Curtain Raiser

We’ve Already Lost This Endless War, Colltalers

Our southern neighbor, Mexico, has also had a presidential election, and if there’s one issue common to both countries that’s likely to remain stubbornly the same is the staggeringly expensive, utterly ineffective ‘war on drugs.’
As with the ‘war on terror’ and other even more startling phony and absolutely voided of any substance government rhetoric, this one is raging afoul across the border, mainly fueled by two elements of our entire responsibility.
The billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, which Mexican former leader Felipe Calderón all but squandered in eight years of wasteful increases of firepower, and the voracity of the American consumer.
But while President Obama’s reelection may have unwillingly triggered a yet to be observed chain reaction, with the decriminalization of pot in Colorado and Washington state, Enrique Pena Nieto, Calderón’s successor, is not on the same page.
In fact, his big idea about curbing widespread carnage, mass murders, extortion, kidnapping, and official corruption, elicited by the war between the drug cartels and the inept military, is to add even more of the same, and see what happens.
That he’s part of the return of an old oligarchic party that has ruled Mexico longer than any other, may explain part of both his ascension to power, and his reluctance of bringing up anything of substance to the table.
But that our own president remains oblivious at most at the spectacular failure of the current course of action, and the administration’s apparent levity and shallow approach to the issue, is truly baffling.
For most Americans, the decriminalization of pot is no longer only a cultural matter, albeit one that hinges on questions about individual rights to choose a lifestyle. It goes beyond such simplistic view in many ways.
First, the fact that a growing segment of the incarcerated population thrown in the mostly private-owned, for-profit American jail system, is there for what should be considered a misdemeanor, if any basic rules of jurisprudence had been applied.
Also, for as long as emphasis is disproportionately placed on enforcement, and much less in prevention and treatment, locking first-time offenders with lifelong criminals is a perfect-storm receipt to breed even harder law breakers.
No wonder that heavy elements of racial and social class discrimination are also part of this explosive mix. Which, coming to think of it, may be the devilish purpose of at least part of the drug enforcement establishment, in the first place.
Now, more than ever, may be a great opportunity for both the Obama administration and the new leadership in Mexico to break off with the past and make a decisive move towards the future. In its new term in office, the president could order a halt on all military aid to the south of the border, until new priorities are firmly in place.
That could also give President Pena Nieto the chance to move his country into a new and more productive direction, since it wouldn’t rely so much in weaponry and violence to combat an underground force that seems to feed off those very same elements.
Decriminalization in the two U.S. states, along with the 18 others that already offer medical pot programs, could mark a watershed moment in the fight against organized crime: without their main source of income, cartels would be immediately rendered toothless.
The greatest parallel to such an event would be, of course, the end of Prohibition, which drove practically out of businesses hundreds of thousands of illicit crime enterprises. That some of them found other income streams, equally illegal, is entirely another matter.
Even from a strictly economics point of view, a fresh, serious approach to drug liberalization makes sense. It’s very likely that taxes collected on use and trade of pot, would be enough to bridge at least part of the gap in our huge government deficit.
There’s also a side-effect that a freer debate on our approach to drug use in our society would provide, specially for a certain demographics that’s been ravaged by prohibition: it would make us a more pragmatic and effective society, better able of providing support and integrating all citizens, not just those corporations that undoubtedly profit from it. Have a great one. WC

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