Pubdate: Fri, 05 Oct 2007
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2007 The Arizona Republic
Author: Robert Robb, Republic columnist
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


A recent Government Accountability Office report on drug interdiction 
in Mexico is so bleak you have to wonder, what's the point?

 From 2000 to 2005, according to the GAO, the amount of marijuana 
flowing into the United States from Mexico increased 44 percent. 
Cocaine shipments to the United States increased 64 percent. Heroin 
production for U.S. consumption nearly doubled.

The National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that the total value 
of the illegal drug trade between Mexico and the United States at 
between $8 billion and $23 billion.

The upper end of that range has eye-popping significance.

Mexico's economy relies heavily on trade with the United States. At 
the upper end of the range, the illegal drug trade is equivalent to 
14 percent of the total value of Mexico's legal exports to the United 
States. Illegal drugs are probably Mexico's second-leading export to 
the United States, lagging behind only oil.

It is not as though nothing was being done during the period the GAO 
studied. The U.S. gave Mexico nearly $400 million to assist in drug 
interdiction. Former President Vicente Fox made interrupting the drug 
trade a priority. Cartel leaders were targeted. Extraditions to the 
U.S. increased. A new federal police force was formed to try to 
bypass the corruption in other agencies.

New Mexican President Felipe Calderon is taking even more aggressive 
action. Regardless of the good will and stern intentions of Mexico's 
senior federal leadership, however, the money in the illegal drug 
trade simply overwhelms the rule of law at the local level. That's a 
serious problem, for Mexico and the U.S.

So, what to do about it?

Decriminalization for recreational drug use has been a safe haven for 
those who believe that locking up people strictly for drug use is 
wrong or have concluded that the war on drugs is futile. I've rested 
comfortably there for years.

However, removing criminal sanctions for drug use won't dismantle the 
destructive and dangerous criminal supply networks that have taken 
deep root in Mexico and, increasingly, here in the United States. 
Only a legal means of production, distribution and sale will do that.

That's a far less comfortable proposition. Making the production and 
sale of drugs commercially available, particularly hard drugs, is 
unnerving and scary.

Perhaps legalizing just marijuana would make the problem manageable.

According to a federal study, 6 percent of the population over the 
age of 12 had used marijuana in the previous month. That's nearly 15 
million people.

Only about 1 percent of the population had used cocaine in the 
previous month. The numbers for meth and heroin were even lower, 
two-tenths of 1 percent and one-tenth of 1 percent respectively.

Marijuana accounts for over 60 percent of the proceeds of the illegal 
drug trade between Mexico and the United States, according to the 
NDIC estimate.

So, perhaps the line on legalization, rather than decriminalization, 
can be drawn at marijuana. Perhaps that would give Mexican officials 
a fighting chance to get on top of the remainder of the drug trade 
and install the rule of law at the local level.

Legalization of even marijuana would be a big step into the unknown.

Despite the claims of incautious legalization advocates, usage would 
undoubtedly go up as prices dropped, product became more available 
and convenient, and risks disappeared.

And despite incautious analogies, marijuana isn't like booze. You can 
drink for reasons other than getting drunk. The only reason to ingest 
marijuana is to get high.

The experience of other countries with legalization of marijuana and 
some harder drugs is mixed, at best. Recreational drug use becoming a 
visible part of a culture isn't a good thing.

Perhaps the United States could legislate a legalization of marijuana 
use for private consumption that kept it largely out of sight. That, 
however, cannot be counted on.

What the United States would be like with legal recreational drugs is 
unknown. Sometimes, however, the known is so bad or futile that a 
trade for the unknown is the best course of action.

That point has been reached regarding the legal status of marijuana. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake