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Andrea Lyon Headshot

Prohibition and Civil Unrest

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We read of it nearly every day: Mexico appears to be imploding. Murders, assassinations of local politicians, kidnappings. A war between the drug cartels which acted with what appeared -- from the outside at least -- to be governmental neglect if not permission, and the presidency of Felipe Calderon who has taken them on. In August, 72 migrants were slaughtered, apparently by one or more drug cartels (a lone survivor said they identified themselves as the Zetas drug cartel) and President Calderon said "the drug gangs are carrying out more extortions and kidnappings of migrants as their resources and recruits dwindle." He also said that government crackdowns on the cartels have significantly weakened them. Perhaps, but it appears to me that Mexico, with its dismal crime solution numbers -- local populations do not even call the police -- is on the verge of massive unrest if not open insurrection. This is a terrifying prospect to those unfortunate Mexican citizens who have to live with it, and it is to some extent, the fault of the United States. We are their customers, and we create the demand. In a country as economically deprived as Mexico, it is no surprise that "companies" -- cartels -- have sprung up to reap the rewards of the enormous profit in illegal drug sales.

I recently wrote about the prison industrial complex, and talked about the economic incentives to incarcerate, among other things. And there are economic incentives to make this "war" on drugs -- there is profit in it for a lot of people. Have we learned nothing from our experiment with prohibition of alcohol? As Professor Duke tells us in his article about drug prohibition, what our government told us when it imposed drug prohibition isn't true at all. In fact "most illegal recreational drugs have no pharmacological properties that produce violence or other criminal behavior. Heroin and marijuana diminish rather than increase aggressive behavior. Cocaine-or cocaine withdrawal-occasionally triggers violence but usually does not. Very little crime is generated by the mere use of these drugs, especially in comparison to alcohol, which is causally related to thousands of homicides and hundreds of thousands of assaults annually. The major linkages between illegal drugs and crime must be found elsewhere -- in prohibition." (From Volume 27 of the Connecticut Law Review)

When we banned the sale of alcohol during prohibition, there was anarchy in the streets, crime rose alarmingly, people drank anyway, and criminals made a fortune. That is what is happening now, on our streets where drugs are sold, in Mexico, and the halls of our high schools, and I fear our junior high schools too. Many terrorist organization function based on illegal drug trade profits. Drug prohibition hasn't worked, will not work and is destroying us from within.

I am not alone in this view. The former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, has spoken about it. So has a group of law enforcement officers: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). LEAP is an organization which, while it does not promote the use of drugs and is deeply concerned about the extent of drug abuse worldwide, is also deeply concerned with the destructive impact of violent drug gangs and cartels everywhere in the world. LEAP's position is that neither problem is remedied by the current policy of drug prohibition. Indeed, drug abuse and gang violence flourish in a drug prohibition environment, just as they did during alcohol prohibition in the US.

I know that there are people reading this who may say to themselves that legalizing drugs puts the government's stamp of approval on drug abuse, but that's not true. Legalizing drugs will put the black market out of business; it will tax and regulate those drugs. We could funnel money from prohibition enforcement to treatment and use our law enforcement resources to solve other crimes.

And, frankly, I would prefer if it were as difficult for a ten-year-old child to purchase cocaine as it is a beer. At least she should have to have a fake ID and be able tall enough to reach over the counter.