Where This Meets That
Just across the Rio Grande, Mexico is under siege by drug cartels every bit as brutal as the Taliban in Afghanistan or warlords in Somalia.
Citizens using social media to incite opposition to cartel rule have received clear warnings in recent months, and the violence once thought unique to Mexican states along the US border has spilled into other major cities like Mexico City and Guadalajara, leaving the entire citizenry in the crossfire of warring drug cartels.
This spills over into other areas of debate in the U.S., such as the topic of illegal immigration. For instance, we in the U.S. debate how to prevent illegal immigrants from taking our jobs (and, therefore, our money) and how best to control the US-Mexico border (paradoxically, how to spend more of our money to prevent illegal immigrants from taking it).
The irony is that US policies, especially concerning narcotics, are the lifeblood for those cartels that are destroying Mexico.
In four decades since Nixon declared war on drugs, the “War on Drugs” has not only failed to accomplish its goals but has actually worsened the epidemic, doing far more harm to humanity than the drugs themselves.
A Good Lesson Lost
Prohibition of alcohol in the early twentieth century gave us a good benchmark that we would have done well to learn from. Prohibition single-handedly modernized organized crime in the U.S.. In addition to giving criminal enterprises means to power, it also diverted consumers to more harmful, unregulated concoctions, like moonshine.
Fast forward nearly 40 years, to the time of Nixon’s declaration. By then the world had shrunk sufficiently that our domestic policies effectively exported the well-documented consequences of Prohibition worldwide.
Lawlessness is an amazing and unfortunate side-effect of such policies, and by banning outright industries with consistent demand, lawmakers create monsters.
Old as Religion
The fact is that demand for drugs will always be there; drug use is as old as religion. And supply will always be there, because there is demand. Efforts to squash supply only succeed in driving up prices and profits and, therefore, incentives for people to enter the industry; there will always be people willing to risk everything to seek profit.
Take Afghanistan, for example. Since the fall of the Taliban, the opium industry has exploded. The Taliban, meanwhile, with their ruthless and murderous rule had almost totally eradicated the opium trade from Afghanistan.
Note the “almost”. If a regime like the Taliban couldn’t successfully wipe out the drug trade, do we honestly believe we, behind a government that trumpets “division of power” and a “Bill of Rights”, can?
And should we?
Two Ugly Truths
There are two ugly truths about a true democratic-minded government:
1) It must protect the rights of all people equally. This means the KKK and Catholic Church must have equally-protected rights to expression and practice so long as said expression and practice don’t directly threaten individual members of either.
2) It cannot fundamentally protect people from themselves.
Drug providers and drug users who, of a certain age, consent to doing business with each other, frankly, should be able to.
Common perception, of course, is that drug addiction and even recreational drug use places additional and disproportionate burdens on the larger society.
Drugs and Violent Crime
Take violent crime, for example. Conventional wisdom asserts that drug addicts rob and kill to fund their addictions. Conventional wisdom, though, has a funny way of deriving faulty conclusions from narrow, convenient datasets. In this case, we should ask whether such crimes are really caused by the drugs themselves.
Do illicit drugs predispose users to antisocial behavior by corroding their sense of reality and the common good? Perhaps instead, the antisocial tendencies of those most predisposed to addiction are to blame. These are the foremost positions of mainstream political pundits (i.e., “the Establishment”), but a third consideration understandably escapes these perpetuators of “conventional wisdom”, one that points at anti-drug laws as the root cause for elevated crime associated with drug users.
Consider this: how much serious crime is associated with alcohol and cigarette addictions? Drunk driving always tempts tragedy, and alcoholism wrecks homes every day. The sad facts are that addiction does exist in countless contexts, legal and not, and it does make its victims slaves to it. I know that. I had a friend die at the end of that road. But I also know is that he never stole to pay for alcohol or cigarettes.
Three more facts:
1) Drug laws grossly inflate prices of illicit drugs by choking off supply, making them harder to afford.
2) Drug testing hinders users’ abilities to gain legitimate employment.
3) Reduced supply drives innovation for quicker, more compact, accessible, addictive, and lethal drugs.
To some degree, each of us is familiar with the evils of addiction, but behind its façade, the War on Drugs is not and never has been about combating those evils. Its genesis was in industry and power, and as it stands today, the War on Drugs is, I truly believe, blight on humanity far graver than any drug epidemic.
Seven Benefits of Repealing the War on Drugs
After a four-decades-long, federally funded propaganda campaign that has demonized some drugs while promoting others (ahem, Big Pharma), this might be a challenge, but let’s consider a world without the War on Drugs. Below, I suggest seven significant benefits of repealing the drug war.
1) The illegal market immediately evaporates. Prices fall, and illegal enterprises (i.e., gangs and cartels) dependent on drug funds dissolve. Drug dealing is no longer a path of least resistance for income and status in troubled demographics. This effect is nowhere more obvious than at the US-Mexico border, where political and security pressures immediately dissipate.
2) Violent crime decreases, and prosecution of violent offenders increases. Law enforcement agencies are better able to battle violent crime.
3) Newly availed prison capacity rightly allows harsher penalties for violent criminals (rendering, incidentally, the death penalty absolutely unnecessary).
4) Legal enterprises capitalize, as new industries emerge bringing with them new employment opportunities (another benefit shared by our neighbors to the south).
5) Tax revenues receive a three-fold tonic: first, dissolution of the illegal market returns uncounted revenues to the legal, taxable economy; second, new tax revenues are generated; third, exorbitant tax dollars currently required to wage the War on Drugs (law enforcement, prisons, and propaganda) are liberated. Together, these three shifts enhance the economic well-being of both the public sector, by turning former losses into gains to pay down debt, and the private sector, by opening new doors of capital investment and reward.
6) Free nations swiftly follow suit. Only certain totalitarian states resist following our lead, further isolating them from the world and forcing greater cooperation in other political areas.
7) We enjoy new alliances built on free trade, as foreign relations immediately improve with impoverished countries whose top cash crops include illicit drugs and whose otherwise inescapable economic poverty predisposes them to hostilities (i.e., terrorism). This strengthens our security against would-be terrorists by boosting sagging economies through new opportunities to their citizens. Further, we reduce our drug-related military involvement in regions like South America, thus reducing propaganda fodder for the Hugo Chavezes of the world.
No doubt that many would debate me on any one of these seven assertions. Many might even say that the evil represented by drugs is worth fighting even as unwinnable as it is.
I respectfully disagree. And I haven’t even discussed the philosophical slippery slope into authoritarianism that the War on Drugs makes possible. Sadly, each year sunk into this unwinnable war moves the federal government closer and closer to the unchecked power wielded by over-reaching governments throughout history.
The Slippery Slope . . . to Where?
The past four decades have seen us, as a nation, grapple mightily between the desires for freedom and for security. Once upon a time, a perceived connection between drug culture and the anti-war movement made enforcement fairly easy (i.e., “just watch the hippies!”). But today, federal and local authorities work in concert with alarmingly complex surveillance equipment, including the likes of Predator B drones and who knows what else.
The Bush Administration used the War on Drugs as a roadmap for how to wage the War on Terror and then used the War on Terror as a means to escalate the War on Drugs. Tie that correlation to Obama’s controversial passage of the National Defense Authorization Act on New Year’s Eve (while most of us were prepping hors d’oeuvres and icing the champagne), and we have Constitutional Amendments Four and Five potentially brushed aside to largely combat an activity that is perfectly constitutional to begin with.
To what end?