Obama and the lethal war on drugs

By cannabis-sam · Mar 12, 2009 · ·
  1. cannabis-sam
    [h1] Obama and the lethal war on drugs[/h1]
    The death toll in Tijuana, Mexico, is now higher than in Baghdad

    With the global economy collapsing all around us, the last issue President Barack Obama wants to talk about is the ongoing War on Drugs. But if he doesn't – and fast – he may well have two collapsed and hemorrhaging countries on his hands. The first lies in the distant mountains of Afghanistan. The second is right next door, on the other side of the Rio Grande.

    Here's a starter for 10 about where this war has led us. Where in the world are you most likely to be beheaded? Where are the severed craniums of police officers being found week after week in the streets, pinned to bloody notes that tell their colleagues, "this is so that you learn respect"? Where are hand grenades being tossed into crowds to intimidate the public into shutting up? 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 criminalise a drug for which there is a large market, it doesn't disappear. The trade is simply transferred from chemists and doctors to 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 teen gangs stab or shoot each other for control of the 3,000 per cent profit margins on offer. Now imagine this process on a countrywide scale, and you have Mexico and Afghanistan today.

    Drugs syndicates control 8 per cent of global GDP – which means they have greater resources than many national armies. They own helicopters and submarines and they can afford to spread the woodworm of corruption through poor countries right to the top.

    Why Mexico? Why now? In the past decade, the US has spent a fortune spraying carcinogenic chemicals over Colombia's coca-growing areas, so the drug trade has simply shifted to Mexico. It's known as the "balloon effect": press down in one place, and the air rushes to another.

    When I was last there in 2006, I saw the drug violence taking off and warned that the murder rate was going to rocket – but I didn't imagine it would reach this scale. 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 per cent of Mexicans say they are frightened to go out because of the cartels.

    The cartels offer Mexican police and politicians a choice: plato o plomo. Silver or lead. Take a bribe, or take a bullet. Juan Camilo Mourino, the Interior Secretary, admits the cartels have so corrupted the police they can't guarantee the safety of the public any more. So the US is trying to militarise the attack on the cartels in Mexico, offering tanks, helicopters and hard cash.

    The same process has happened in Afghanistan. After the toppling of the Taliban, the country's bitterly poor farmers turned to the only cash crop that earns them enough to keep their kids alive: opium. It now makes up 50 per cent of the country's GDP. The drug cartels have a bigger budget than the elected government, so they have left the young parliament, police force and army riddled with corruption and virtually useless. The US reacted by declaring "war on opium".

    The German magazine Der Spiegel revealed that the NATO commander has ordered his troops to "kill all opium dealers". Seeing their main crop destroyed and their families killed, many have turned back to the Taliban in rage.

    What is the alternative? Terry Nelson was one of America's leading federal agents tackling drug cartels for over 30 years. He discovered the hard way that the current tactics are useless. "Busting top traffickers doesn't work, since others just do battle to replace them," he explains. But there is another way: "Legalising and regulating drugs will stop drug market violence by putting major cartels out of business. It's the one sure-fire way to bankrupt them, but when will our leaders talk about it?"

    Of course, the day after legalisation, a majority of gangsters will not suddenly join the Hare Krishnas and open organic food shops. But their profit margins will collapse as their customers go to off-licences and chemists, so the incentives for staying in crime will largely end. We don't have to speculate about this. When alcohol was legalised, the murder-rate fell off a cliff – and continued to drop for the next 10 years. (Rates of alcoholism, revealingly, remained the same.) No, Obama doesn't want to spend his political capital on this. He is the third consecutive US President to have used drugs in his youth, but he knows this is a difficult issue, where he could be tarred by his opponents as "soft on crime".

    Yet remember: opinions are febrile in a depression. At the birth of the last great downturn, support for alcohol prohibition was high; within five years, it was gone. The Harvard economist Professor Jeffrey Miron has calculated that drug prohibition costs the US government $44.1bn per year – and legalisation would raise another $32.7bn on top of that in taxes if drugs were taxed like alcohol. (All this money would, in a sane world, be shifted to drug treatment.)

