On Sunday night, CBS’s “60 Minutes” did a grimly fascinating piece on the escalating drug war in Mexico.
Reported by Anderson Cooper (whose day job, of course, is at CNN), the
piece was as notable for what it didn’t cover as what it did. Like most
recent media coverage of the growing carnage along our southern border,
the “60 Minutes” story carefully tiptoed around the proverbial elephant
in the room.
That elephant, of course, is prohibition. Here is a piece of what I wrote in a letter to Cooper after watching his report:
There is nothing about the trade in marijuana or any other
drug that is inherently violent. The violence is entirely an artifact
of prohibition, a policy which consciously relegates a highly popular
and valued product such as marijuana to the criminal underground. We
experienced this dramatically during the U.S.’s experiment with
Prohibition of alcohol: From 1919 to 1933, the liquor trade was fraught
with violence, the murder rate soared, and prisons were jammed — while
gangsters got very, very rich. As soon as Prohibition ended, the
bootleggers disappeared and the alcoholic beverage business returned to
the hands of licensed, regulated, law-abiding businesspeople.
Of course, Cooper and CBS are far from alone. News media
accounts of the catastrophe in Mexico have been disturbingly consistent
in their avoidance of the central issue. Like “60 Minutes,” many have
avoided including, even briefly, anyone willing to question prohibition.
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This is especially shocking after the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy (co-chaired
by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo) urged decriminalization of
marijuana and a broader rethinking of the drug war for precisely this
reason. “We are farther than ever from the announced goal
of eradicating drugs,” the commission wrote in its recent report. “It
is imperative to review critically the deficiencies of the
prohibitionist strategy adopted by the United States.”
U.S. policies on marijuana — by far the largest cash cow for
Mexican drug gangs — are directly adding to the carnage taking place
literally walking distance from San Diego and El Paso. It would be nice
if our news media at least started asking the relevant questions.
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