The Drug War
Has a mission;
‘Bout as smart as
Prohibition.

The Associated Press recently reported on some exhaustive research, undertaken by the nonprofit International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. These tireless scholars examined 300 studies covering the past 20 years, evaluating the public good arising from police crusades against drug peddling.

The result of all those beefed-up crackdowns? Increased violence! It seems that whenever you finally nab the top drug lords, a deadly struggle erupts to replace them. Gang wars explode, body counts rise, and new openings arise for upwardly mobile young thugs. This is capitalism in its purest form, visible just now in Mexico. Of course, these results are obviously tainted. As you can guess from the spelling of “Centre,” the research is British and Canadian, and thus somewhat suspect. It’s not necessarily sensitive to America’s special culture.

We once did our own research about this approach to stamping out a widespread vice, and it was exhaustive to say the least. Remember Prohibition? Its results were published daily on the local obituary page. Those results were so violent that the nation eventually decided to let citizens drink rather than require everyone to live any longer under the shrapnel cloud of liquor wars. Alcoholics Anonymous grew to treat the victims of the resulting self-indulgence, who, as it turned out, were not markedly more numerous than before repeal.

But the United States today doesn’t yet seem quite ready to repeal our pot prohibition. Only 44 percent of us are prepared to fully legalize marijuana, and this doesn’t include most politicians. They often prefer to hang on to the opportunity to demonize legalization’s opponents as “soft on drugs.”

Mexico, meanwhile, is way ahead of us. That’s not a big surprise in a country where just one city, Juarez, counted 2,200 murders last year, mostly of the drug war variety. Mexico has decriminalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use–its citizens having suffered from drug-related violence. But unfortunately for them, drug syndicates don’t in fact make their financial killings from selling to Mexicans. Their serious money comes from our side of the border. Mexico is merely the convenient highway where massive turf battles are fought to control the trade route to El Norte.

Relief for burdened Mexican citizens may, however, be in sight. Their gangs have now taken to growing the stuff on hidden farms right here in the United States. California’s notably remote national forests are a favorite site, as are lonely portions of obscure Texas ranches. Smuggling in immigrants to do the farming is a whole lot easier and safer than smuggling the dope itself. Large-scale operations also allow for more product variety and quality control.

Indeed, quality control is one of the consumer’s greatest dangers. In America’s illegal drug economy, there’s no such protection. The FDA isn’t involved. Thus an essentially mild product can occasionally do great harm to unsuspecting users, as moonshine once did in the old days. But a bad trip is just one of the social hazards inherent in prohibition. Other big ones include gunshot wounds, towering incarceration rates, fractured families, higher taxes, destruction of the commercial hemp industry, denying many patients effective pain relief, and fuel for crime syndicates.

In this light, it would seem to make sense to treat marijuana much as we already do alcohol and tobacco; that is, as a widespread vice subject to regulation and taxation. In fact, it may well turn out that the promise of a totally new revenue source is what finally brings our nation around to reform.

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William A. CollinsBy

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.