The war on drugs

By Eric Mathison

It is no secret that America devotes an exorbitant amount of money on its war against drugs. With 2010 three-quarters over, $35 billion has been spent to stop the spread of marijuana, cocaine and other narcotics. Since Felipe Calderón became president of Mexico, a similar drug war has been raging there, but the situation is quite different.

Mexico supplies most of the drugs that end up on American streets. In turn, America’s organized crime sends guns and money south. Gangs on both sides of the border have an interest in keeping the relationship fruitful and the elaborate system of illicit trade they have set up has proven too rooted for either governments to make much impact against them.

This is not for a lack of trying. Ciudad Juárez, located close to the Texas border, is perhaps the bloodiest city in the world at present. Corruption is so widespread in Mexico that there are reports of guards letting prisoners out so they can go on killing missions for their respective gangs. The drug culture permeates some of these communities to such an extent that inhabitants have drug songs– called narcocorridos– that are sung to pay tribute (and provide warning) to the pros and cons of drugs.

Recently the Mexican drug war has been showing signs of the violence abating. While Calderón has been merciless in his crackdown on corruption, firing police officers by the tens of thousands and refusing to back down despite frequent deaths of politicians, the largest reason for this potential change is California.

California is in a tough spot. The state’s debt has become so bad that government employees were being issued IOUs for a while. Part of the problem is the prison system which, like other states with three strikes laws, locks up people at an incredible rate for long periods of time. The cost of this habit led governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to consider sending prisoners to Mexico. (The plan has since been deemed unconstitutional, although rumours that the plan still persists exist.) To cover all this debt it looks more likely that California will be the first state to legalize and tax marijuana.

This is bad news if you’re a drug lord in Mexico. If Californians are allowed to start growing and selling their own pot, a large market for Mexican cannabis will be made null. If California succeeds in implementing this system other states are likely to follow, so the drug war may be beaten by stopping the impetus the drug dealers have to kill each other.

Prominent politicians in Mexico are arguing for a similar thing. Vicente Fox, the former president, is arguing that all drugs should be legalised. Of course, promoting legal cocaine is less likely to be embraced by the entire population, but the case for marijuana remains strong.

The American drug policy, including heavy jail terms for marijuana possession, is unwarranted. The money invested in fighting the organized crime groups that transport marijuana has been a complete failure. And the incarceration rate for youths caught with small amounts is abhorrent. Legalization, for marijuana at least, makes a convincing case.

The most obvious reason to legalize and tax marijuana is that it doesn’t present a danger to society by doing so. Recreational pot use is in many ways safer than alcohol. The second reason is the economic solution it presents.

One can support the legalization of marijuana while condemning drug violence without contradiction. The fact that people kill over marijuana is because it is unregulated. With the increased supply of it becoming legal, the revenue available to drug gangs would be lost. Gangs, obviously, aren’t going away. But drugs like cocaine and heroin lack the same market, mainly because most people know the negative effect they have on lives. One can recreationally use marijuana– cocaine and heroin are less often used this way.

What of legalizing cocaine? Do the same arguments apply? They very well might. The difficulty is determining where the line should be drawn with different drugs. For all that, slippery slope arguments are unsuccessful. Legalizing marijuana is justified, and that’s enough for California.

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