Tag Archives: Latin America

Drugs and conservatives should go together

Legalization would not only promote specific policy objectives that are near and dear to conservative hearts, it is also consistent with core principles that conservatives endorse in other contexts.

By Jeffrey A. Miron                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
September 29, 2010

For decades, the U.S. debate over drug legalization has pitted conservatives on one side against libertarians and some liberals on the other. A few conservatives have publicly opposed the drug war (e.g., National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.), but most conservatives either endorse it or sidestep the issue.

Yet vigorous opposition to the drug war should be a no-brainer for conservatives. Legalization would not only promote specific policy objectives that are near and dear to conservative hearts, it is also consistent with core principles that conservatives endorse in other contexts.

Legalization would be beneficial in key aspects of the war on terror. Afghanistan is the world leader in opium production, and this trade is highly lucrative because U.S.-led prohibition drives the market underground. The Taliban then earns substantial income by protecting opium farmers and traffickers from law enforcement in exchange for a share of the profits. U.S. eradication of opium fields also drives the hearts and minds of Afghan farmers away from the U.S. and toward the Taliban.

Legalization could also aid the war on terror by freeing immigration and other border control resources to target terrorists and WMD rather than the illegal drug trade. Under prohibition, moreover, terrorists piggyback on the smuggling networks established by drug lords and more easily hide in a sea of underground, cross-border trafficking.

Legalizing drugs would support conservative opposition to gun control. High violence rates in the U.S., and especially in Mexico, are due in part to prohibition, which drives markets underground and leads to violent resolution of disputes. With the reduced violence that would result from legalization, advocates of gun control would find it harder to scare the electorate into restrictive gun laws.

Legalization could ease conservative concerns over illegal immigration. The wage differences between the United States and Latin America are a major cause of the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S., but an exacerbating factor is the violence created by drug prohibition in Mexico and other Latin American countries. With lower violence rates under legalization, fewer residents of these countries would seek to immigrate in the first place.

Beyond these specific issues, legalization is consistent with broad conservative principles.

Prohibition is fiscally irresponsible. Its key goal is reduced drug use, yet repeated studies find minimal impact on drug use. My just-released Cato Institute study shows that prohibition entails government expenditure of more than $41 billion a year. At the same time, the government misses out on about $47 billion in tax revenues that could be collected from legalized drugs. The budgetary windfall from legalization would hardly solve the country’s fiscal woes. Nevertheless, losing $88 billion in a program that fails to attain its stated goal should be anathema to conservatives.

Drug prohibition is hard to reconcile with constitutionally limited government. The Constitution gives the federal government a few expressly enumerated powers, with all others reserved to the states (or to the people) under the 10th Amendment. None of the enumerated powers authorizes Congress to outlaw specific products, only to regulate interstate commerce. Thus, laws regulating interstate trade in drugs might pass constitutional muster, but outright bans cannot. Indeed, when the United States wanted to outlaw alcohol, it passed the 18th Amendment. The country has never adopted such constitutional authorization for drug prohibition.

Drug prohibition is hopelessly inconsistent with allegiance to free markets, which should mean that businesses can sell whatever products they wish, even if the products could be dangerous. Prohibition is similarly inconsistent with individual responsibility, which holds that individuals can consume what they want — even if such behavior seems unwise — so long as these actions do not harm others.

Yes, drugs can harm innocent third parties, but so can — and do — alcohol, cars and many other legal products. Consistency demands treating drugs like these other goods, which means keeping them legal while punishing irresponsible use, such as driving under the influence.

Legalization would take drug control out government’s incompetent hands and place it with churches, medical professionals, coaches, friends and families. These are precisely the private institutions whose virtues conservatives extol in other areas.

By supporting the legalization of drugs, conservatives might even help themselves at the ballot box. Many voters find the conservative combination of policies confusing at best, inconsistent and hypocritical at worst. Because drug prohibition is utterly out of step with the rest of the conservative agenda, abandoning it is a natural way to win the hearts and minds of these voters.

Jeffrey A. Miron is a senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies at Harvard University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Miron is the author of “Libertarianism, from A to Z” and blogs at jeffreymiron.com.

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Prohibition never really works

August 26, 2010


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Soon, StatePolice helicopters will swoop over West Virginia hilltops, spotting lush marijuana patches. The tall plants, worth millions in the underground dope business, will be chopped down and burned. Other clusters missed by troopers will be harvested secretly and funneled into the illicit trade.

There’s another option: Pot-growing could be legalized and licensed by the state, creating legitimate jobs and a flood of state revenue.

