Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hey Hillary, don't criticize; legalize

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on to something when she conceded that America shares blame for the crime and violence that has engulfed Mexico as a result of drug prohibition. Being who she is, of course, Clinton blamed demand for drugs, rather than prohibition as the culprit, and threw in a pointless call for additional restrictions on firearms. Even so, it's helpful when politicians concede that their authoritarian and ill-considered policies have harmful effects abroad as well as at home.

Of course, Clinton is a politician, so her concession that America plays a role in Mexico's woes was less a half-step in the right direction than a quarter-step. Just a day after she conceded that Mexican criminal drug suppliers are responding to the "insatiable" demand for illegal drugs north of the border, her boss, President Obama, rejected the obvious solution: legalization.

Strictly speaking, Obama's dismissal of legalization in an electronic town hall referred only to marijuana. But if he won't consider even that basic step, then legalization of heroin and methamphetamine -- the two drugs driving the black-market violence in Mexico at the moment -- is obviously off the table.

Now that's a lack of change you can believe in.

Clinton, of course, tossed in a gratuitous nod to her ideological base, calling for tighter U.S. gun restrictions as a means of countering violence in Mexico. Even she can't believe that nonsense when such gun control stalwarts as the Los Angeles Times report that the Mexican drug gangs are battling police, soldiers and each other with fully automatic weapons, grenades and rockets -- items not generally available in Texas gun shops.

Said the LA Times:

The proliferation of heavier armaments points to a menacing new stage in the Mexican government's 2-year-old war against drug organizations, which are evolving into a more militarized force prepared to take on Mexican army troops, deployed by the thousands, as well as to attack each other.

These groups appear to be taking advantage of a robust global black market and porous borders, especially between Mexico and Guatemala. Some of the weapons are left over from the wars that the United States helped fight in Central America, U.S. officials said.

The truth is that demand always finds a supply, and black markets fuel one another. Demand in the United States for illegal intoxicants such as marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine creates a potential for profit that leads to the rise of suppliers in Mexico and elsewhere. Money flows into the coffers of those black-market suppliers, who then seek to protect their turf from other gangs, from thieves and from law enforcement officers (although the lines between the various groups can be foggy). These gangs now want to purchase weapons and have the funds to do so, and ...

The cycle continues. Want to shut it down? Too bad. You can't.

What you can do, however, is allow demand to be met through legal channels. Let people who want to get high buy their heroin from above-board businesses that purchase their poppies from perfectly legal farms and their other supplies from equally legitimate sources. Disputes between legal suppliers are settled in court with lawyers, not in the streets with assassins, massively reducing crime and violence.

We're not talking utopia here, but we are talking about respecting people's liberty, reducing violence and increasing the potential for prosperity.

If Hillary Clinton wants to help Mexico, she should promise to push for drug legalization at home and tell Mexico that the best way to get rid of the drug gangs is to legalize the whole drug trade. Ending Prohibition in the U.S. stripped the Mafia of much of its power and wealth, and ending drug prohibition in Mexico would do the same to the drug gangs.

But if Clinton, as we can expect, is unwilling to give the Mexicans good advice, they should look close to home for wisdom. Just last month, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo joined with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, of Brazil, and C├ęsar Gaviria, of Colombia, to call for an end to the violence-breeding, U.S.-driven prohibition model in drug policy. The report they endorsed states:

Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the expected results. We are farther than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.

That's an understatement. In fact, Mexico is being torn apart by prohibitionist policies that have put whole sectors of the country in the hands of criminal gangs and produced a convulsion of violence.

With or without Clinton, Mexico should do itself a favor, and combat violence and crime by dropping drug prohibition.



Blogger Mully410 said...

Again...well said, JD. I frequently tell people "Nobody has ever been killed for drugs. People kill for the money." Sure, there would be some trouble with legal narcotics (accidents and stupidness)and such, but I suspect it will be far less than the current gun violence in the streets. I haven't heard of much black market profit in the alcohol trade (in the US anyway).

March 26, 2009 5:32 PM  
Blogger Johnny said...

In the UK, the biggest, by both volume and value, smuggled contraband is cigarettes and tobacco. The UK has extremely high taxes in comparison to many parts of Europe so it makes good economic sense to buy in other parts of Europe and smuggle into Britain. My point is that legalising drugs is only a part of the solution - government still has to be reined in and big time. The fallout from the current economic malfeasance could make drug wars look like the good old days. At it's heart, in a deep and axiomatic way, the problem is the government's restraint of free trade.

We face systemic problems here people and, although gradualism got us here, at present I don't have any confidence we can gradually get to a working society. We now need catastrophic change and we need to work out how to make that happen without widespread violence. Unfortunately I don't have any vision of how to do that. It looks grim from here.

March 28, 2009 6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well said johnny. there are so many aspects to this situation. the first one that jumps out to me is the sad fact that in the spirit of 'never let a good crisis go to waste' our governments first solution is going to be the attempted banning of 'assault' weapons. they just can't stand to let this 'opportunity' go to waste. personally i don't see how we're going to achieve the needed catasrophic change without violence.

March 28, 2009 8:20 AM  

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