Tuesday, August 25, 2009

C'mon, Mexico. Don't be shy about making a (legitimate) buck on drugs

Last week, Mexico's government did something that ought to be emulated far and wide -- it stopped worrying about America's draconian preferences on drug policy and decriminalized the personal use of not just marijuana, but a wide variety of officially disfavored intoxicants. In a country ravaged by violence and corruption spawned by drug prohibition, the new policy promises less reason for conflict between people and officials, and fewer opportunities for crooked cops to extract bribes from people enjoying an after-work toke or sniff. But as much as decriminalization is a step in the right direction, it doesn't go far enough; Mexico should making drugs perfectly legal to produce and sell in any quantity.

Under the new law, Mexicans are free to privately possess and consume up to five grams of marijuana, a half gram of cocaine, 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams of methamphetamine and 0.015 milligrams for LSD. That's just about a enough to get a small party started, but not enough to keep it going.

It's also not enough to defuse the violence and corruption engulfing Mexico, which revolves around the criminal syndicates that produce and ship drugs in massive quantities, primarily for the underground market in the United States. As the United States State Department warned in a Travel Alert issued on August 20 of this year:

Mexican drug cartels are engaged in violent conflict - both among themselves and with Mexican security services - for control of narcotics trafficking routes along the U.S.-Mexico border. In order to combat violence, the government of Mexico has deployed military troops in various parts of the country. U.S. citizens should cooperate fully with official checkpoints when traveling on Mexican highways.

Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades. Large firefights have taken place in towns and cities across Mexico, but occur mostly in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City, Monterrey and Ciudad Juarez.

The spur for this violence isn't the desire of the average Mexican to smoke a joint on a Saturday night; it's the fortunes to be made by supplying the illicit drug market in the United States of America. While nobody knows precisely how big the drug trade is, we do know that 90% of all U.S. bills contain traces of cocaine, suggesting just how often money and the drug cross paths. No matter what the law says, somebody is going to get a piece of that action.

Since the production and distribution of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and the like remain illegal in Mexico, the industry will continue to be run by people willing to violate the law. Like Al Capone and the other gangsters who supplied booze during America's misfired experiment with Prohibition, Mexico's drug suppliers are criminals who settle their disputes with violence instead of lawsuits. Decriminalization may reduce risks for the average Mexican, but it won't address the country's larger problems so long as there's money to be made to the north and servicing that market requires underground activity.

To get at the root of the problem, Mexico should just legalize the trade. Let legitimate businesses grow and package poppies and cannabis. Big companies and small operations alike, operating in a legal environment, could easily drive the criminals off. By depriving them of huge profits in the shadows, legalization would render the gangs less dangerous and powerful, just the way the repeal of Prohibition stemmed the flow of blood in the U.S.

If a Cuervo brand heroin truck side-swipes a van loaded with Corona pre-rolled joints, the matter can be settled in the courts, not the street.

And if the U.S. still doesn't want the stuff crossing the border? Well, that's the problem of the neighbor to the north, isn't it?

Full legalization might not gain Mexico any friends in D.C., but that would be offset by peace and prosperity at home.



Blogger Fred said...

I heard on National Public Radio last night that some court in Argentina ruled that laws against personal use of marijuana (or maybe it was all drugs) were unconstitutional.

August 26, 2009 7:02 AM  
Blogger Fred said...

A link to an AP article on the story:

August 26, 2009 7:07 AM  
Anonymous The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit said...

Hmmmmm.....would taxing the "criminal export" trade make up for lost revenues if the US were to stop shipping money south of the border as "aid?"

August 26, 2009 7:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

finally some small steps toward sanity.

August 26, 2009 7:29 AM  

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