Gradually, efforts to decriminalize dope keep expanding — especially in Latin America, where tens of thousands of people are killed in battling over control of the billion-dollar drug flow into the United States. More than 28,000 have died in Mexican violence.

Last year, the ex-presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil issued a joint statement saying the U.S. war on drugs is ineffective. They proposed legalizing small amounts of pot for personal use.

This month, former Mexican President Vincente Fox took a bolder stand, calling for legal “production, sales and distribution” of all narcotics.

Prohibitionist policies have hardly worked anywhere,” Fox told a Miami Herald correspondent. “Prohibition of alcohol in the United States [in the 1920s] never worked, and it only helped trigger violence and crime…. What I’m proposing is that, instead of allowing this business to continue being run by criminals, by cartels, that it be run by law-abiding business people who are registered with the Finance Ministry, pay taxes and create jobs.”

On Aug. 6, Mexico’s public safety chief estimated that drug cartels pay $100 million per month in bribes to local Mexican police, so they’ll ignore truckloads of dope passing through their districts. Officers are offered a choice of “plomo or plata” — either take a silver payoff or a lead bullet.

The U.S. war on drugs fills jails and prisons with vast numbers of petty American dope abusers, roughly 2 million per year. U.S. taxpayers shell out billions for the endless crackdown and imprisonment. Yet the narcotics flow doesn’t diminish. Mammoth policing achieves little. Maybe it’s time to try other approaches.

Most U.S. politicians pose as “tough on drugs.” They fear that appearing “soft” would bring defeat in the next election. But some should be willing to study possible changes.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman supported legalization, at least for milder narcotics — a step that could pump an estimated $50 billion a year into the U.S. economy.

The war on drugs has raged for 40 years. Will America spend another century getting nowhere, jailing 2 million Americans per year, at horrendous cost? Or will leaders consider other options?

Our ‘war on drugs’ has been an abysmal failure. Just look at Mexico

The west’s refusal to countenance drug legalisation has fuelled anarchy, profiteering and misery

Simon Jenkins

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 September 2010 20.30 BST

Article history

It is wrecking the government of Mexico. It is financing the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is throwing 11,000 Britons into jail. It is corrupting democracy throughout Latin America. It is devastating the ghettoes of America and propagating Aids in urban Europe. Its turnover is some £200bn a year, on which it pays not a penny of tax. Thousands round the world die of it and millions are impoverished. It is the biggest man-made blight on the face of the earth.

No, it is not drugs. They are as old as humanity. Drugs will always be a challenge to individual and communal discipline, alongside alcohol and nicotine. The curse is different: the declaration by states that some drugs are illegal and that those who supply and use them are criminals. This is the root of the evil.

By outlawing products – poppy and coca – that are in massive global demand, governments merely hand huge untaxed profits to those outside the law and propagate anarchy. Repressive regimes, such as some Muslim ones, have managed to curb domestic alcohol consumption, but no one has been able to stop the global market in heroin and cocaine. It is too big and too lucrative, rivalling arms and oil on the international monetary exchanges. Forty years of “the war on drugs” have defeated all-comers, except political hypocrites.

Most western governments have turned a blind eye and decided to ride with the menace, since the chief price of their failure is paid by the poor. In Britain Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Gordon Brown felt tackling the drugs economy was not worth antagonising rightwing newspapers. Like most rich westerners they relied on regarding drugs as a menace among the poor but a youthful indiscretion among their own offspring.

The full horror of drug criminality is now coming home to roost far from the streets of New York and London. In countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, drugs are so endemic that criminalising them merely fuels a colossal corruption. It is rendering futile Nato’s Afghan war effort, which requires the retraining of an army and police too addicted either to cure or to sack. Poppies are the chief source of cash for farmers whose hearts and minds Nato needs to win, yet whose poppy crop (ultimately for Nato nations) finances the Taliban. It is crazy.

The worst impact of criminalisation is on Latin America. Here the slow emergence of democratic governments – from Bolivia through Peru and Columbia to Mexico – is being jeopardised by America’s “counter-narcotics” diplomacy through the US Drug Enforcement Agency. Rather than try to stem its own voracious appetite for drugs, rich America shifts guilt on to poor supplier countries. Never was the law of economics – demand always evokes supply – so traduced as in Washington’s drugs policy. America spends $40bn a year on narcotics policy, imprisoning a staggering 1.5m of its citizens under it.

Cocaine supplies routed through Mexico have made that country the drugs equivalent of a Gulf oil state. An estimated 500,000 people are employed in the trade, all at risk of their lives, with 45,000 soldiers deployed against them. Border provinces are largely in the hands of drug barons and their private armies. In the past four years 28,000 Mexicans have died in drug wars, a slaughter that would outrage the world if caused by any other industry (such as oil). Mexico’s experience puts in the shade the gangsterism of America’s last failed experiment in prohibition, the prewar alcohol ban.

