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5,300 Dead and Counting January 19, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Barack Obama, Economy, Homeland Security, National Politics, US Drug Policy.
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450px-pedestrian_border_crossing_sign_tijuana_mexicoWhen Barack Obama ascends the  dais tomorrow and takes the oath of office as President of the United States, he will be accepting some of the greatest challenges that this country has ever faced.  Besides the economic meltdown, security concerns like Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, North Korea, and Pakistan will require immediate and urgent attention.  These conflicts are foremost in the minds of most of the citizens of the United States and there is a grim acceptance that we must get some resolution for them.  What is lesser known, however, is the war that is raging on our country’s doorstep – a war that threatens to spill over into the United States and threaten domestic security – the current Mexican war against the country’s many drug cartels.

Tijuana, Mexico is ground zero.  A mere stone’s throw from California, the drug violence has escalated exponentially there in the past year.  Last year, about 14 people each day – 5,300 in a year – were murdered in drug violence.  Kidnapping is also on the rise, as are beheadings.  Officials in El Paso are also reporting increases in cross-border crime due to drug cartels in Juarez. 

The current lawlessness has its roots in former Mexican President Vincente Fox’s determination to break up the drug cartels.  In 2006, he infiltrated the largest of them and had all their leaders arrested.  The power vacuum this created within the cartels, however, has led to the various organized crime factions vying for control of the trade.  Current Mexican President Felipe Calderon called in the army in an attempt to regain control.  Outgunned and outmatched, the Mexican army and police forces have either given up or joined the other side.  In Tijuana last week, 21 uniformed officers – including 5 commanders – were charged with providing protection to the members of one of the largest drug cartels.

 The U.S. government is well aware of the problems.  Retiring CIA chief Michael Hayden told reporters on Friday that that Mexico could be a greater problem than Iraq for incoming President Obama.  The U.S. Justice Department said last month that Mexican gangs are the “biggest organized crime threat to the United States.”   Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor,  said last week that the violence threatens Mexican democracy.  Finally, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told The New York Times that his department had ordered additional border security plans to be drawn up this summer as kidnappings and killings spilled into the U.S.

Several strategies have been proposed to assist Mexico in controlling the violence.  A more sensible U.S. immigration policy, increased financial assistance to Mexico, and military assistance in the form of equipment and training are most often suggested.  I have a better idea.

Call a cease fire in the U.S. War on drugs.

The  U.S. Government spent $20 billion or so on interdiction and enforcement efforts last year alone.  If you add in what state and local governments kick in the cost rises to over $30 billion.  Approximately 13% of all arrests are related to drug offenses; of that about 45% are for cannabis – marijuana – violations.  About 90% of all individuals arrested for marijuana-related offenses are arrested for simple possession.  The  decriminalization of marijuana in small amounts would save countless dollars in law enforcement, court costs, jail and prison maintenance, and post-incarceration monitoring.  Allowing individuals to grow marijuana for personal use also removes any large-scale profit motivation from the trade.  There are other benefits.  Hemp is an superior alternative to corn in ethanol production and can be used for consumer products from paper to clothing.

The U.S. should also seriously investigate the legalization of currently illicit drugs.  They could then be monitored as any controlled substance; manufactured in clean and legal environments, distributed in licensed establishments or clinics, and taxed in the manner of tobacco and alcohol.  Dollars now earmarked for suppression of the drug trade could be instead directed toward public health and treatment for addiction; treatment is one-seventh the cost of incarceration.

As President Obama considers a new direction for the United States, he should consider this – it is not the drugs that cause drug crime, it is their illegal status.

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Comments»

1. Ted - January 19, 2009

The question is not IF there will be an interdiction of Obama’s Presidency by the Supreme Court, the questions are WHEN and HOW that interdiction will transpire — that is, if the USA is to continue as the Constitutional Republic that now exists.


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