.
As Sullum noted, two of the bills -- S.B. 605 (the Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011), introduced by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and S.B. 409 (the Combating Dangerous Stimulants Act of 2011), introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) -- broaden these bans.
Grassley's bill, for example, applies to "any material, compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any quantity of cannabimimetic agents," unless that chemical is specifically exempted or listed elsewhere in the Controlled Substances Act. A third bill -- S.B. 839 (the Combating Designer Drugs Act of 2011), introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) -- bans 2,5-dimethoxy-4-ethylphenethylamine (2C-E) and eight related synthetic psychedelics.
Senator Rand Paul has put a hold on the bills, noting that, while well-intentioned, the bills mean more federal law enforcement resources focused on drug crimes and fewer resources for other obvious federal responsibilities, as well as the erosion of civil liberties protections through more federal mandatory minimum sentences.
Fortunately, Senator Rand Paul is not alone in his opposition to this legislation. In his principled stand against this unwarranted expansion of federal power, Senator Paul has the support of the “Right on Crime Coalition,” which includes other longtime conservative leaders, such as former Attorney General Ed Meese*, Newt Gingrich, David Keene and Grover Norquist.
*Editor's Note: Former Attorney General Meese, a member of the “Right on Crime Coalition,” has not taken a personal position for or against any of the legislation mentioned in this article.