High hopes

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In last week’s republican presidential debate that focused exclusively on national security, Mexican drug cartels became a hot topic of discussion. Phil Truluck, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the conservative Heritage Foundation made note of the numerous “drug-related crimes and violence” on the US-Mexican border, and asked the candidates what the federal government can do with the Mexican government “to help stop” the drug cartels.

Not surprisingly, Gov. Rick Perry and others voiced their approval for “more boots on the ground,” a timeless government-centric approach that precipitates violence and bloodshed. It goes right along with the renewed push by several members of Congress for the classification of Mexican drug cartels as “terrorist organizations.” Presumably, doing so could allow the government to open up its extra-constitutional toolkit of military violence and targeted assassinations of individuals.

I have a solution for Congress and the gentleman from the Heritage Foundation, and it isn’t nearly as violent, expensive or authoritarian: decriminalize the drugs that Congress should not have made illegal to begin with. The glaring fact that federal officials do not want to confront is that even in the 1920s, when supporters of alcohol prohibition unabashedly advocated for the federal government to criminalize the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol in the US, they acknowledged that it would take a constitutional amendment to do so.

Today’s drug warriors side-step disastrous discussions and instead opt for the typical totalitarian reasoning that Congress has the power to criminalize any drug of its choosing under an open-ended interpretation of the commerce clause of the Constitution.

Aside from these glaring legal issues, decriminalizing drugs such as marijuana and cocaine in this country would dissolve Mexican drug cartels faster and more effectively than millions of federal agents coupled with trillions of taxpayer dollars. The very act of calling violent Mexican drug-hustlers “cartels” reveals the simple economic truth of what is happening. In the absence of professional and legal competition in the US marketplace for the supply of drugs (mainly marijuana), shady, violent thugs in Mexico have risen to fill the void.

And in the absence of competition, they are effectively controlling the supply of the criminalized substances, ensuring economic profits for themselves through violence — all thanks to American drug policies themselves.

Take away the limits to competition and you take away the cartels’ only objective and their only source of power — their ability to make money. The truth is that drugs that end up in the US need not come from across the border. Marijuana could just as easily be grown in California as it could in Mexico or anywhere else in Latin America.

We also should not take people who are ill with a drug addiction or recreational users of a nearly harmless natural substance and incarcerate them as if they are equivalent to rapists and murderers. To date, it hasn’t helped us one iota to do so.

The 50 year history of the drug war has proven that the federal government cannot control the demand for illegal drugs through violence. The only thing it has managed to do is cause the suppliers of illicit drugs to become powerful, foreign, criminal enterprises that enjoy fabulous profits for undertaking supply schemes that could easily be carried out in the US by legal and professional means.

So why must presidential candidates from both major parties insist that we continue to use force and violence in a failed attempt to solve a social and economic problem?

Governmental coercion and violence can never make its citizens follow better habits or make moral decisions. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can stop wasting trillions of dollars on a violent and endless drug war.

Steven Christopher is a first year graduate student in the C.T. Bauer College of Business and may be reached at [email protected]


  • I have to disagree with just making the drugs legal. Although legality sounds like a legitimate solution I feel that it opens the door to more problems. Just making a bad thing good does not result in a positive outcome. Is getting rid of taxes going to make our economy better? Is making child pornography legal going to get rid of those sites? Even with alcohol being legal after prohibition of it long ago, would you say it's been positive or a negative effect on the population? I feel that giving ground on this subject would cause us to lose even more ground in other areas. The cons will outway the pros.

    • Yeah, the alcohol outcome has been terrible. Just look at all the violence in Mexico between Corona and Jose Cuervo cartels that has arisen from their attempts to control access to the US alcohol market. They have destabilized the entire country! And what about the drive-by's that the thugs from Spec's Liquor engage in on a regular basis while trying to control the alcohol market in the poorest of neighborhoods, those are terrible!

