Pubdate: Sun, 01 Mar 2009
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2009 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)



Imagine if murders in Philadelphia tripled. Imagine if  they
quadrupled. Imagine living in Juarez, Mexico. With  a population about
the same as Philadelphia's 1.4  million, Juarez had 1,600 murders last
year;  Philadelphia had 332.

Last month, Juarez had more than 80 murders. If you  think that sounds
like a war zone, you would be right.  Juarez is on the front lines of
the so-called war on  drugs. That multi-decade misadventure has filled
U.S.  prisons with thousands of drug-law violators, but  hasn't done
enough to stem our demand for drugs.

Overall drug use among America's youth is down 25  percent since 2001,
according to a University of  Michigan study. But 32 percent of 12th
graders said  they used marijuana over the past year.

"Marijuana is as available to teenagers in this country  as candy,"
says Joseph A. Califano Jr., president of  the National Center on
Addiction and Substance Abuse.

Marijuana isn't the only illegal drug exported from  Mexico. Ninety
percent of the cocaine in this country  made its way here through
Mexico. It is also the major  source of much of the heroin and
methamphetamine found  in this country.

The lucrative U.S. market has spawned heavily armed  drug cartels in
Mexico. These bandits export 90 percent  of their weapons from our
side of the Rio Grande. Using  their American guns, the cartels have
parts of Mexico,  especially border cities like Juarez and Tijuana, 
gasping to avoid drowning in a bloodbath.

The cartels aren't just killing rival drug dealers;  they are
kidnapping and killing soldiers, police,  judges, journalists - anyone
who gets in their way.  Some victims have been beheaded. The U.S.
State  Department has alerted American travelers to take care  in
Mexico. The U.S. consul estimates that at least 30  Americans were
killed in Juarez last year.

The University of Arizona has advised students to avoid  taking spring
break in Mexico. Travel restrictions have  been placed on U.S.
soldiers stationed near the border  at Ford Hood and Fort Huachucha.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has mobilized troops  to fight the
cartels. Our government is fighting the  drug lords, too.

This past week, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder  Jr. announced
the arrest of 755 people nationwide  associated with a Mexican cartel.
Also seized were  nearly $60 million in cash, 13 tons of cocaine,
eight  tons of marijuana, and a half-ton of methamphetamine.  Yet the
availability of those drugs on the streets of  America is little disturbed.

So what's the answer? An El Paso city councilman  proposed that his
Texas city across from Juarez  consider legalizing drugs. The mayor
vetoed the idea.  But other U.S. cities are thinking hard about 
regulating and taxing some drugs, rather than leaving  that enterprise
to gun-wielding criminals. Proposed  medical marijuana laws, including
one before the New  Jersey Legislature, may be a step in that direction.

In the meantime, this country must do more to stop  assault weapons
from flowing across the border into  Mexico. It also must step up the
delivery of weapons,  communications equipment, and helicopters
promised by  former President George W. Bush to the Mexican military 
under the Merida Initiative. And this country must  further reduce our
demand for illegal drugs by putting  more resources into counseling
and treatment.

Mexico can't be ignored. Former U.S. drug czar Barry  McCaffrey says
"Mexico is on the edge of the abyss" of  becoming "a narco-state."
Former CIA chief Michael  Hayden says the drug cartels have made
Mexico as much a  national security threat for America as Iran. Our 
neighbor deserves our attention. What happens there  affects us greatly.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin