If there's ever been a riper time for abandoning the idiotic "drug war," we can't think of it, yet the mainstream press has nothing to say on the subject. The cons are overwhelming, and honestly too numerous to list. The most obvious is that the Mexican government may very well be overthrown by violent narcotic traffickers, leading to massive chaos. Another problem is that it's amazingly expensive and we are running a one and three quarter TRILLION dollar deficit (for comparison a trillion seconds is almost 32,000 years). It also promotes a disrespect for the law among the 60 million who occasionally use marijuana, a drug that is generally considered to be less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. This leads to the criminalization of average citizens who get thrown in jail for nonviolent drug use (the US has an incarceration rate more than five times that of "totalitarian" China). Finally, the war on drugs is also devastating the environment around the world. The same environment that is already pushed to the brink by global climate disruption, human population explosion, and lax environmental regulation.
How does the drug war devastate the environment?
Growing the drugs actually doesn't cause much of a problem. It's mostly the United States policy of supply eradication that causes the massive damage. Aerial spraying of Columbia's coca-growing region has been going on for over a decade, and the results have been catastrophic. As coca fields are destroyed by herbicides indiscriminately dropped from the air; food crops, livestock, people, and tropical jungle also take a hit. Once this land is made barren as a result of spraying, the only option available for the residents is to cut down more jungle to grow more crops.
Do they grow more coca? Of course they do! What did we think they would do? This isn't just happening in Columbia, it's happening all over the world. Sometimes not directly by the US, but since we strong arm many countries into keeping drugs illegal (especially Mexico, which has tried to decriminalize them several times), most have no choice but to perpetuate this idiocy. Here in the US, national forests are being chopped down and cut up by professional marijuana growers, leading to fragmented habitat that is pushing many indigenous species to the brink. Rather than being used as recreational wonderlands for humans to interact with nature, people are terrified of these places, because accidentally stumbling on a major pot crop can be a death sentence. The crops are often guarded and/or booby-trapped by the growers.
As the last three presidents have all pretty much admitted to doing drugs when they were young, the idea that taking one puff or one snort leads straight to a life in the gutter is preposterous. Nevertheless, we keep telling our children these lies decade after decade. Can drug use lead to major problems, including death? Of course! But we already know that from our legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol. Is there a way to regulate drug use that will actually solve all of the aforementioned problems, as well as help shepherd abusers into treatment centers? Yes. It is very simple. Here's a quick outline.
Adults over 21 who are interested in using drugs could apply for an ATM style card that would allow certain amounts of drugs to be purchased each month (e.g. a half ounce of pot, a gram of coke, etc.) from government regulated centers like the ABC stores we have here in the Southeast. People could actually use their card to buy more drugs than are specified by the preset limit, but if they did they would get a visit from a drug treatment counselor. The next time they went over they would get a mandatory week or two in a treatment center. A sure sign of a budding dependency on drugs is a devil-may-care attitude towards long term consequences, and this would easily bring anyone who was developing a problem to the attention of regulators. Funds raised from these stores (drugs are one of the most lucrative of all businesses) would be used to operate top-rate treatment facilities.
You get the idea. It's not a hard thing to figure out. Of course, since by reputable accounts drug money is propping up the financial system, maybe this isn't the time to solve this problem! Or maybe the Obama administration could prove these rumors to be scurrilous by acting decisively to end this human and ecological nightmare.
Stephen and Rebekah Hren are the authors of The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit from Chelsea Green. For more information about green living, the Hrens, or their book, visit chelseagreen.com.