By Joe Campbell
March 24th, 2009
We are keeping the finger in the dike.
Sgt. David Azuelo of the Tuscon, Arizona police force as quoted by Randal C. Archibold in The New York Times.
I’ve been arguing for some time that the War on Drugs and the prohibitionist policies underlying it must be ended for the sake of our national security. I’ve made the argument from a civil libertarian point of view; I’ve made the argument that the War on Drugs is interfering with the fight against terrorism; and I’ve made the argument based on the fact that this war is destabilizing our neighbors.
Here’s a parallel argument:
The Pentagon listed Mexico as a country that might collapse suddenly into a civil war between the central government and the cartels. A top cabinet official in Mexico claimed that “unless [the cartels are] confronted, ‘the next president of the republic would be a narco-trafficker.” The levels of violence in the country now are astounding – with higher rates than those in Iraq in recent months – and they are continuing to spill over the border into America. We are currently supplying both sides of this conflict with weaponry and funds – and the conflict is escalating. Mexico is now following the route of Colombia by militarizing it’s approach to the problem of drugs. For decades, war raged in Colombia to stop the drug smugglers – inflicting an enormous cost on the country as they – in the words of an influential and prestigious report by former Mexican, Brazilian, and Mexican presidents, “implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort whose benefits were not proportional to the vast amount of resources invested and the human costs involved.” The report explains that the “traumatic Colombian experience” should teach other nations “not to make the mistake of adopting the US prohibitionist policies.”
Yet, that is what Mexico is doing. For decades, America has waged a war on the suppliers of drugs and on drug users at home and abroad. The casualties have been high – but no matter the body count or the number of arrests has gone, the War on Drugs has remained “an utter failure.” This failure has allowed the reach of the Mexican cartels to extend far into America:
United States law enforcement officials have identified 230 cities, including Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston and Billings, Mont., where Mexican cartels and their affiliates “maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors.”
[O]ur policy helps enrich drug lords and make it possible for them to destabilize whole governments, as they are now doing in Mexico and Afghanistan.
[P]rohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before…[T]he war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless…
At the same time, the harm reduction strategy of the European Union, while mitigating the effects of drugs locally, has exacerbated the effects of drug production and smuggling elsewhere.
The failure of both the War on Drugs and the harm reduction strategy has created an enormous market incentive for smuggling, for money laundering, and for corrupting government officials. Together, these and other effects of the Drug War create a sense of lawlessness which is exactly where the cartels thrive. The cartels are able to thrive in part because the scale of their operations and the enormous profits generated give them both incentive and means to experiment with different methods of smuggling, money laundering, and corrupting officials. If there were a way to reduce these profits, it could undercut their successes in all of these areas and undermine the incentives that drive them to take these steps. The cartels might no longer be able to acquire military-grade weaponry; they might not be able to afford to buy subs to smuggle items in; they might not be able to afford to buy off the top Mexican drug enforcement official.
We have reached the point that The Economist has characterized as a choice between “A calculated gamble, or another century of failure.” The calculated gamble is to legalize drugs, or at least marijuana.
People have asked me if legalizing marijuana would really make a difference in undercutting the Mexican cartels.
Marijuana represents 60 to 70% of the profits that fuel the Mexican drug cartels. Legalizing it would take away one of the main props holding them up – just as legalizing alcohol helped rollback the gangs that dominated American cities in the 1920s.
Violence in Mexico stemming from the drug war is destabilizing the country and spilling over into America. With a single move, we could remove the monopoloy which gives them 60 to 70% of the cartels’ revenue – in a single move, we could take away their “king crop.” Without the enormous profits of marijuana propping up the rest of the drug market, the costs of smuggling would increase. The distribution network would be pressured. The cost of bribing officials would likely increase as harder drugs would be the only things being smuggled and enforcement could focus more on these drugs. The pressure on our criminal justice system that is currently imprisoning a higher percentage of our people than any nation on earth would be eased. Border guards would be able to focus more on harder drugs, or even on serious threats to our security, rather than searching teenagers for pot. All of this would undermine the cartels – most of all, taking away 60-70% of their profits.
We have reached a point where one of our most aggressive drug czars has publicly stated that he “wouldn’t care” if marijuana were legalized! Where another former drug czar has acknowledged that marijuana “pose[s] no significant public health problem.” These are men who led the fight against drugs. A massive propaganda campaign, $40 billion a year, millions of arrests, and untold casualties and – and the price of drugs has remained the same and the extent of drug use has barely been affected.
Why are we continuing a failed policy that only serves the interests of the Mexican cartels it is propping up?