Long-lasting drug war needs new approach

Freedom New Mexico

Americans are addicted to the drug war.

Countless billions of taxpayers’ money, at all levels, has been lost
in a futile effort to keep unapproved drugs off our streets. The effort
has only raised illicit drugs’ value, and thus raised sellers’ profits
— and the extremes to which they’ll go to rake them in.

We hope President Barack Obama, who appears more reasonable and
willing to listen than his predecessor, is willing to view the issue
with an open mind, and entertain options we have been taught not to
consider.

The drug war is of particular concern along the U.S.-Mexico border,
where a large percentage of illegal drugs enter this country. Violence
among competing cartels has become so fierce that the U.S. Joint Forces
Command in November warned of a “rapid and sudden collapse” of Mexico’s
government as a result of drug violence.

“How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years
will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state,” the
report states.

The violence is so bad the Mexican government confirmed at least
5,500 deaths to cartel wars in 2008 alone. In contrast, U.S. war deaths
in Iraq totaled 4,236 from our invasion in 2003 through last week.

Mexico reports the local Gulf Cartel, using the Zeta paramilitary
group, as the most violent, but the highest concentration of deaths is
in Ciudad Juarez, where nearly 1,600 people were killed last year.

And while the bulk of the violence is in Mexico, there is growing
concern it could spill over the border. U.S. law officials reported
last year that Zetas had authorized incursions into this country to
find and kill their targets, and the Department of Homeland Security
recently said it had developed a military “surge” strategy to deal with
border violence if it became necessary.

An alarmed El Paso, Texas, City Council recently voted unanimously
to send a letter to the White House asking that drugs be legalized,
although Mayor John Cook vetoed the resolution.

To people who have only heard of interdiction efforts,
decriminalization might seem outlandish, but it’s important to remember
that outlawing alcohol created the same rampant violence. It took
Americans just 15 years to see the error of Prohibition and repeal the
18th Amendment to the Constitution.

The drug war is in its fourth decade, and the problems of drug
prohibition are only getting worse. Officials estimate illegal drug use
and the crime that goes with it leads to about 20,000 U.S. deaths, and
cost taxpayers $98 billion, every year.

How much better might things be if some of that money were devoted
to treatment and education, instead of guns and caskets? Determining
the answer would require a whole new approach to dealing with the
problem.

Unfortunately, politicians are addicted to the votes they court by
passing laws that suggest they’re doing something about the issue.
Local governments and law enforcement officials are addicted to the
drug war money that helps them hire more people and provide more
services. And the public is addicted to constant news that its
officials are working to ensure their safety.

President Obama currently has widespread backing of a nation that
wishes him well, and supports his calls for change from the old ways of
doing things. He could take advantage of that support and at least
study new ways of addressing our drug problem. If we don’t try
something new, we’ll never know what might have actually worked.

We already know the current strategy hasn’t worked for 40 years. More of the same isn’t likely to bring different results.