South of the Border: A Rational Critique of the U.S. War on Drugs

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Source: Milenio Online

In Mexico, arguably the country most affected by the U.S. War on Drugs, bitter resentment continues to roil the region’s stability. Many Mexicans blame Washington for the tumult being visited upon their nation by the cartels. Some believe drug legalization could curb the unacceptable magnitude of atrocities occurring in Mexico and its neighbors. With frustration reaching record levels, many discontented Mexicans have begun taking to the streets in a steady crescendo of protests, known as the estamos hasta la madre (we have had enough) protests. Leading the way has been Javier Sicilia, a left-wing writer and journalist calling for the legalization of drugs and the resignation of President Felipe Calderón.  Sicilia believes him to be a complicit partner of the U.S. in the militarization of the cartels. Sicilia understands the destructive impact of the cartels from having an intensely personal experience, an explosive tragedy in which his own son was strangled to death last March.  Sicilia points an accusatory finger accompanied by a rational argument that portrays the War on Drugs as completely futile. As he candidly observes, “The United States, looking to protect its global interests, has in a way imposed this war against drug trafficking on us. They imposed it on us, even though the U.S. has the highest number of drug users.”

As a major recipient, as of now, of U.S. aid, Mexico has become one of the most highly militarized nations in the Hemisphere’s anti-drug war. Under the terms of the Merida Initiative, signed in 2008, the U.S. provides USD 1.5 billion per annum to the Mexican government “For equipment, training, and community action programs to implement anti-gang measures.” This project is only one of several aimed at expanding an already heavily armed, if poorly trained, anti-drug police force, while bolstering drug kingpins who shamelessly benefit from drug prohibition.Because drug prohibition rather than legalization is the preferred official policy throughout the Americas, drug production and subsequent sales has become the domain of the criminal underworld. Since the U.S. ranks as the world’s largest consumer of drugs, its policy of prohibition creates an enormously fertile market for drug production and sales in the black market. This process of allowing the black market to assume primacy in the process of drug manufacturing and selling inevitably leads to even more painful tragedies, as innocent civilians become inadvertent targets of gangland warfare.  Mexico’s location between the U.S. and the cocaine-producing nations found in Central and South America makes the country an ideal locale for drug production and transit. The country’s climate is also extremely well suited for cannabis production.

LaMond Tullis, a noted scholar on Mexico, eloquently explains this paradoxical situation whereby the good intentions of prohibition produces clearly negative results: “Mexico’s drug problem is not illicit-drug consumption so much as it is the social overhead costs imposed by two unfortunate conditions: U.S. prohibitionism that drives prices up, and Mexico’s border status with the world’s largest illegal drug market.”Although this argument typically encounters derision in the U.S., if one examines the points in favor of drug legalization with a clear, rational mind, several possible positive outcomes come to the forefront. The U.S. could conserve millions of dollars in law enforcement funds annually, while more efficiently directing its priorities away from the detention of non-violent perpetrators of victimless crimes. Prisons, which demand several billion dollars of federal funding per year, would then not require the same exorbitant funding they currently enjoy. By spending less on punitive measures, federal funding could be limited to cheaper, more compassionate methods of convincing drug users to stay clean, such as creative rehabilitation programs. Meanwhile, across the border in Mexico, legalization would suck the lifeblood out of the drug cartels. If governments regulated the drug trade instead of allowing the black market to manipulate it, the cartels would be left without their primary source of income, and could conceivably eventually disband. Returning to Sicilia, a Lear-like figure as the father of a son killed at the hands of bestial drug figures, his experience offers support for a similar reconsideration of policy, fostering hope and change. He states: “Behind each one of those drug users, people like Charlie Sheen or Paris Hilton that promote drug use…behind all of that and behind all of the weapons there are the dead. They [the U.S. and Mexican governments] need to realize that they are killing us. And beyond just killing us, these crimes go unpunished…These are crimes against humanity.”

Written by COHA Research Associate Parker Wright