    Can the US afford to force this failing policy on the world – especially when it guarantees the collapse both of the country they are occupying and their own neighbour?

    Drug addiction is always a tragedy for the addict – but drug prohibition spreads the tragedy across the globe. We still have a chance to take drugs back into the legal regulated economy, before it's too late for Mexico and Afghanistan and graveyards-full of more stabbed kids on the streets of Britain. Obama – and the rest of us – have to choose: controlled regulation or violent prohibition? Healthcare or warfare?


    By John Hari Wednesday, 11 February 2009

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  1. Don't fear the Reaper
    Good article, if only more people would understand it this way :)

    Regulation is the way fowards... what happened to the quote about learning from historys mistakes? Prohibition does not work, it's been proven many times.
  2. Greenport

    The war on drugs is indeed a war, it's a war of the government versus humanity. People want to use drugs. They want to go home and have a cigarette, or smoke a bowl. They want to have the ability to artificially induce energy, so should they choose so (and legally do with caffeine every day.) They want to be able to take something that will let them dance the night away, and put depression, sadness, pain and suffering behind them even if it's only for 4-6 hours at a time. They want to alter their point of view on the world around them, and discover things they didn't realize. They want to go out to a bar on the weekend with their friend and have a drink, or 4, or 20. They want the right to alter their body's chemistry the way that they see fit for their current situation.

    And when the government says no, we rule and you can't do these kinds of things, humans and as a whole, society, seems to react quite violently. Prohibition doesn't stop the pot user or mdma or mushroom or heroin user from using their drug just as much as alcohol prohibition didn't stop people from drinking. When alcohol was made illegal, instead of being in the hands of taxed businesses, it was placed into the hands of criminals. Those who manufactured, used, sold, bought, and made available the drug (alcohol) were subject to arrest and thus in order to stay out of prison while supplying the human demand, would resort to violence to protect not only their large stash of untaxed American dollars but also their own life and the lives of those who cared to have a drink that night. That violence was the result of the war between the government and society. What did that war cost us in human lives?


    People were finally able to have a drink when they wanted to and no longer had to carry guns to get it. This is what is currently going on between the Mexican and US border. The United States is trying to prevent these people by attacking the suppliers rather than by settling the demand. And the consequences are deadly - it's an all-out war with people resorting to murder to push their product. The demand is still there but the supply isn't, and that demand is strong enough to warrant people who are willing to resort to much bigger crimes than drug peddling to get in on a piece of that supply. These people don't care about being arrested or shot or getting their stash taken, they are fighting in an ongoing battle based solely on humanity's values.

    And did you catch the bit in that article about 50 percent of the GDP in Afghanistan was from opium production? Families who have few ways to provide for their children are being murdered by the government for growing and selling some plants, which happen to have medicinal and recreational properties. That is war.

    Meanwhile the government tries to sit behind a myriad of deceptions and declare that drug users and dealers are the ones responsible for this war, when past data relating to alcohol prohibition directly shows that the prohibition laws have a sharp, direct correlation to the annual murder rate. When the prohibition ended, the homicide rate dropped from just under 10 people per 100,000 down to 5.5. By that data, that's a 45% reduction in murder rates! A reduction that large today would account for the lives of more than 13,600 people.

    The data clearly states that drug prohibition results in the increase of violent crimes - not just 'drug crime'. This can be seen no more clearly today than at the Mexican border, where this war has currently escalated into a bloody execution between the suppliers and the prohibitionists. It isn't a war with standards, rather it is one without limits, with people who will stop at nothing to continue to supply the human demand. And if the past 100 years has taught society anything, it's that if we want something, we will get it no matter whose shoes we have to step on to get it.

    (Whoops sorry got pretty carried away :D)
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