As a result, it is South American governments and not the sophisticated west that are now pleading for reform. A year ago an Argentinian court gave American and British politicians a lesson in libertarianism by declaring that “adults should be free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state”. Mexico declared drugs users “patients not criminals”. Ecuador released 1,500 hapless women imprisoned as drug mules – while the British government locks them for years in Holloway.

Brazil’s ex-president Fernando Cardoso and a panel of his former judges announced emphatically that the war on drugs had failed and that “the only way to reduce violence in Mexico, Brazil or anywhere else is to legalise the production, supply and consumption of all drugs”. Last month, Mexico’s desperate president, Felipe Calderón, acknowledged that his four-year, US-financed war on the drug cartels had all but failed and called on the world for “a fundamental debate on the legalising of drugs”.

The difficulty these countries face is the size of the global industry created by the west to meet its demand for drugs. That industry is certain to deploy lethal means against legalisation, as the alcohol barons did against the ending of prohibition. They have been unwittingly sponsored for decades by western leaders, and particularly by the United Nations which, with typical fatuity, declared in 1998 that it would “create a drug-free world” by 2008. All maintained the fiction that demand could be curbed by curbing supply, thus presenting their own consumers as somehow the victims of supplier countries.

The UN’s prohibitionist drugs czar, Antonio Maria Costa, comfortably ensconced in Vienna, holds that cannabis is as harmful as heroin and cocaine, and wants to deny individual governments freedom over their drug policies. In eight years in office he has disastrously protected the drug cartels and their profits by refusing to countenance drug legalisation. He even suggested recently that the estimated $352bn generated by drug lords in 2008-09 helped save the world banking system from collapse. It is hard to know whose side he is on.

The evil of drugs will never be stamped out by seizing trivial quantities of drugs and arresting trivial numbers of traders and consumers. That is a mere pretence of action. Drug law enforcement has been the greatest regulatory failure in modern times, far greater in its impact on the world than that of banking. Nor is much likely to come from moves in both Europe and America to legalise cannabis use, sensible though they are. In November Californians are to vote on Proposition 19, to give municipalities freedom to legalise and tax cannabis. One farm in Oakland is forecast to yield $3m a year in taxes, money California’s government sorely needs.

This will do nothing to combat the misery now being visited on Mexico. The world has to bring its biggest illegal trade under control. It has to legalise not just consumption but supply. There is evidence that drug markets respond to realistic regulation. In Britain, under Labour, nicotine use fell because tobacco was controlled and taxed, while alcohol use rose because it was decontrolled and made cheaper. European states that have decriminalised and regulated sections of their drug economies, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Portugal, have found it has reduced consumption. Regulation works, anarchy does not.

In the case of drugs produced in industrial quantities from distant corners of the globe, only international action has any hope of success. Drug supply must be legalised, taxed and controlled. Other than eliminating war, there can be no greater ambition for international statesmanship. The boon to the peoples of the world would be beyond price.

California’s Prop 19, on legalizing marijuana, could end Mexico’s drug war

From The Washington Post

By Héctor Aguilar Camín and Jorge G. Castañeda

Sunday, September 5, 2010

MEXICO CITY — On Nov. 2, Californians will vote on Proposition 19, deciding whether to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. If the initiative passes, it won’t just be momentous for California; it may, at long last, offer Mexico the promise of an exit from our costly war on drugs.

The costs of that war have long since reached intolerable levels: more than 28,000 of our fellow citizens dead since late 2006; expenditures well above $10 billion; terrible damage to Mexico’s image abroad; human rights violations by government security forces; and ever more crime. In a recent poll by the Mexico City daily Reforma, 67 percent of Mexicans said these costs are unacceptable, while 59 percent said the drug cartels are winning the war.

We have believed for some time that Mexico should legalize marijuana and perhaps other drugs. But until now, most discussion of this possibility has foundered because our country’s drug problem and the U.S. drug problem are so inextricably linked: What our country produces, Americans consume. As a result, the debate over legalization has inevitably gotten hung up over whether Mexico should wait until the United States is willing and able to do the same.

Proposition 19 changes this calculation. For Mexico, California is almost the whole enchilada: Our overall trade with the largest state of the union is huge, an immense number of Californians are of Mexican origin, and an enormous proportion of American visitors to Mexico come from California. Passage of Prop 19 would therefore flip the terms of the debate about drug policy: If California legalizes marijuana, will it be viable for our country to continue hunting down drug lords in Tijuana? Will Wild West-style shootouts to stop Mexican cannabis from crossing the border make any sense when, just over that border, the local 7-Eleven sells pot?

