Time to stop the drug war

February 11, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More

Johann Hari sums it up at Huffpo:

Which country was just named by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff as the most likely after Pakistan to suffer a “rapid and sudden collapse“?

Most of us would guess Iraq. The answer is Mexico. The death toll in Tijuana today is higher than in Baghdad. The story of how this came to happen is the story of this war — and why it will have to end, soon.

When you criminalize a drug for which there is a large market, it doesn’t disappear. The trade is simply transferred from pharmacists and doctors to armed criminal gangs. In order to protect their patch and their supply routes, these gangs tool up — and kill anyone who gets in their way. You can see this any day on the streets of London or Los Angeles, where teenage gangs stab or shoot each other for control of the 3,000 percent profit margins on offer. Now imagine this process on a countrywide scale, and you have Mexico and Afghanistan today.

How bad have things gotten in Mexico?

In 2007, more than 2,000 people were killed. In 2008, it was more than 5,400 people. The victims range from a pregnant woman washing her car to a four year-old child to a family in the “wrong” house watching television. Today, 70 percent of Mexicans say they are frightened to go out because of the cartels.

Writer Christina Gleason sums up some of the carnage here in the U.S.:

According to the Department of Justice, over half of all sentenced federal prisoners are drug offenders. Over 80% of the increase in the federal prison population was due to drug convictions between 1985 and 1995. In addition, a 2006 report claimed that 17% of State prisoners and 18% of Federal prisoners committed their crimes in order to obtain drug money. According to a 2001 report, the average sentence for all offenses was 56.8 months. The average sentence for drug offenses was 75.6 months, while the average sentence for violent offenses was 63.0 months.  Someone is arrested for violating a drug law every 17 seconds. Someone is arrested for violating a cannabis law every 38 seconds.

What’s the solution?   Hari quotes Terry Nelson a former U.S. drug enforcement officer who has seen the light:

Legalizing and regulating drugs will stop drug market crime and violence by putting major cartels and gangs out of business. It’s the one surefire way to bankrupt them, but when will our leaders talk about it?

Why do most people reject this solution?  They are afraid that the people who are already getting drugs will continue getting drugs, I suppose.   They are failing to consider the extent of the violence and the fact that the drug war is taking valuable money out of the economy to accomplish next to nothing.  If you doubt me, go watch a drug court docket.   Talk about meaningless rubber stamping.   People with drug records as long as your arm simply revolve through the system.  In state court, judges struggle to find ways to keep from filling our prisons with nothing but drug offenders.  That is the extent of the problem.


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Category: law and order, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Kenny Celican says:

    It appears to be a combination of factors, which one is paramount, or whether they are simply combining to produce a problematic level of dedication to a failing process is beyond my ability to determine:

    – Moral objections: some lawmakers feel it is their duty to legislate morality, not to update and streamline the explicit social contract. Their morals state that drugs are wrong, therefore they must oppose any effort to legalize drugs

    – Pragmatic aversion to solutions: solving a problem doesn't bring voters to the polls. Having a proposed solution to an obviously bad problem does. This means it is more productive pragmatically to have a long list of easy to understand, easy to accept non-viable solutions than to have a single viable one

    – Political Correctness: at the moment it is a controversial and unpopular stance to legalize illegal drugs. Unpopular loses votes

    – Financial benefits of War on Drugs: There are legal and illegal industries based on those drugs being illegal, both of which are very lucrative. Closing down the War on Drugs stops both of those revenue flows, which means both sets of business people will send campaign monies to lawmakers who support the War on Drugs.

    – Inertia: Human nature is to keep trying something once it has become habit, even if the process doesn't appear to be working. We try harder, we try longer, we try a new person doing the same thing, we try bringing back the original people who had apparent success, but we dont do new things

    YMMV on any of those, but there is some truth to all of them, and I suspect that any given lawmaker is influenced by at least one, if not many.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    As drug violence spirals out of control in Mexico, a commission led by three former Latin American heads of state blasted the U.S.-led drug war as a failure that is pushing Latin American societies to the breaking point.

    "The available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war," said former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in a conference call with reporters from Rio de Janeiro. "We have to move from this approach to another one."

    The commission, headed by Mr. Cardoso and former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and César Gaviria of Colombia, says Latin American governments as well as the U.S. must break what they say is a policy "taboo" and re-examine U.S.-inspired antidrugs efforts. The panel recommends that governments consider measures including decriminalizing the use of marijuana.


  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Robyn Blumner writes this at ArgusLeader.com:

    The U.S. currently incarcerates 2.4 million people, and roughly 20 percent of state prisoners and 50 percent of federal prisoners are doing time for a drug offense. We arrested 775,000 people for marijuana possession last year alone. The estimated cost of incarcerating drug offenders is $15 billion annually. Addiction destroys lives and families, but so does prison, particularly long, mandatory-minimum sentences for minor offenses that are a direct consequence of political demagoguery rather than sane policy.

    Where would you rather see $25,000 in tax money go, toward sending someone found with marijuana to prison for a year or providing three addicts with substance abuse treatment? A Rand Corp. study in 1994 commissioned by the U.S. Army found that $7 in societal costs were saved for every dollar invested in treatment. Yet as a nation, we choose to imprison the marijuana possessor time and again. The priorities are backward and spendthrift.


  4. Michael C. Goncalves says:

    You are leaving out another option to the drug war—one that HAS WORKED BECAUSE I'VE SEEN IT WORK!!! Remember the Paraquat Scare of the early 1980's? Our College townhouses were pot central of Santa Clara—we partied almost every night. Then the news reports came in (false I might add) that the helecopters were spraying paraquat on the marijauna farms and that people who smoked said treated pot were throwing up blood. Supply died overnight—you couldn't give grass away!!! My suggestion is that the government release placibo drugs and or drugs cut with Narcon (buzzkillers) or actually start poisoning it. You would kill off the market without creating a new market for drugs. I've seen it done—it works!!!

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Michael – you can't be serious. While you're at it, to be consistent, you would poison all psycho-active prescription drugs and all alcoholic drinks to teach all of those Republicans to get off that shit too, right? And you probably think we should poison french fries to teach obese people to stop eating them?

      Poison? Gad. What you suggest is not a solution on so many levels that it makes my head hurt. I don't see occasional use of marijuana to be any more of a problem than for someone to have a couple drinks. You obviously have a different world view, one that I find disturbing.

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