Friday, April 25, 2008

It’s All About the Attorney General

According to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the Attorney General of the United States has the sole power to decide which substances should be controlled and how those substances should be classified. That’s right, it is entirely up to one person to decide what recreational and/or medicinal substances we can or cannot use. Not only that, but to decide how dangerous these substances are, their potential for abuse, and whether or not they have any medicinal value. I don’t know about you, but this boggles my mind. Here’s why:

First and foremost, the attorney general is not a legislator. The attorney general has no power or authority to make laws. The position is not mentioned in the Constitution, but was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789. Nowhere in that act is the attorney general given any power over legislation. The office is simply that of the chief lawyer for the United States.

Second, the attorney general is not an elected official, but is appointed by the president. So how does a non-elected official of the executive branch have such power over legislation? That doesn’t sound to me like something a lawyer normally does. Nor does it sound like something someone who is not elected does. It isn’t even a power granted to the executive branch by the Constitution.

Third, the attorney general is accountable to no one but the president. Where are the checks and balances? Granted, the attorney general does have to answer to the president, but that doesn’t count. Checks and balances are between branches of the government, not within.

Fourth, what exactly qualifies a lawyer to make decisions that should be based on scientific, medical, and social factors? The Controlled Substances Act does specify that all decisions should be based on a scientific and medical evaluation. But in practice, such evaluations and recommendations have been consistently ignored.

Finally, assigning various substances to “schedules” often has nothing whatsoever to do with the assignment criteria listed in the act. Just take a look at the substances currently classified as Schedule I, the substances considered most dangerous, versus Schedule II or III, which are for less dangerous and/or medicinal substances. You’ll see that marijuana is a schedule I substance, while methamphetamine is schedule II, and various amphetamines and barbiturates are way down in schedule III. The least the attorney general could do is follow the rules like the rest of us.

Haven’t we learned by now that granting absolute power to an individual, with no oversight or accountability is not a good thing. Even the president is accountable, at least in theory. Didn’t we learn anything from the framers of the Constitution about the importance of checks and balances? Do we really want to have a non-elected, non-qualified, non-accountable individual responsible for decisions that have resulted in needlessly destroying the lives of millions of otherwise-law-abiding citizens? Giving one person the power to control what consenting adults are allowed do in private is not only insane, but it’s un-American.

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