by Ben Morris
Last week, Mexico passed a new law decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana and other drugs. Perhaps our neighbor to the south will now consider the possibility of full legalization (regulating marijuana like alcohol, as opposed to simply removing penalties for possession). A number of people in Mexico are calling for a debate, with former President Vicente Fox as one of the most prominent voices in that chorus. However, others are wondering if legalization in Mexico would make a difference. The answer, as I see it, is unfortunately no.
The World Health Organization’s 2008 report on drug use found that more Americans use marijuana than people in any of the other 16 countries studied (which included Mexico). The report, along with many other sources, concludes that America is the largest illicit drug market in the world. The cartels in Mexico cater almost exclusively to customers in the U.S., pulling in huge profits every year (70% of which are from marijuana sales). If Mexico were to legalize marijuana, the cartels’ business would continue as usual. They would still smuggle marijuana into the U.S. and continue to profit from doing so.
No, the answer to the cartel problem does not lie in Mexico; it lies here in the U.S.
The U.S. alone has the power to wipe out the cartels, and it can do so with a simple change in policy. Were we to abolish marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system of taxation and regulation based on alcohol laws, a new, legal marijuana industry would put the criminal competition out of business overnight. We did it once before. In the 1930s, following our failed experiment with alcohol prohibition, the fledgling alcohol industry took over, producing a safer product and putting money into the economy rather than taking it out. And it happened without the moral degradation prohibitionists predicted.
This is precisely why the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy released a report in January calling on the U.S. to change its marijuana laws. Drug producing countries in Latin America have first-hand experience with the devastating effects of America’s war on drugs. The violence and organized crime feeding the U.S. market have been rooted there for decades, with disastrous results. The U.S., on the other hand, has never faced these realities on its own soil – not to the same scale and severity as our neighbors in Mexico or those who lived through the reign of Pablo Escobar in Columbia.
But that is beginning to change. Violence in Mexico is spilling over into Texas, Arizona, and southern California. The cartels now operate in 230 American cities – think about what that means. 230 means more than New York, Los Angeles, and other large metropolitan areas, it means Bismark, N.D., Wichita, Kan., and even Kalamazoo, Mich., small towns where Americans are feeling the impact of bad drug policy. More directly, it means that the U.S. government can no longer ignore the failures of its war on marijuana.
The sensible solution is right in front of us. We just need the political will to see it through.
If you’d like to help make a change, write your member of Congress and ask him or her to support marijuana policy reform. More information on how to do so can be found at mpp.org/federal-action.
Read more on OpposingViews.com: Mexico Legalizes Drugs? Not Really