Marc Victor: Increasingly Libertarian World Is a Reason for Optimism
The Daily Bell
The Daily Bell is pleased to present an exclusive interview with Marc J. Victor.
Daily Bell: It’s a pleasure to speak with you, Marc. You’ve had quite a legal career when it comes to addressing the state of civil liberties in the US through criminal defense cases. Has a particular case, or type of case, had a particularly powerful impact on you? How so?
Marc Victor: Obviously, drug cases have had a huge impact on me because they are victimless crimes and they oftentimes carry mandatory minimum sentences along with them. Sometimes they’re ridiculously long, outrageously immoral mandatory minimum sentences. I think it is an outrage that we put peaceful people behind bars for sometimes decades, so that’s had a huge impact on me.
When I say peaceful people I’m talking about not just people who peacefully possess a drug but I’m also including people who sell a drug so long as they are not selling to minors, people who grow drugs or manufacture drugs and people who transport drugs. To me, they are all peaceful activities.
Daily Bell: Let’s continue with the topic of the War on Drugs, an issue that we’ve covered extensively as we’ve closely watched the widening legalization of marijuana. You debated Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery in March, arguing that each of us should be able to make whatever choices we want with regard to our own bodies as long as we don’t encroach on anyone else, and to get government completely out of marijuana. Summarize the crux of your argument regarding the legal status of marijuana, please.
Marc Victor: I did debate Bill Montgomery, but I had a much more recent debate, about a month ago, with this fellow named Seth Liebsohn. We actually each opened with a two-minute statement, and if you just look at my two minute opening statement, I think that pretty well summarizes what my argument is.
I rise tonight to support a free society. Said another way, I think you ought to be in charge of yourself. That’s because I think you own yourself. Owning yourself, I’ll admit, is a big responsibility. It means you get to decide what is good for you. You get to decide how to use your own bod or your property or your money or your time. You get to weigh the risks for yourself. You get to determine the risk-reward ratio for yourself of any activity, not just smoking marijuana, and you also get the consequences of those choices. This is what a free society is about. … You ought to have the final say on your life and the drug war is just simply incompatible with a free society. It’s a war against peaceful people. It’s about some people imposing their conclusions upon others by force.
Freedom can be scary, it can be intimidating and some people aren’t ready for freedom. That’s why they want a babysitter running their lives. Our government has become a babysitter. That’s the nanny state. The nanny state is also incompatible with a free society. … Free people do not need nor do they want babysitters so don’t be afraid of your freedom. It can also be rewarding, wonderfully empowering. The essence of freedom is the very right to choose for yourself. It’s the right to control the course of your own life. But freedom isn’t the right to do whatever you want to do. It’s the right to control your body, property money and time, not someone else’s. You get to do what you want with your property, not somebody else’s. Isn’t that a good place to draw the legal line? You get to do what you want with your property, not somebody else’s. …
I’m talking about competent adults peacefully running their own lives. That’s what I support. Some people judge marijuana as unsafe or unhealthy or unwise or immoral or bad. That’s fine. I say to those people, don’t use it, don’t let your kids use it. But what right do you have to impose your judgments upon other people? I say you have none.
In essence, I think competent adults are in charge of themselves. I think they’re self-owners. I think they should get to decide what goes in their body and I think that is without regard to whether it is healthy or unhealthy or moral or immoral or good or bad or right or wrong or whatever. To me, peaceful people get to decide what goes into their bodies.
I’m not really arguing just for legalization of marijuana. I’m arguing for freedom generally and it just so happens that the war on drugs is incompatible with a free society so I argue obviously for legalization of marijuana. But I would just as quickly argue for legalization of anything a peaceful, competent adult wants to put in his or her body.
Daily Bell: It appears that we’re moving toward very heavy regulation of drugs as they become legal. The UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs next year will rewrite the global regulations that initially started the war on drugs and as more states legalize medical marijuana the body of fairly onerous restrictions being placed on its various uses and forms continues to grow. Do you see this heavier regulation as simply a step along the way toward broader decriminalization or the future of drugs, in general?
Marc Victor: I’ve said on many occasions that I don’t think there’s a central plan for freedom and so some people, normally me, argue for the whole ball of wax. I would like marijuana not just to be decriminalized, not just to be legalized, but also free from all regulation. I don’t think there needs to be any regulation whatsoever on that. I suppose I could live with regulations that exclude the ability of minors to get a substance, but to me that’s really primarily the role of the parent, not the role of the government. I’m not a fan of regulation. I’m not a fan of taxation. I do think that this, however, is a step in the right direction.
