08 September 2009

Is the war on drugs winding down?

Prohibition made criminals rich. Prior to 1920, the year the United States decided to cure Americans of the drinking habit the hard way, crime wasn't a particularly lucrative business. Prohibition didn't stop Americans drinking, of course, but it did make large sums of money available to the criminal element. They could sell a product to millions of normally law-abiding citizens at prices made artificially high by the product's illegality, and crime became a very big business indeed. The newly created crime syndicates protected their turfs diligently and violently -- the murder rate increased tenfold.

Prohibition in the U.S. was repealed in 1933, but the damage had been done. The syndicates had branched out, using their immense profits to move into legitimate businesses and invest in gambling, loan sharking, labour racketeering and other criminal enterprises.

History now repeats itself. Prohibition on drugs has created a similar bonanza for criminals. The Mexican drug trade alone offers profits of an estimated $35-billion US a year. Head of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin Guzman, is on the Forbes List of Billionaires (ranked 701). Guzman makes Al Capone look like a pickpocket and his hired killers, including military deserters professionally trained in counterinsurgency warfare by the United States, would send shivers up Mafia spines. Drug authorities estimate the Mexican cartels now operate in 230 American cities. And, as with Prohibition, the bloodshed follows the money. Last year Mexico's drug wars cost 6,000 lives.

The "war on drugs" was declared by U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1969, and the Americans have prosecuted it vigorously ever since, nationally and internationally, bribing and cajoling allies as necessary. Now it appears some of those allies, and perhaps even the U.S. itself, are beginning to recognize the futility and destructiveness of the war and are considering alternatives. The final report issued by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, evaluating current drug policy and its affect on Latin America, concludes, "The orientation of battling drugs with prohibition, repression, sanctions and punishment not only does not resolve the problem, but generates new and more serious ones."

Three former Latin American presidents -- Fernando Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gavira of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico -- declared in a Wall Street Journal article that the war on drugs is a failure and are demanding that U.S.-inspired drug policies be reexamined.

Argentina's supreme court has ruled that punishing people for using marijuana for personal consumption is unconstitutional, freeing the Argentine government, which favours decriminalization, to amend its drug laws. Mexico has decided to stop prosecuting people for possession of small quantities of marijuana, cocaine and other drugs, instead referring them to clinics. Brazil and Ecuador are considering partial decriminalization

So far, the U.S. response to all to this has been mild. Indeed, glimpses of a changed attitude are appearing there as well. Some states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana while the Obama administration has emphasized public health solutions to drug abuse. The US. Attorney General has announced the federal government will no longer pursue groups that supply medical marijuana. In California, this amounts to legalization. A federal government led by a confessed former toker might be expected to open a new era in drug policy.

The sum of these changes is modest, but a clear shift nonetheless toward more enlightened drug policies. Ending prohibition of drugs won't end problems of abuse, but it will cut the financial feet out from under drug barons like Joaquin Guzman.

1 comment:

  1. Debaters debate the two wars as if Nixon’s civil war on Woodstock Nation didn’t yet run amok. One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights or to Cuba for political prisoners. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under banner of the war on drugs. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance global credibility.

    The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. There’s trouble on the border. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. God didn’t screw up. Canadian Marc Emery sold seeds that enable American farmers to outcompete cartels with superior domestic herb. He is being extradited to prison, for doing what government wishes it could do, reduce demand for Mexican.

    The constitutionality of the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) derives from an interstate commerce clause. Only by this authority does it reincarnate Al Capone, endanger homeland security, and throw good money after bad. Official policy is to eradicate, not tax, the number-one cash crop in the land. America rejected prohibition, but it’s back. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment. Father, forgive those who make it their business to know not what they do.

    Nixon promised that the Schafer Commission would support the criminalization of his enemies, but it didn’t. No matter, the witch-hunt was on. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA halted all research and pronounced that marijuana has no medical use, period.

    The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. Denial of entheogen sacrament to any American, for mediation of communion with his or her maker, precludes free exercise of religious liberty.

    Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

    Common-law must hold that adults are the legal owners of their own bodies. The Founding Fathers decreed that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration.