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Deadly Drug War

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Blame for the tragic bloodshed in Mexico that has left more than 22,000 dead and is now spiking with a series of assassinations of political leaders leading up to Sunday's national elections leads straight to America's failed War on Drugs.

The 40-year jihad launched by Richard Nixon in 1970 was supposed to eliminate the scourge of street drugs and protect America's youth. Street drugs, however, remain readily available to any determined 16-year-old seeking a joint or damn near any other drug du jour.

Forty years later and $1 trillion in federal funds expended, 1.3 percent of Americans are addicted to drugs, the same per percentage as in 1970.

The War on Drugs has done nothing to reduce the demand for illicit drugs. Yet the federal government continues to spend $15 billion a year on the drug war. State and local governments are spending another $55 billion annually.

The waste of taxpayer money is abhorrent. But that's only part of this tragic policy.

The drug war has unleashed a raging monster of murder, mayhem and concentration of wealth in the hands of ruthless drug cartels. The mountain of cash amassed by the cartels have made them the world's lender of last resort. In 2008, drug lords pumped in more than $350 billion into the frozen international banking system, providing much needed liquidity and a convenient way to launder their proceeds, according to a United Nations report.

The War on Drugs is destroying Mexico's political system, undermining the economy of one our major trading partners and spurring illegal immigration into the United States. School children are being murdered. Drug treatment centers attacked. Entire Mexican towns have been abandoned as drug cartels battle for control of smuggling routes into the United States. Candidates are assassinated nearly every week.

The horrific violence in Mexico is too often dismissed in the U.S. as "Mexico's problem." Only when violence "spills over" into the U.S. does it seem to register as a matter of concern, such as when a rancher in southern Arizona was shot to death last April by an unknown assailant. The murder triggered a wave of anti-Mexican hysteria.

But Americans have not been spared from the collateral damage from the War on Drugs. The nation's obsession to stamp out drugs has become a growth industry that is expanding the number of police, prosecutors, courts, prisons and defense attorneys across the nation. At the same time, spending on K-12 education is under attack.

The "land of the free" is steadily being transformed into a police state with the highest incarceration rate in the world. The number of people in prison for drug offenses has increased tenfold, from 41,000 in 1980 to more than 500,000 today.

The United States has approximately five percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prisoners. Private prisons are now lobbying for increased penalties for drug offenses to fatten their bottom line.

U.S. police forces are also routinely deploying paramilitary units to make arrests for misdemeanor drug offenses, inflicting needless terror on otherwise law abiding citizens. Someone is arrested every 17 seconds for a drug offense and police arrested more than 870,000 people for marijuana offenses in 2007. Of those, 89 percent were charged only with possession.

Even so, the cartels are winning and have now become major players in white collar crimes across the U.S., including mortgage and Medicare fraud. The more the U.S. escalates the War on Drugs, the greater the profits for the cartels and the deeper their reach into organized crime across this country.

A growing number of police, judges, federal drug agents, prosecutors and defense attorneys are calling for the end of the War on Drugs and legalization and regulation of all drugs. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition does not promote the use of drugs, but recognizes that prohibition of drugs is simply repeating America's disastrous attempt at prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and early 1930s.

State and federal governments are facing the same financial crisis today. Regulation, taxation and medical treatment for addiction is far more cost effective than continuing the criminalization of products that tens of millions of Americans are demanding.

Intellectuals on the left and the right have been calling for legalization for decades. Walter Cronkite was also extremely concerned about the horrific impacts the War on Drugs was having on America's youth and minorities. He supported ending the drug war.

California will vote this November whether to legalize marijuana, which is the primary cash crop of the Mexican drug cartels.

If California moves ahead with legalization of marijuana, the federal government should follow.

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