Americans are addicted to the drug war. Countless billions of taxpayers’ money, at all levels, has been lost in a futile effort to keep unapproved drugs off our streets. The effort has only raised illicit drugs’ value, and thus raised sellers’ profits — and the extremes to which they’ll go to rake them in.
We hope President Barack Obama, who appears more reasonable and willing to listen than his predecessor, is willing to view the issue with an open mind, and entertain options we have been taught not to consider.
The drug war is of particular concern along the U.S.-Mexico border, where a large percentage of illegal drugs enter this country. Violence among competing cartels has become so fierce that the U.S. Joint Forces Command in November warned of a “rapid and sudden collapse” of Mexico’s government as a result of drug violence.
“How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state.” The
violence is so bad the Mexican government confirmed at least 5,500 deaths to cartel wars in 2008 alone. In contrast, U.S. war deaths in Iraq totaled 4,236 from our invasion in 2003 through last week.
Mexico reports the Gulf Cartel, using the Zeta paramilitary group, as the most violent, but the highest concentration of deaths is in Ciudad Juarez, where nearly 1,600 people were killed last year.
While the bulk of the violence is in Mexico, there is growing concern it could spill over the border. U.S. law officials reported last year that Zetas had authorized incursions into this country to find and kill their targets, and the Department of Homeland Security recently said it had developed a military “surge” strategy to deal with border violence if it became necessary.
An alarmed El Paso, Texas, City Council recently voted unanimously to send a letter to the White House asking that drugs be legalized, although Mayor John Cook vetoed the resolution.
To people who have only heard of interdiction efforts, decriminalization might seem outlandish, but it’s important to
remember that outlawing alcohol created the same rampant violence. It took Americans just 15 years to see the error of Prohibition and repeal the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.
The drug war is in its fourth decade, and the problems of drug prohibition are only getting worse. Officials estimate illegal drug use and the crime that goes with it leads to about 20,000 U.S. deaths, and cost taxpayers $98 billion, every year.
How much better might things be if some of that money were devoted to treatment and education, instead of guns and caskets? Determining the answer would require a whole new approach to dealing with the problem.
Unfortunately, politicians are addicted to the votes they court by passing laws that suggest they’re doing something about the issue. Local governments and law enforcement officials are addicted to the drug war money that helps them hire more people and provide more
services. And the public is addicted to constant news that its officials are working to ensure their safety.
President Obama currently has widespread backing of a nation that wishes him well, and supports his calls for change from the old ways of doing things. He could take advantage of that support and at least study new ways of addressing our drug problem. If we don’t try something new, we’ll never know what might have actually worked.
We already know the current strategy hasn’t worked for 40 years. More of the same isn’t likely to bring different results.