I’ve got to say I wasn’t philosophically aligned with medical marijuana because I don’t think the reason people should get to use marijuana is because they’re ill and they need medicine and marijuana helps them, although I’m sure that’s true. That’s not the best argument for legalization. But the fact that medical marijuana was passed got people talking about going further and so in that regard it was a good thing. So if marijuana is legalized and regulated, the very next day I would want to start arguing for deregulation of marijuana, but not just marijuana. There’s nothing special about marijuana. I think all things ought to be deregulated, or at least most things.
Daily Bell: People seem to have a lot of fear about this unfolding of events. Many who have come to the conclusion that it (either marijuana or all drugs) should be legal are quick to add, “but there ought to be limits.”
Marc Victor: I agree on limits. I’m totally in favor of limits. The place that I put the limit is when one person’s activity is starting to affect another person. That, to me, is the place to draw the line and it makes a lot of sense to me. For example – and since we are talking about marijuana I will stick with marijuana here – if somebody wants to smoke marijuana in their backyard, that’s fine. If somebody wants to smoke marijuana, get in their car, drive down the public roadway and endanger other people, that obviously is not fine. That’s where the government acting as the agent of other people needs to intervene.
I would argue that the place to draw the line is where one person’s activity is creating force or fraud or trespass on another person or what I would term as a grave risk of one of those things, a grave and imminent risk of one of those things, like driving dangerously down the road because one is impaired by marijuana or alcohol or being too tired or anything. If someone’s not safe to drive down the road then they create a risk of harm to other people.
Daily Bell: What will it take to end the drug war on a US federal level?
Marc Victor: I think what it’s going to take is enough people to change their hearts and minds. We need to get more people who are pro-freedom. I don’t know how many people we need to get, I don’t know what percentage of the population, but when enough people have their hearts and minds in a more pro-freedom direction – or what I would call a more American direction – then we will have freedom. Until that happens, nothing will bring about freedom or if freedom is brought about it will be very short-lived.
Daily Bell: Why would it be short-lived?
Marc Victor: Say in the last presidential cycle we had snapped our fingers and made Ron Paul president, which I would like to have seen. Without a significant change in the hearts and minds of people, he wouldn’t have been able to get anything done and anything he was able to get done would have been immediately repealed or undone. Just like the American Revolution, we need a revolution in the thought processes of our fellow Americans. They need to not be scared about the peaceful choices of other human beings. We need to get it in our heads that we don’t have a privilege or right to control other people’s lives.
Daily Bell: Speaking of controlling others’ lives, what should happen to the many millions now suffering the life-destroying consequences of drug-related arrests?
Marc Victor: I think everybody who is in jail or prison for a peaceful drug related offense should be pardoned immediately. I think every day that goes by it’s more of an outrage. I think this ought to be seen as one of the largest moral outrages of our time, that we have maybe as many as a million peaceful people rotting away in prisons who don’t need to be there right now.
It’s also too simple to just say that. There’s also lots of violence that has occurred as a result of the drug war as well. There are cases that don’t have any drug charges at all that are just typical violent type cases, but that exist because of the war on drugs. Because of it, you have businesses competing that are not able to go to court and that invites violence.
As I’ve said on many occasions, the Miller guy and the Budweiser guy don’t get into a street brawl or shoot bullets at each other or use guns or clubs or anything if they happen to meet on the street corner to put their harmful drug in the refrigerator at the Circle K or the 7-11 or whatever. If they have a dispute, they go to court.
It doesn’t mean that the alcohol they are delivering is any less bad. It just means that there is no violence surrounding the purchase and sale and transportation and manufacture of that particular drug. I don’t drink alcohol. I would encourage people not to drink alcohol, but I support their right to drink alcohol. I think alcohol is generally bad but I don’t want any violence surrounding those things. Getting it out of the black market was a very good decision for our country.
Daily Bell: Shifting gears slightly … You offer a free legal seminar called “Arizona Criminal Law and Things Your Teenager Ought to Know,” which you market to parents, “just in case your kid doesn’t know everything.” It seems nearly impossible to teach our kids, or even to know ourselves, just what constitutes a crime in the US today and how to make smart decisions to avoid criminal problems. It’s certainly a different environment from that in which today’s parents grew up. What are the most striking differences as far as criminal law today from, say, 40 years ago? Or perhaps a better question is: How are criminal matters prosecuted differently today?
Marc Victor: That’s a very hard and complex question but I think generally speaking the climate has changed in terms of prosecuting for criminal offenses. When I was a kid, for example, not every fight had to be reported to the police. Today they do. When I was a kid if you were caught breaking the law, generally a police officer would just take you home and tell your parents. It wasn’t something that became a permanent part of your record.
