This month police officers with West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources (DNR) “conducted two weeks of multiple raids on illegal diggers and dealers” of wild ginseng (a type of herbal root), according to a DNR media release. DNR states:

A year-long investigation . . . in southern West Virginia has resulted in 11 arrests and the seizure of 190 pounds of dry ginseng that was illegally harvested before the ginseng digging season began Sept. 1. The estimated market value of the ginseng is $180,000. In addition to the ginseng, officers also seized multiple stolen guns, illegal drugs and pills, and $30,000 in cash.

“Other states also are reporting more ginseng busts,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

That “ginseng police” are raiding root diggers for possessing ginseng at the “wrong” time of year speaks to the insanity of the government’s ginseng regulations—and indicates how regulations in any area of business violate people’s rights, disrupt the free exchange of goods and services, and lead to myriad seemingly irresolvable conflicts.

What role should government play in regard to ginseng? Government should play the same role in this area that it properly plays in every area: It should protect people’s rights by enforcing property rights, upholding people’s rights to contract freely, and outlawing fraud (as by prohibiting the labeling of farm-grown ginseng as “wild” ginseng or the like). But that is not what government is doing here.

Rather than focus on protecting people’s rights, government has imposed a swath of rights-violating policies and regulations, some of which are breathtakingly ridiculous.

According to DNR Lieutenant W. W. Brogan (with whom I spoke by phone), most of the illegally harvested ginseng is taken from private lands without the permission of the owners—in other words, stolen. But, remarkably, many of the property owners don’t care much about this theft and don’t make much if any effort to stop the thieves or profit by cutting deals with people who want to harvest the coveted root on their lands. Given the substantial value of ginseng on the world market (it “can fetch as much as $1,000 a pound,” the Journal reports), why do property owners and ginseng diggers not simply negotiate land-use deals? . . .

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