THE BLOG
07/14/2014 07:01 am ET | Updated Sep 13, 2014

Legalizing Marijuana Should Be a Top National Security Objective: Terrorism and Border Instability Would Diminish

H. A. Goodman

The national security goals of our country have been implemented in recent years by waging two decade-long insurgent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nation building in those countries, and increased surveillance on our citizens. While 3,459 U.S. soldiers have died in the ongoing Afghanistan War, a total of 4,804 soldiers have given their lives in Iraq. Both wars have totaled one million injured soldiers according to Forbes, including traumatic brain injuries and PTSD that led directly to the recent VA Crisis. With the latest chaos in Iraq (and potentially in the near future in Afghanistan), the flood of border children fleeing cartels and political mayhem, and the over $4 trillion borrowed for wars and occupying foreign lands, it's time we reevaluate our national security objectives.

According to the White House's June 2011 U.S. National Strategy for Counterterrorism, keeping the nation safe from terrorists is the top priority:

"As the President affirmed in his 2010 National Security Strategy, he bears no greater responsibility than ensuring the safety and security of the American people. This National Strategy for Counterterrorism sets out our approach to one of the President's top national security priorities: disrupting, dismantling, and eventually defeating al-Qa'ida and its affiliates and adherents to ensure the security of our citizens and interests."

First, Afghanistan according to CBS News is the world's largest supplier of cannabis and the plant is even more profitable to Afghan farmers than opium poppy. Considering that the U.S. is the largest consumer of marijuana in the world with 7.3 percent of Americans -- around 23 million citizens -- who regularly use marijuana, the Afghan economy and people could benefit greatly from supplying a legal cannabis industry.

American citizens spend $40.6 billion a year on marijuana, so a federally recognized marijuana industry in the U.S. could provide people in war-torn states like Afghanistan a needed source of legal income. This alone could mitigate instability, but the fact that terror groups are using profits from Afghanistan's cannabis crop directly undermines our national security objectives. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, "Drug trafficking, the critical link between supply and demand, is fueling a global criminal enterprise valued in the hundreds of billions of dollars that poses a growing challenge to stability and security." The report goes on to state that there are "more and more acts of violence, conflicts and terrorist activities fuelled by drug trafficking and organized crime." Echoing this alarming fact, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated the Afghan illegal drug trade"is funding insurgency, international terrorism and wider destabilization."

Therefore, Afghanistan's cannabis crop is funding terror groups; a reality that directly undermines the White House's stated counterterrorism objectives. According to a 2010 Time article titled, Afghanistan's New Bumper Drug Crop: Cannabis, federally legalizing marijuana would drain cash from insurgents in the ongoing Afghanistan War:

"'Afghanistan is using some of its best land to grow cannabis,' says Antonia Maria Costa, director of the UN drug office in Vienna. 'If they grew wheat instead, insurgents would not have money to buy weapons and the international community would not have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on food aid.'

... 'Eradicating marijuana and opium fields can breed resentment by people and be destabilizing,' says John Dempsey, a rule-of-law adviser to U.S. and Afghan officials for the U.S. Institute of Peace.

... Groups of armed drug traffickers, meanwhile, travel through the countryside, buying opium and cannabis at the farm gates for cash. For many farmers in the area, making a living and staying alive -- sadly -- go hand in hand."

Furthering the link between the illegal cannabis trade and terror, a Guardian article in 2012 explained that, "Officials in southern Uruzgan province, which borders Kandahar and Helmand, largely stamped out farming of the drug because of worries it was financing the Taliban." Legalizing a drug that 40 percent of high school students in the U.S. have tried in order to slash funding to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations is far more feasible than introducing a democratic system to tribes and Afghan farmers. As it stands, the U.S. is the world's largest consumer of cannabis and Afghanistan is the largest producer, but neither Bush nor Obama has taken action to address this glaring economic reality.

In addition, the White House 2011 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy highlights the border as a major security issue. As stated in the report:

"Illicit trafficking across the Southwest border continues to be a chronic threat to our Nation and one of the top homeland security priorities for the United States.

Mexico is the primary foreign source of marijuana...

Strategic Goal: Substantially Reduce the flow of illicit drugs, drug proceeds, and associated instruments of violence across the Southwest border."

First, just the simple recreational use in states like Colorado, Oregon, and Washington is estimated to cut the profits of drug traffickers by 30 percent. Those states alone have done more than all our efforts in the drug war. We've sold Mexico $1.3 billion worth of weaponry to fight cartels, but the violence (kidnapping, torture, assassinations, as well as Mexican police working with the cartels) and drugs have increased over the years. In 2012, data shows that there was one marijuana arrest every 48 seconds in the U.S. Since 1971, the U.S. has spent over $1 trillion on the drug war, in addition to imprisoning half of the 2.3 million inmates in prisons for drug related charges. This war on drugs that come primarily from the border (which includes marijuana) has helped give us the largest prison population in the world. Most alarming is that in the past six years, over 50,000 Mexicans have died because of drug violence.

Any serious attempt at fixing our border with Mexico must start with federal legalization of marijuana. As stated by renowned author and expert on the drug trade with Mexico, Charles Bowden in The War Next Door highlights exactly why prohibition of marijuana (he also includes other drugs) is futile:

"The drug industry is the second-largest source of foreign currency in Mexico, just behind oil. It earns somewhere between $30 billion and $50 billion a year -- no one really knows, including the people in the industry. It also creates enormous numbers of jobs in the U.S.

...The sole source of the enormous amount of money in the drug business and the accompanying violence is the U.S. prohibition of drug use by its citizens."

Border security should start by the federal legalization of marijuana, especially since half of all drug seizures in the world are cannabis seizures. Money and lives could be saved from legalizing a drug that a great many Americans already use responsibly and live productive lives (Willie Nelson, Bill Maher, the person reading this article, etc.). The havoc wreaked by drug gangs in Central America could be mitigated to a great degree by legalizing marijuana as well, which would alleviate the current border crisis of desperate children seeking refuge in the U.S.

Both the Tea Party and the Democratic Party view terrorism and border security as serious national security issues. As for the national debt, some estimates of tax revenue (and enforcement savings) from a federally legal marijuana industry range above $20 billion per year. The sad reality is that the prohibition of marijuana is killing Mexicans, imprisoning Americans, wasting tax dollars, ruining the border, and funneling billions to terrorists and drug cartels. If another country did all that to us we'd attack them. When this country finally has a national marijuana industry (a regulated market where risks from the drug are communicated to consumers) several of our current national security needs will be met by a plant that might have killed three people in 2013. According to the CDC, "There are approximately 88,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States." It's time to finally think rationally and address national security from an efficient and sustainable vantage point, rather than continuing failed strategies. If a foreign nation or terrorist group had done as much damage to the United States as its own longstanding policy of federally criminalizing marijuana, we would have already waged another war.