01/23/2012 01:48 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2012

Our Drug War Is the Virus Spreading Our Violent Economy to Mexico

It seems our brother nation to the south has caught our disease. Mexico is in the grips of a civil war, fought with our guns to provide us with illegal drugs. Gangs fight each other, the police fight the army, and the feds kidnap citizens and torture them without even the appearance of due process. There's good money in killing and destroying.

We should know. We're old hands at the many benefits of the Drug War. "Wait a minute," you're saying, "what benefits? My cousin is serving five to 10 in the pen for selling coke and I have to go to my PO on Monday for that joint I got caught with." Well, you've shown your hand now -- your not a "job creator" that manufactures guns or runs a private prison. Because if you did, you'd be sitting pretty.

America is suffering from an economic malaise, but it's not the kind you get from over-regulation. It's because since World War II we've shifted from being a country that bases its economic growth on creativity and innovation to one that extracts wealth from others and expands its GDP through destruction. The massive buildup in our military, contrary to our Founder's soundest advice; the never-ending expansion of our spy agencies in number and size; our perennial addiction to fossil fuels that forces us to militarily intervene constantly in the Middle East; and our ignominious ginormous prison population are all symptoms of an attitude of empire that seeks to extract wealth from others by bullying rather than do the hard work of creating and inventing. To prove my point, consider how we allocate our resources. Our military is larger than the rest of the world's combined and educators are losing their jobs right and left, yet to maintain a soldier costs three times as much as employing a teacher. By our most favorite metric, money, we value trained destroyers three times as much as those who teach our children to be creators.

The plight of the bully is a difficult trap to escape. It comes from a lack of self-confidence to provide for yourself and a general lack of self-worth. When you're armed to the teeth, every problem looks like an invader that needs to be shot multiple times. Likewise, the violence economy comes from an intellectual laziness that has its root in a loss of faith in our ability to accomplish larger goals like mitigate global climate disruption by a transition to renewable energy, reform and rehabilitate those who might have harmed others, or accept as legitimate families those whose sexuality is less mainstream than our own.

It's not that there aren't millions or even tens of millions of Americans that are trying to solve our problems creatively and help create a just and egalitarian society, it's just that they have no power or voice. Consider the drug war. This is a terrible drain on our national purse and is horrifyingly ineffective at reducing drug use. Yet after 40 years it continues unabated, mostly ruining the lives of decent people who occasionally like to alter their consciousness by means other than the legal killers of alcohol and tobacco, as well as turning our neighbor into an anarchic murder zone. It has almost zero deterrent effect.

Treatment is much more effective in terms of cost and rehabilitation, and ideas for implementing it abound. Technology offers some amazingly creative options for controlled legalization. If drug vendors were state-controlled (like the very successful ABC boards here in N.C.), then adults over the age of 21 could be allocated, if they so desired and were in good standing with the law, access to acceptable quantities of other drugs like marijuana and cocaine via a debit card with ID required. At above acceptable quantities they would still be able to purchase their drugs but they would be informed that doing so would trigger a serious of consequences that would include mandatory drug counseling, and even potentially later imprisonment. Addicts would self-identify themselves because they value the near-term rewards of getting high over later trouble. Revenue gained from maintaining regulated drug outlets and saved from the end of the Drug War could be used for very effective drug treatment for these self-identified drug addicts.

Drug legalization is a kind of regulation, versus the failed unregulated free-market drug supply system now in place. Regulation is a state of mind. It's a practical yet hopeful viewpoint. It's a negation of the fantasy of utopia, whether that be communist or free-market, and is instead a commitment to the knowledge that bad things happen in this world but wise intervention can mitigate them and eventually correct them. It requires a faith in humanity and a repudiation of the idea that the world is a dark and angry place where violence is the only answer to every problem.

Stephen Hren is the author of Tales from the Sustainable Underground: A Wild Journey with People Who Care More About the Planet than the Law, and maintains the website