Editorials | Opinions
|Mexico's a Victim of America's Addiction to Drugs|
Neal Peirce - Seattle Times
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July 08, 2010
Profoundly immoral — and fiscal folly, to boot.
|America's drug habit is killing its neighbor to the south. If the United States were to decriminalize drugs, prices would plummet. This means that the massive profits the Mexican druglords reap would literally evaporate.|
That's how the United States' continuing "war on drugs" and its horrendous impact on our neighbor Mexico deserve to be seen.
First, it's our appetite for official forbidden drugs — marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine — that's driving the chaos on our southern border and deep into Mexico. President Felipe Calderón expected — but has clearly failed — to crack the vicious drug rings through police and military power. But he's dead right on one score:
"The origin of our violence problem begins with the fact that Mexico is located next to the country that has the highest levels of drug consumption in the world. It is as if our neighbor were the biggest drug addict in the world."
The conclusion is simple: If the United States were to decriminalize drugs, end the criminal prohibition on growing or selling them, prices would plummet. This means that the massive profits the Mexican druglords reap — their "take" on an estimated $15 billion a year cross-border trade — would evaporate.
And that, in turn, would put an end to most of the barbaric drug-driven crimes — shootings, kidnappings, beheadings — that are currently being committed by the Mexican gangs as they struggle with each other for bigger slices of the market.
More than 23,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since December 2006, according to a still-confidential but leaked Mexican government report. At the scale of deaths reported since January, the total could top 13,000 just this year. Late in June the remains of 64 people, some decapitated, were discovered in a 50-story former mining pit near the tourist town of Taxco. From the wounds, it appeared many were alive when they were thrown down the shaft.
So how are we supposedly moral, righteous Americans reacting? Mostly with indifference, as if it's "someone else's" problem. Even the supposedly progressive Obama administration, while saying it wants a shift from interdiction to prevention and treatment of drug abuse, won't make the connection between our drug-prohibition laws and the mass killings in Mexico. Rather, it's funneling more cash to the Mexican police and armed forces, money to support a bloody, unwinnable war.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, interviewed by The Associated Press on a trip to Mexico City, was asked why the U.S. pursues its clearly failed, decades-long war on drugs. Her reply:
"This is something that is worth fighting for because drug addiction is about fighting for somebody's life, a young child's life, a teenager's life, their ability to be a successful and productive adult."
But does U.S. drug prohibition accomplish this when our teenagers report it's easier to get a marijuana joint (because it's unlicensed) than a six-pack of beer (its sale to minors government-enforced)?
Let's assume drugs were decriminalized in the United States. And let's acknowledge some added addiction occurred (even though the predicted rise in use is not reported in countries such as Portugal, the Netherlands and Switzerland where decriminalization has been introduced).
Even if more Americans would have to battle with addictions, we need to ask: Are American lives so precious, so superior, that Mexicans can or should be obliged to suffer tens of thousands of deaths because we're too timid to lift our legal prohibition on drugs? Is this kind of behavior, belief in our moral immunity, what our chest-thumping Fourth of July celebrations are all about?
And then there's the fiscal folly point. For Mexicans, the continued drug horrors darken any prospects for an economically successful nation — one that's an effective trading partner with the United States, and able to provide strong incomes for its families so that fewer feel compelled to emigrate north across the border.
And for the U.S. economy there are big stakes, too. We could save tens of billions of dollars — at a time when the federal and practically all state and local budgets have moved into deep deficit territory — by moving rapidly to terminate our war on drugs.
There's a strong parallel to the Great Depression. The repeal of the Prohibition Act, which outlawed liquor from 1920 to 1933, not only quashed the Al Capone-style crime rings but created tens of thousands of new legal jobs.
A similar move today would also stop the epidemic of drug arrests that have driven our prison populations — and costs to taxpayers — to world-record levels.
Morals and fiscal common sense both dictate that we end our drug prohibition. And not some decades from now, but quickly.
| R E A D E R S ' C O M M E N T S |
Legalize marijuana — and tax it
Neal Peirce’s article on pot is timely and on the mark.
Prohibition has never worked and never will, as human nature continues to prove. When it comes to an open-minded debate on drugs, we have become a nation of self-serving morality, tunnel vision, political expediency and hypocrisy rather than progressive thinkers.
Instead of trying to bail the state, and nation, out of its fiscal hole by taxing the “rich,” it would make far more sense to legalize pot and tax it (and it’s inevitable that it would be taxed) at an appropriate level. This would be a far more equitable way of addressing the debt problem than a punitive tax on high-earning individuals.
Realistically, there are far more pot smokers in Washington, and in the nation as a whole, than there are “rich” people. And, therefore, a much larger and willing revenue base. Perhaps we can begin to free ourselves of archaic moral ideas and move forward with a reasoned dialogue about pot that is based on reality and not dogma.
— Bruce Patterson, Kirkland
Drugs did not create organized crime
Drugs did not spawn Mexico’s organized crime networks. Just like alcohol prohibition gave rise to Al Capone, drug prohibition created the violent drug-trafficking organizations behind all the killings in Mexico. With alcohol prohibition repealed in the U.S., liquor bootleggers no longer gun each other down in drive-by shootings. It’s worth noting that Mexico’s upsurge in violence only began after an anti-drug crackdown created a power vacuum among competing cartels. From a political perspective, Mexican President Felipe Calderón stands to benefit from the violence.
The drug war is perpetuated by the mainstream media’s complicity in refusing to put so-called “drug-related” crime in context. U.S. politicians have proven particularly adept at confusing the drug war’s collateral damage. Drug prohibition funds organized crime at home and terrorism abroad, which is then used to justify increased drug-war spending.
It’s time to end this madness. Whether we like it or not, drugs are here to stay. Changing human nature is not an option. Reforming harmful drug laws, however, is an option, one that Congress should pursue.
— Robert Sharpe, Policy Analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Washington, D.C.
We are fighting too many losing wars
Neal Peirce wrote a concise and persuasive argument for ending our “war on drugs”. However, he scarcely addressed the most fundamental question, “why don’t we end this war?”, except by the lame quote from Janet Napolitano.
I hope The Times and Peirce will continue to write about the reasons underlying our failure to end this war on drugs. My understanding is that addiction to prescription drugs are a greater problem than addiction to illegal drugs, and alcohol addiction dwarfs all the others. Why don’t we resume Prohibition if Napolitano’s argument is be given any credence?
My answer to this question is that the prison and drug enforcement lobbies are opposed, and politicians are too afraid to lead the effort for fear of attack by the “moral majority” and the “soft on crime” groups.
I hope that The Times and others in the media will continue to raise the question, “why don’t we end the war on drugs?” We are fighting far too many losing wars.
— Richard Miller, Seattle