I’ve said publicly that I got busted one time as a kid illegally selling fireworks. I was caught red-handed and I had a whole bunch of fireworks and the police officer basically just took me home and told my parents what I was doing and left. In today’s world, something like that could have destroyed my legal career. I have an associate attorney at my office. He’s much younger than me, but when he was 15 he was caught violating a curfew, something that would have been unthinkable when I was growing up, but he violated a curfew. He was out too late at night and this held up his admission to the state bar, held up his ability to be a lawyer until this was thoroughly investigated. And that’s today’s world. Everything is a big deal. There’s not as much discretion that I see that’s exercised. Prosecutors are much more willing to prosecute kids and maybe even put things on their records that will destroy their lives.
I hate to keep coming back to marijuana, but that’s a prime example. Today, my law firm is not that far from ASU and it’s not uncommon for me to get honor students in here. I even had a guy in here who was an engineering honor student at ASU and was in the dorm and got caught with one marijuana cigarette. He was arrested and hauled off and charged with two felonies and so now he is at risk of being kicked out of the school, losing financial aid, ruining his entire career all over something so stupid that’s done with the idea in mind that we’re going to save him from ruining his life from smoking a joint. It’s outrageous.
Daily Bell: Indeed. A striking example of that, which many people don’t know about, is that even a minor marijuana arrest causes a student to lose financial aid and in many cases prohibits him or her from ever receiving college financial aid in the future.
Marc Victor: Well, it certainly can. In Arizona, one marijuana cigarette is charged as two felonies. The law was changed so you can’t go to prison but when I first started practicing, I used to have to advise people that they could go to prison for four years, two years for the marijuana and two years for the wrapping paper that holds the marijuana, which is the paraphernalia charge, each of which is a felony. Things are moving in the right direction but in that regard there has been a lot of damage that has occurred because sometimes people don’t understand how bad and how big of a deal it is to have a felony on your record. It sticks with you forever.
Daily Bell: Let’s talk about another issue affecting today’s teens and parenting, that of what’s generally now called “bullying.” What used to be a typical problem many kids encountered at some point, having to endure “mean kids,” has now become a criminal issue with, again, potentially lifelong consequences. What’s your take on this development and what would you suggest in your seminar?
Marc Victor: Well, first off, the concept of bullying worries me a little bit because to me there’s a danger of violations of the first amendment right to free speech. People think sometimes that they have a right to not be offended, and you don’t have any such right. I think that it’s protected speech to say bad things about another person, for the most part. At least if it’s your opinion, you could say bad things about another person. You don’t have a right to be free from offensive utterances. That’s the first thing. I think a lot of people don’t understand that.
I suppose there comes a line when somebody is bullied and that has to be something that’s very carefully defined. But I would certainly tell kids that they need to stay very far away from that grey area because, like so many other areas, there are so many life ruining consequences in there if some overzealous police officer or prosecutor gets involved and hauls them off and they get prosecuted. It can have huge consequences. And of course, bullying can lead to who knows what. We had somebody who committed suicide as a result of being bullied and a prosecutor could try to tag that on another kid.
Daily Bell: Why are schools so quick to refer these situations – like so many others now – off to the police instead of handling them internally? “Mean kids” are now being treated as criminals rather than behaviorally difficult students.
Marc Victor: Well, I think they are required to now. In fact, I spoke to the principal of one of the major high schools here in Chandler, Arizona. He said now every time there is a fight he is required to file a report with the police.
I think it was a terrible idea to mix the government and schools together and have the government mainly responsible for educating our kids. If you are going to let the government run the schools, then you should be prepared for a whole host of problems that go along with having the government run things. I can’t really think of anything that the government’s been involved in or runs that we say, wow, they are doing such a great job. I can’t think of anything so I don’t know why we would want to trust them with educating our kids.
In Arizona we’ve got this charter school situation so now you can take your kid out of the regular public schools and put them into a private school that’s paid for with a voucher from the government. It’s a step in the right direction but, of course, I still don’t like the federal government overseeing schools and handing down edicts from Washington, DC. I would completely abolish the Department of Education.
Daily Bell: With the advent of smartphones and social media we’ve seen a rise of “citizen journalists” whose documentation of things like police violence sometimes offers a different reality than what’s typically broadcast by the corporate media. Increasingly, though, the citizens videotaping an incident are being arrested. Can you give us a quick list of do’s, don’ts and watch-outs when it comes to our rights and responsibilities in this regard?
