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Truth about the Drug War from Outgoing Mexican President

Felipe Calderón via The Economist:

"[E]ither the United States and its society, its government and its congress decide to drastically reduce their consumption of drugs, or if they are not going to reduce it they at least have the moral responsibility to reduce the flow of money towards Mexico, which goes into the hands of criminals. They have to explore even market mechanisms to see if that can allow the flow of money to reduce.

"If they want to take all the drugs they want, as far as I’m concerned let them take them. I don’t agree with it but it’s their decision, as consumers and as a society. What I do not accept is that they continue passing their money to the hands of killers."

For many who have studied the war on drugs, this obvious conclusion is nothing new (although it does represent a shifting perspective in a region tired of the drug war and its consequences).  The bottom line is that the war on drugs has failed in two key ways:  it has not substantially curtailed the demand for drugs nor has it substantially the supply thereof.  As such, it could not be a more stunning failure (unless, of course, one accounts for the price tag in both dollars and blood).

The reality is:  there is not going to be a drug free world (indeed, there never has been).  As such, the issue is about managing the issue, not waging war on it.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Yep, the Feds on this issue (and others) never did figure out the law of supply and demand. Substantial demand either will find a supply or a supply will be created to match that demand. In economics over the long haul everything exists in equilibrium.

    Calderon is smoking crack, however, about the money issue. How exactly do you stop money from being transferred? Ban 100 dollar bills? Who exactly is the “they” that gives money to drug suppliers? Those people themselves are criminals. Plus how many layers of irony are present in Calderon being quoted on this issue without simultaneously being quoted on the rank corruption of the Mexican government (many of whose members are in bed literally and figuratively with the drug trade)? Then there’s the numbing irony of Calderon being quoted on this issue but not simultaneously being quoted on Team Holder/Obama directly transferring assault weapons to Mexican drug lords.

    The solution to the drug war is pretty simple, although not as simple(ton) as the “legalize everything” crowd would deign to believe. Get the Feds out of the drug war game. Leave it up to individual states and individual state budgets and social mores to decide whether and to what extent to criminalize drugs. Except directly in connection with ports and borders the Feds need not be concerned one iota with drugs. That alone would save mucho federal dollars and time, effort and manpower. Instead of having DEA, ATF and other alphabet soup federal agencies and departments chasing cocaine and heroin dealers we could and should reallocate those public resources to snuffing out the next Mohammed Atta.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  2. michael reynolds says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Leave it up to individual states and individual state budgets and social mores to decide whether and to what extent to criminalize drugs.

    I keep thinking you can’t top your last ridiculous idea. And then you do. So it would be up to, say, Delaware to outlaw drugs even if Maryland and Pennsylvania legalized? Do you know how to find Google Maps? Arizona legalizes and opens its border to Mexico and Nevada outlaws drugs and that has what effect, exactly? Nevada searches cars coming to Vegas?

    Do you ever subject your wacky notions to a reality test?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  3. @michael reynolds: Come now, didn’t you know that federalism is the wonder drug?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  4. john personna says:

    But surely state by state legalization will be the path for marijuana. That might take 10 or 20 years. At which point things might stabilize or someone might add a new legal drug.

    I have no idea to what extent legal marijuana would reduce the market for illegal drugs. I gather that users of harder stuff are on some slide composed of both self-destruction and highs. There is only so much punishment or counseling can do about that kind of thing. Incarceration seems kind of pointless though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. David says:

    Quickest way to stem the flow of money to Mexican crime lords is to legalize and regulate marijuana like tobacco. Is it a cure all? Nope, but it sure would take a bite out of the problem. Next, for cocaine, meth, acid, etc., change the punishment structure, instead of throwing users in jail throw them in rehab with an actual support system after they get out. Would it stop drug use, nope, but it might actually reduce the demand. Trying to curb supply has been an utter waste of money, and doing this can’t cost near as much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. @john personna: I do think that state-level pressure will lead, eventually, to a change of federal policy on marijuana. My snark was aimed at TN’s extremely simplistic view of how federalism could solve the drug problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. john personna says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I had to read him carefully. I think he wrote a blustery but somewhat correct comment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. TastyBits says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The US gov’t controls the borders and the importation of goods, and Arizona cannot make its own laws regarding these. This is one of the problems with the AZ immigration laws. Alcohol is prohibited in certain areas, and drugs should be no different. This is not going to solve the drug problems. The US gov’t has made the problem worse, and the solution is going to be difficult.

