It was hard to read this Times story about the influence of drug cartels in Mexico, which featured nuggets such as:
It was drug traffickers who decided that Chief Roberto Orduña Cruz, a retired army major who had been on the job since May, should go. To make clear their insistence, they vowed to kill a police officer every 48 hours until he resigned.
They first killed Mr. Orduña’s deputy, Operations Director Sacramento Pérez Serrano, together with three of his men. Then another police officer and a prison guard turned up dead. As the body count grew, Mr. Orduña eventually did as the traffickers had demanded, resigning his post on Feb. 20 and fleeing the city.
And not think of this announcement from the Justice Department:
the Drug Enforcement Administration would end its raids on state-approved marijuana dispensaries.
As noted by plenty of commentators, the Administration’s response to the financial crisis has been rather more pro-financial institution shareholder than one might like. However, its approach to other matters – remembering the importance of energy independence, staying focused on health care reform, addressing the most obvious procurement excesses – has been surprisingly positive.
One often-discussed compromise for the war on drugs would be decriminalization (as opposed to legalization). While this would have the benefit of not scaring grandmothers with cancer that the DEA will break down their doors, it misses the larger social benefit of legalization: the elimination of the entire criminal distribution channel.
Illegal drugs are grown in illegal places, processed in illegal places with unknown additives, and transported and sold by criminals. Not surprisingly, as in the Juarez story, the folks involved in these businesses cannot rely on the police for enforcement of their rights, so either they operate outside the law or they pervert the law. Each is incredibly destructive.
If marijuana were legal, it would be just another agricultural product, grown in the open, processed by Philip Morris or BAT, and distributed through the existing alcohol and tobacco channel. There would be no concern about it serving as a “gateway” drug, because its vendors would not have other drugs to try to upsell.
Our prison populations would dwindle; not only would we not be jailing users, we would also lose the low-level dealers and mules. In addition to allowing us to focus on more serious criminals, fewer people in prison means fewer prison gangs, which in turn would reduce the influence of gangs outside the walls as well. And cutting off 60+% of the revenue of the drug cartels would shrink their power, reducing the serious threat they pose to our southern neighbor.
Oh, and one more thing: we are in a serious recession. A marijuana tax might be regressive but it would certainly be welcome. The money is being spent anyway – and the tax taken in the form of cartel profits and bribes – we might as well lay our hands on it. When Republican heroes recognize this, you know it is well past time to do something.