The prospect of California legalizing marijuana coincides with an increasingly animated debate about legalization in Mexico. This summer, our magazine, Nexos, asked the six leading presidential candidates whether, if California legalizes marijuana, Mexico should follow suit. Four of them said it should, albeit with qualifications. And last month, at a public forum presided over by President Felipe Calderón, one of us asked whether the time had come for such discussion to be taken seriously. Calderón’s reply was startlingly open-minded and encouraging: “It’s a fundamental debate,” he said. “. . . You have to analyze carefully the pros and cons and the key arguments on both sides.” The remarks attracted so much attention that, later in the day, Calderón backtracked, insisting that he was vehemently opposed to any form of legalization. Still, his comments helped stimulate the national conversation.


A growing number of distinguished Mexicans from all walks of life have recently come out in favor of some form of drug legalization. Former presidents Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox, novelists Carlos Fuentes and Angeles Mastretta, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Mario Molina, and movie star Gael García Bernal have all expressed support for this idea, and polls show that ordinary Mexicans are increasingly willing to contemplate the notion.

Indeed, as we have crisscrossed Mexico over the past six months on a book tour, visiting more than two dozen state capitals, holding town hall meetings with students, businesspeople, school teachers, local politicians and journalists, we have witnessed a striking shift in views on the matter. This is no longer your mother’s Mexico — conservative, Catholic, introverted. Whenever we asked whether drugs should be legalized, the response was almost always overwhelmingly in favor of decriminalizing at least marijuana.

The debate here is not framed in terms of personal drug use but rather whether legalization would do anything to abate Mexico’s nightmarish violence and crime. There are reasons to think that it would: The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has said that up to 60 percent of Mexican drug cartels’ profits come from marijuana. While some say the real figure is lower, pot is without question a crucial part of their business. Legalization would make a significant chunk of that business vanish. As their immense profits shrank, the drug kingpins would be deprived of the almost unlimited money they now use to fund recruitment, arms purchases and bribes.

In addition, legalizing marijuana would free up both human and financial resources for Mexico to push back against the scourges that are often, if not always correctly, attributed to drug traffickers and that constitute Mexicans’ real bane: kidnapping, extortion, vehicle theft, home assaults, highway robbery and gunfights between gangs that leave far too many innocent bystanders dead and wounded. Before Mexico’s current war on drugs started, in late 2006, the country’s crime rate was low and dropping. Freed from the demands of the war on drugs, Mexico could return its energies to again reducing violent crime.

Today, almost anyone caught carrying any drug in Mexico is subject to arrest, prosecution and jail. Would changing that increase consumption in Mexico? Perhaps for a while. Then again, given the extremely low levels of drug use in our country, the threat of drug abuse seems a less-than-pressing problem: According to a national survey in 2008, only 6 percent of Mexicans have ever tried a drug, compared with 47 percent of Americans, as shown by a different survey that year.

Still, real questions remain. Should our country legalize all drugs, or just marijuana? Can we legalize by ourselves, or does such a move make sense only if conducted hand in hand with the United States? Theoretically, the arguments in favor of marijuana legalization apply to virtually all drugs. We believe that the benefits would also apply to powder cocaine (not produced in Mexico, but shipped through our country en route from Latin America to the United States), heroin (produced in Mexico from poppies grown in the mountains of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango) and methamphetamines (made locally with pseudoephedrine imported from China).

This is the real world, though, so we must think in terms of incremental change. It strikes us as easier and wiser to proceed step by step toward broad legalization, starting with marijuana, moving on to heroin (a minor trade in Mexico, and a manageable one stateside) and dealing only later, when Washington and others are ready, with cocaine and synthetic drugs.

For now we’ll take California’s ballot measure. If our neighbors to the north pass Proposition 19, our government will have two new options: to proceed unilaterally with legalization — with California but without Washington — or to hold off, while exploiting California’s move to more actively lobby the U.S. government for wider changes in drug policy. Either way, the initiative’s passage will enhance Calderón’s moral authority in pressing President Obama.

Our president will be able to say to yours: “We have paid an enormous price for a war that a majority of the citizens of your most populous and trend-setting state reject. Why don’t we work together, producer and consumer nations alike, to draw a road map leading us away from the equivalent of Prohibition, before we all regret our short-sightedness?”

Héctor Aguilar Camín is a historian, a novelist and the publisher and editor of the Mexican magazine Nexos. Jorge G. Castañeda was Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000 to 2003 and teaches at New York University.

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