    • Yeah Guano, you should have checked out this series from PBS that aired a couple months ago. Like Bauer Alum has said, we would be in worse trouble had prohibition continued. 50% of adults have tried marijuana. It is an accepted social norm. When you try to change the norms of society through legislation you just make those issues worse. There was more violence, alcohol dependence, and criminal mischeif during prohibition than has been seen since its repeal. No one running an alcohol business is gunning down their rivals today. Think about it.

  • @Guano

    Decrimalizing ≠ Legalizing

    Legalizing would allow businesses to sell it, decriminalizing allows for less punishment on drug users.

    Anyways, marijuana should absolutely be legal and the country is really beginning to see it. Poll after poll we are seeing a rise in tolerance of the drug, but ff course though we have these backward ass politicians (mainly conservatives, and even a "moderate" Obama) who only listen to their corporate overlords while completely ignoring their core constituency.

    As for other drugs, I do not feel that they should be legalized, or decriminalized. I've seen first hand the harms that drugs like cocaine and heroine do, and I feel like their should be stricter punishment on those who use them so that the general population can be completely turned off by the legal implications.

  • The nice thing about making alcohol legal was, with the resultant high rate of alcoholism in this country, "treating" it in rehaps from coast to coast since the 1930s has become a billion-dollar industry, with no end in sight. (Who knew drunks could be so profitable?) Billions of federal dollars annually prop up these revered agencies. Oh, yes, de-criminalizing alcohol certainly did solve the problem. Obviously, decriminalizing any other drugs will, likewise solve its problems. Dream on.

    • So you're cool with the gov't deeming something bad for you and thus criminalizing it? Soft drinks lead to obesity, which costs the gov't billions in payments for the treatment of heart disease and diabetes. So maybe coca cola and pepsi should be banned. Motorcycles are dangerous and lead to expensive emergency room visits, so lets ban those too. And don't forget about jungle gyms, thousands of kids are hurt on those yearly, lets ban those too.

      No thanks, I prefer a small government; one that stays out of my wallet AND my personal life.

      • Isn't the DEA a multibillion dollar agency? And last I checked, incarceration isn't cheap either. And I thought the alcohol industry pays taxes, while drug trade doesn't (for the most part).

        But there is the point that drugs destroy the lives of everyone who tries them. Just ask our last 3 Presidents.

  • If decriminalization is your answer to society's woes, than you are clearly clueless about what those woes are. You think the drug cartels are going to vanish if drugs like cocaine are suddenly available from a legal U.S. source? How would that work? How many adults would be able to function in their everyday lives high on crack? Would you like to be treated by a dentist who just took a hit? How about the doctor setting your broken bone, or the electrician fixing the lights in your house, or better yet, the mechanic fixing the brakes on school bus your kid uses? I'm guessing, in your world, there would be no zero-tolerance drug policies at work either. Would that be okay since crack would be legal? To get the gov. out of your life, go live in a cave, and when you need a cop, a fireman, a soldier, a mayor or a judge, or any other municipal employee, just remember, you don't want the government in your life.

    • Providing services like police officers, firefighters, national defense, courts, or anything else of the like, is completely different than having the government tell me what I can or cannot put into my own body.

      Your point about a "zero-tolerance" work place is really pathetic. What business owner would knowingly hire or continue to employ someone whose drug use affected the way they worked to the point it would hinder their business? Would you go doctor, a dentist, or hire an electrician or mechanic that did drugs? I sure wouldn't.

      Also, I'd invite you to review Portugal's recent decriminalization of drug use. You'll notice that drug use actually went down, yet our "war" on drugs has seemingly made the problem worse, as it forces users underground, away from getting help, and allows less pure, more harmful drugs to make their way onto the market since the more pure, less harmful forms of common drugs are harder to come by.

  • I believe we can all agree it's better for someone to be caught with legal drugs to get through a boring hour and a half lecture about land ordinances than for someone to have illegal drugs to get through a boring hour and a half lecture about land ordinances.

    From a disciplinary standpoint at least.

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