Drug policy desperately needs overhaul

Freedom New Mexico

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received a minor flurry of criticism last week for acknowledging the United States — or at least some people in the United States — bears some responsibility for the explosion of drug-law-related violence in Mexico that has left more than 7,000 Mexicans dead since January 2008.

The trouble is she doesn’t seem to be prepared to follow her comments to anything close to their logical implications.

“Clearly what we’ve been doing has not worked,” Clinton told reporters on her plane at the start of a two-day visit to Mexico. “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians.” She added that “neither interdiction (of drugs) nor reducing demand have been successful.”

Clinton is only partially correct. It isn’t “our” insatiable demand but the demand of a small subset of the population that fuels the drug trade; it fuels it to the tune of $15 billion to $25 billion a year.

And while Mexican drug gangs do smuggle weapons from U.S. gun stores along the border to elude Mexico’s strict gun laws, the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine notes that since the beginning of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s decision two years ago to unleash the military against the drug gangs, the gangs’ arsenals have come to include: “sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 caliber sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40 mm grenade machine guns.”

Clearly, these weapons are not coming from a few rogue gun shops in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. With the vast profits that prohibition makes possible, the Mexican drug gangs are tapping into the international black market in military weaponry. Inspecting a few more vehicles crossing into Mexico won’t stop that trade.

Having acknowledged the enormity of the problems created by the effort to enforce drug laws through military methods, what is the U.S. government prepared to do about it? Well, a waggish definition of insanity is continuing to do what you have been doing and expecting different results, and that seems to be what the U.S. government has in mind.

President Obama has said the government will send a few more Border Patrol agents to the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, step up inspection of vehicles going both ways across the border and send another $66 million to the Mexican government. Good luck with that.

Maybe it’s time to stop the insanity.

The dynamics of efforts at prohibition of substances for which people are willing to pay inflated prices predict precisely the outcomes we are seeing. Those most adept at violence, concealment, bribery and skullduggery are rewarded with enormous sums of money, respect for law declines, and civil society is ripped apart.

In February, the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico called on the United States to consider legalizing at least marijuana and focusing anti-drug efforts more on treatment than criminalization. That’s good advice, and not just because it comports with what we have urged for decades.

The war on drugs creates more victims than the drugs themselves do, including plenty of innocent bystanders. When a policy fails, it’s time to consider changing it. The chaos in Mexico, which threatens to spill across the border any time, should be sufficient impetus.