Marc Victor: Well, the first thing to be aware of and concerned about is if the officer thinks that a person is interfering with the investigation, that person is going to be arrested. If you are going to videotape or document things, you have to do it from a distance in a way that doesn’t interfere. That’s a point of contention sometimes between police officers and citizens.
You can imagine on one end of the spectrum somebody who is videotaping from a distance who is very quiet and not interfering and on the other end of the spectrum somebody who’s much more involved, somebody who is standing there and telling the person, “Hey, you don’t have to do this” or “You don’t have to do that” or just yelling and screaming and interfering with the investigation. The police officer is going to arrest that person. They need to be careful to not be caught in the trap of allowing the officer to say that they are interfering with the investigation.
The other thing is there is a difference between recording an interaction between a police officer and another person and recording your own interaction with the police officer because of essentially the same thing. You may want to record an interaction you are having with a police officer but if, for example, the officer says, “Okay, step out of the vehicle,” you don’t get to continue to record. You have to follow what the officer says. That could be a problem, too, which is why it could be smart to hand off a recording device to another person or have something even mounted in a car, or just let it record the audio. Those are all things to be aware of or concerned about.
I’d like to add that while we’re seeing videos of officers mostly out of control, and there certainly are bad cops and lots of them who are out of control and all that’s true, there are also lots of good cops as well. Sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle in the fact that we’re sort of looking for the bad cops. In my 21 years of doing this, I’ve had lots of travels and I’ve met lots of really good police officers who I would call peace officers. My impression is that of all people who are upset about these bad officers, it’s the good officers who are mostly upset because they are being lumped in and generalized along with the bad officers.
Like anything else, I’m not worried just generally about the militarization of the police. It’s not the weapon; it’s the mindset of the officer who is holding the weapon. I see it as exactly the same issue when the gun control people say, “Oh, bad AR-15.” I always respond WITH something along the lines of, “It’s not the AR-15 that’s bad; it’s the disposition of the person who’s holding the AR-15 that we should be focused on.”
The same is true with police. I think it’s too general to just say, well, they’ve got big guns and all this stuff now. That doesn’t bother me. What I’m interested in is what is the attitude of the police. And to put a bow on it, nothing has caused, in my opinion, more violent interactions between officers and citizens than the drug war. The drug war has literally destroyed the Fourth Amendment. It has made it really easy and commonplace for officers to be smashing down front doors and tearing UP people’s cars, all in search of this devil’s weed. It’s made what should be a rarity into commonplace stuff that you see every day. I think it’s un-American and that’s why it needs to end.
Daily Bell: In 2014 you said that you were “trying hard to remain an optimist.” Still true? Is it becoming more or less difficult to maintain optimism?
Marc Victor: I think it’s becoming easier to be an optimist because things are moving very, very quickly in the drug war discussion. I think we’re starting to steer the discussion a little bit more into this question about ‘do you own yourself’ rather than just ‘is marijuana good or bad for you?’ I think it’s an awesome opportunity. Things are happening faster than I could ever have expected or hoped for. So that’s all good.
I thought Ron Paul did a great service in terms of getting people to think differently about freedom. Rand Paul is taking a different strategy than Ron Paul. I think Rand is actually trying to get elected and so he’s involved in more political things maybe than Ron is, and maybe that’s more than suits the taste of a lot of libertarians. On the other hand, I had occasion to meet him last week in person. I think he honestly, genuinely understands the freedom philosophy. I think he’s a man of freedom and peace and I think that he has a real chance of getting elected is another cause for optimism, even if he doesn’t.
I think that a change is coming if for no other reason than financial. I think that we have to change what we’re doing because the debt is not sustainable at this rate of increase forever. So I think that’s another reason to think change is coming.
Generally speaking, I think the entire world – really generally speaking – is becoming more libertarian. I think things are moving in the right direction in lots of areas. I think capitalism is the clear winner over socialism and a lot of people see that now around the world. So I’m very optimistic for the outlook for a free society and free trade and capitalism.
I’m not saying that we will be without lots of bumps in the roads or that it will be a straight path from here to a free society, but people are generally skeptical of government, distrustful of government. Things that, for example, Barack Obama is doing – he makes it easier to be distrustful of government when he makes statements like he did to small business owners, ‘you didn’t do that; the government did that,’ those types of statements. They’re so ridiculous and off the wall that I think it exposes what the government really is.
Daily Bell: Where can readers find more of your writing and learn about speaking engagements?
Marc Victor: Probably the center of my world online is www.attorneyforfreedom.com. What else could it be, right?
Daily Bell: Thank you again for speaking with us today and for your ongoing courage in fighting the good fight for us all..
Marc Victor: I really appreciate that.