    Federal drug laws should be abolished or reworked to mimic alcohol laws. All federal money should cease. Local jurisdictions should no longer be allowed to keep confiscated goods and money. Drug enforcement is a major revenue source for many locations. This would also curb civil rights violations. False-positive hits by the drug sniffing dogs would decrease when there was no financial incentive to make drug arrests. “Driving while black” would also decrease for the same reason.

    In order to curb meth amphetamine production, I can no longer buy Claritin-D without filling out a stack of paperwork. Crystal meth is as available as before the law, but now it is being produced and distributed by Mexican drug cartels. The fairly harmless local meth head cooking and selling crank has been replaced with a ruthless gang, and the ruthless gang is going to expand into other illegal activities.

    The War on Drugs is destroying communities at the lower end of society. The prisons are filled with people convicted of drug crimes, and the “three strikes” laws are keeping them full. A drug conviction is usually an instant job disqualification. The drug industry is primarily located in the lower end communities. These folks do not have the resources to hire additional security or move to a better neighborhood, and in too many places, the police are involved in the drug trade.

    When the police are worse than the criminals, you are truly f*cked.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    I read somewhere a few years ago that if drugs are legal about 5% of the population abuses them but if drugs are illegal about 5% of the population abuses them. Oh wait, why are we fighting this war again?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  10. michael reynolds says:

    The Colorado and Washington laws are not the rational way to deal with marijuana. They’re evidence of the absurdity of federal marijuana laws, which they manifestly undercut. Clearly neighboring states will be affected — positively if you believe as I do in legalization, negatively if you’re on the other team.

    We will have a situation where a man whose house straddles the Washington/Idaho border may do something legal in his living room that gets him a felony charge in his dining room. If the roads on your Colorado ranch happen to cross into Idaho territory you can commit a felony by driving out to check your herd.

    We went through this with Dredd Scott. Making a practice legal in State A and illegal in State B is untenable. Obviously the legal states are putting pressure on the more retrograde states. Obviously they are complicating the efforts of Idaho, Utah and others to enforce their own laws. Obviously as well, citizens of the legal states will resent their neighbors’ efforts at enforcement. And that’s before we get into the DEA, and whether federal pot pusts in Washington state will automatically be given a change of venue to Idaho.

    Federalism is an anachronistic idea. States are a ridiculous throwback to a bygone era, and they didn’t make much sense even then. Now with interstates carrying millions of cars at 70 mph across state lines the idea that a behavior is legal at one off-ramp and a felony at the next is absurd and unjust.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  11. michael reynolds says:

    The drug war has been a mistake from the start. End it. Legalize it all, tax it all, regulate it all, use the tax revenue to educate people, and I suspect in the end, as Ron Beasley points out above, we’ll have just about the same number of druggies we have now but they won’t be feeding drag gangs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Just one other point: we already have the perfect model. Not alcohol, but tobacco. Cigarettes have remained legal and they are highly addictive. Do we have more or fewer cigarette addicts than we had 50 years ago, or 30, or 10? Fewer. Far fewer. And all of it came from education and social pressure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  13. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds: As a nicotine addict I agree.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Now with interstates carrying millions of cars at 70 mph across state lines the idea that a behavior is legal at one off-ramp and a felony at the next is absurd and unjust.

    Yes, indeed–as anyone who has ever wanted to drive through New York with an unloaded gun locked in his trunk will tell you.

    Or a gay couple whose marriage is valid in California but nowhere else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. michael reynolds says:

    Self-edit:

    If the roads on your Colorado ranch do in fact cross into Idaho, you’re smoking some really good weed. Meant Utah.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. john personna says:

    michael reynolds is standing athwart history, yelling “stop”

    ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    Worse yet, I think the history I’m standing athwart was in 1792.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Was 1792 when we got uniform national alcohol laws?

    (There are dry counties, but the dry villages in Alaska are probably the most extreme outliers for our national law.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna: No, because 1792 is actually 1789 when the Constitution, ya see, with the states and the. . . and Colorado shares a border with Idaho. . .

    Sigh.

    In my defense I have a cold and my wife snuck half-caff on me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    In my defense I have a cold and my wife snuck half-caff on me.

    I drink half-caf all the time and I never confused Utah with Idaho… ;-) I had all kinds of snark for you until you caught yourself. Dagnabbit!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @john personna:

    I had to read him carefully. I think he wrote a blustery but somewhat correct comment.

