Drug Law

Mexico Wants Drug War Debate, U.S. Denies Reality

| by Marijuana Policy Project

In late 2006, Mexican president Felipe Calderon announced a new government-backed military offensive against his country’s drug cartels, believing they could be defeated through sheer brute force. Four years later, more than 28,000 people have been killed, and the drug cartels are more powerful than ever, controlling vast manufacturing and distribution networks that have helped to bankroll kidnappings, extortion, human trafficking, and the corruption of an estimated 60 percent of U.S. border agents.

The majority of the cartels’ revenue – more than 60 percent, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy – comes from selling marijuana in the United States. Remember this.

Finally realizing the futility of the status quo, Calderon last week softened his position and said he was open to a debate about lifting prohibition as a way to combat the cartels and deprive them of their main source of income. (Officially, he remains an opponent of legalization.)

Then over the weekend, Calderon’s predecessor, Vicente Fox (who as a former president is more politically flexible than his sitting successor) went even further, saying he firmly supports ending prohibition as a way to quell the violence. “Radical prohibition strategies have never worked,” Fox wrote, explaining that he sees legalization “as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allowed cartels to earn huge profits.”

This line of thinking is not new, obviously. Other Latin American nations are realizing prohibition doesn’t work, and former leaders of Brazil and Columbia, as well as former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, have been among those calling for its end.

Meanwhile, as the war wages on in Mexico, street shoot-outs have become commonplace, journalists fear their own safety so much that they don’t even report the violence, and school children are being trained to duck and cover in order to avoid the crossfire.

But with Mexico awash in blood and its leaders desperately looking for solutions, our officials have offered nothing but the same failed options. With one hand, the U.S.  gives the Mexican government millions of dollars to continue funding its horrifically unsuccessful war, and with the other, our officials continue to deny the irrefutable reality that prohibition has not worked and another approach is needed — one that will stop handing the cartels a virtual monopoly over such a lucrative trade.

When asked directly if legalizing and regulating marijuana in the United States could help weaken the cartels, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske was characteristically close-minded. “All the things they are involved in, all these incredibly horrible crimes, of which narcotics is only a part, would still go on,” he told The Dallas Morning News.

A spokesperson for the State Department was even more tight-lipped: “While the question of debating legalization is for Mexicans to decide, we don’t think the legalization of drugs is the answer.”

A few things:

  1. Kerlikowske’s own office, ONDCP, is the same one that reported cartels make (at least) 60 percent of their money from selling marijuana here in the U.S. So we can only assume the drug czar is being knowingly dishonest when he says taking marijuana out of the criminal market wouldn’t have some impact on the cartels. If those drug organizations were operating at 40 percent of their current wealth, that would mean 60 percent fewer corrupt officials, weapons purchases, cartel manpower, etc.
  2. “The question of debating legalization” is not just “for Mexicans to decide.” Maybe the State Department hasn’t noticed voters in the largest U.S. state will have an opportunity to turn the page on marijuana prohibition just three months from now, and several other states are considering similar proposals.
  3. For government officials, it doesn’t have to be a question of whether or not regulation, rather than prohibition is “the answer.” They could simply start off with the middle road Calderon took and say it’s time for a debate. That’s what Gov. Schwarzenegger did last year in California, and now the debate over Prop. 19 has helped launch a national dialogue about ways to reform our disastrous marijuana policies.

While the mainstream media, state governments, and a growing number of politicians and pundits are eagerly wading into the debate over America’s marijuana prohibition, top officials in Washington still refuse to accept that it’s not only already underway but is increasingly moving in a new direction.

Or as , a drug cartel analyst and border security consultant, told AOL News:

It’s difficult to comprehend how the U.S. government could acknowledge Calderon taking on the legalization debate, knowing full well that U.S. demand and consumption helps fuel the drug war, and not take at least baby steps towards engaging in a similar debate [in the U.S.].

Difficult is one way to put it. Infuriating might be another.