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Monday, September 26, 2022

Columns

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]

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