    John, I couldn’t get past

    Calderon is smoking crack, however, about the money issue. How exactly do you stop money from being transferred? Ban 100 dollar bills? Who exactly is the “they” that gives money to drug suppliers? Those people themselves are criminals.

    before I decided Tsar was smoking crack himself, and figured the rest was just as stupid.

    Tsar, “they” are the drug users who buy their drugs from the dealer on the corner who transfers the money to the cartels. “They” are only criminals because of the idiotic “war on drugs”. How do we stop the money from being transferred to the cartels? End the war on drugs.

    John, I admire your persistence in reading Tsar. Every now and again he makes a valid observation so I try to read him. But when the stupid comes at the top of the 2nd para…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  22. Ben says:

    @David:

    Next, for cocaine, meth, acid, etc., change the punishment structure, instead of throwing users in jail throw them in rehab with an actual support system after they get out.

    Why is it that anyone who uses a so-called “hard” drug is an addict that needs to go to rehab? Is it impossible for someone to recreationally use cocaine or ecstasy or acid? I’m not saying jail is better, but I’m saying that if a recreational user who isn’t addicted is removed from their life and forced to go to rehab, isn’t that just another form of incarceration? What interest does that serve?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  23. john personna says:

    @Ben:

    Does the person trying “cocaine or ecstasy or acid” fully understand the risk of “heroin or crack or bath salts?”

    From what I see on cable tv there are illicit drugs which will grab a person with one use. Counseling for people operating in the gray world of dealers and questionable goods might not be so bad.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  24. Ben says:

    @john personna:

    A few things:

    Basing your knowledge of how psychoactive drugs affect users and how they may or may not lead to addiction is very very rarely covered in an accurate way on cable tv. I have certainly never seen it treated in a scientific and neutral fashion.

    As to whether there are drugs that will lead to immediate physiological dependence on the first use, color me skeptical. Now, there are indeed many people that have addictive personalities that can very quickly bind themselves to a high after a use or two, but that is not the same thing, and it does not mean that that will happen to all, or even most users of even that specific drug.

    Secondly, if we had complete legalization, most of the gray market issues and questionable goods goes away. People will be able to sell it out in the open in normalized businesses. I don’t usually worry whether the liquor store is run by mob bosses or if they are using adulterated liquor.

    If the counseling you refer to is mandatory, regardless of the drug, then I consider that to be incarceration. Of what plausible benefit is it to grab someone, assume they are an addict whether they actually are or not, and throw them in rehab against their will?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. Ron Beasley says:

    @john personna: The real problem is with the alkaloid versions of the drugs – tar heroin and crack cocaine. A little trick the drug dealers learned from the tobacco industry . The drugs are naturally acidic when you make them alkaline they become more addictive. Back in the early 70’s I recreationally smoked opium and never had a problem. Did some cocaine from time to time – ditto.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. michael reynolds says:

    I agree with Ben that forced re-education – rehab – is effectively incarceration. Let’s penalize the non-drug behaviors. If you drive high go to jail and or rehab. If you stop supporting you kids ditto. If you beat your wife ditto.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @john personna: The “somewhat correct” thing is the problem with the Tsar. As I used to tell my compostion students about research and accuracy, “not even Louis Farakhan and David Dukes are wrong 100% of the time.

    In Tsar’s case, the parsing out of accuracy is a formidable challenge. I’m glad you’re up to it. I’m not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. @michael reynolds:

    If you stop supporting you kids ditto. If you beat your wife ditto.

    I’m against child abandonment and wife beating, but isn’t forcing the perpatrators to listen to Rush Limbaugh going a bit too far?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  29. bill says:

    mexico should just make drugs legal- then it would be up to our druggies to get them here!? i could care less about drugs being legal, trash would take itself out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  30. J-Dub says:

    @michael reynolds:

    but they won’t be feeding drag gangs

    Is this a typo or a San Fran thing?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. J-Dub says:

    @Ben: If you get a DUI they ship you off to counseling. Doesn’t make you an alcoholic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. Ben says:

    @J-Dub:

    If someone isn’t an alcoholic, then what good is alcohol rehab going to do?

    To be clear, I’m not saying DUI is ok. But I’d say rehab (or “counseling” to use your euphemism) isn’t necessarily going to help anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0