Pubdate: Fri, 10 Apr 2009
Source: Herald News, The (Fall River, MA)
Copyright: 2009 The Herald News
Author: Bill Steigerwald, The Herald News


You don't have to be a Harvard economics professor like Jeffrey Miron
to know that America's war on drugs has been a lost cause for decades.
Now a bloody war between the Mexican government and vicious drug
cartels is raging just across our southern border, killing thousands
and threatening to spread into the U.S.A.

The Obama administration's response, typically and predictably, is to
send more police and troops to try to protect and control the border.
But as Miron recently pointed out in a piece for, the cause of
the violence in Mexico is our country's own misbegotten policy of drug
prohibition, which drives the market for drugs underground and creates
the same kind of violence, corruption and disrespect for the law among
the populace that we saw during our failed war against alcohol.

Miron, who believes that legalizing all drugs is the best way to
reduce drug violence on our borders and in our cities, was in Boston
when I talked to him Monday morning.

Q: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently blamed our inability to
prevent weapons from being smuggled across the border to arm the drug
cartels in Mexico for the deaths of thousands of police officers,
soldiers and civilians there. She also said it was America's
"insatiable demand" for drugs that fuels the violence on the border.
Should she have emphasized that "demand" part of it more?

A: Well, no. Of course at some level she's right. If there were no
demand for drugs, there would be no drug market. It wouldn't matter
whether we prohibited drugs; there would be no violence. But there is
going to be a demand for drugs whether we like it or not, and if we
drive the market underground we are going to have many more negative
sideeffects of that market than if we were to adopt a regime of
legalization.... I think she is really missing the key way in which
the U.S. policy of drug prohibition is responsible for the current

Q: Can you give me your sound-bite synopsis of what you think
America's war on drugs is?

A: I would say it is fundamentally an attempt to suppress behavior
that people are afraid of, or to suppress people that a majority is
afraid of, rather than being what it claims to be, which is a
well-intentioned effort to keep people from harming themselves or to
prevent the negative sideeffects of drug use on others.

There's no question that many people think that what we are doing is
being benevolently paternalistic or we're trying to prevent negative
spillover from drug use. But drug prohibition is not accomplishing
that effectively. If that is your goal, it makes far more sense to
keep it legal and directly address those side effects and have
policies like moderate regulation and taxation, rather than driving
the market underground, which generates all these ancillary side effects.

Q: What in a nutshell should our drug policy be?

A: In a nutshell, it should be much more like our policy for alcohol
and tobacco. It should be regulated and taxed in moderate ways. Very
high tax rates and very extreme regulation would drive the (drug)
market back underground. But moderate taxation and moderate regulation
would nudge things in the right direction. Then we could try to
address some of the worst irresponsible uses of drugs without creating
a black market.

Q: In U.S. cities much of the violence is centered in and around
fights over drug turf. Wouldn't most of it disappear if drugs were

A: Yeah, a lot of the violence is related to the drug trade, so most
of that should go away under legalization. We don't see violence being
used to resolve disputes in legal industries, with rare, rare, rare
exceptions. Of course some violence doesn't have anything to do with
the drug trade, so I'm certainly not claiming violence would go away
completely. But reasonable estimates suggest that maybe 25 to 50
percent of homicides, for example, have a pretty direct connection to
attempts to resolve disputes in underground markets, especially the
drug market. So you're talking about a substantial reduction in violence.

Q: America's people and politicians finally wised up and repealed
alcohol prohibition. Do you think they'll do the same with drug

A: I think they will, but I don't know how soon it's going to

Q: Do you see any bright spots? For, example President Obama has told
the DEA to stop raiding medical marijuana facilities in California
that are legal under state law.

A: There's some sort of schizophrenia in the Obama administration.
They called off the marijuana raids in California, but at the same
time they are talking about sending a lot more troops and resources to
the Mexican border to try and close that border, which in my view is
counterproductive. So it's unclear.

Q: When President Obama meets with Mexican President Calderone this
month, what do you wish Obama would say to Calderone regarding this
drug warfare on our border?

A: The ideal thing would be for him to say the U.S. has decided to
legalize drugs, but I don't think that's going to happen. What Obama
could say, which I think is possible and would be productive, is that
Mexico should scale back its attempts to punish the cartels and break
up the cartels and to stop the flow of drugs. The more it does to
punish and break up the cartels, the more violence it generates.

If there is an underground market that is left alone, it doesn't seem
to generate nearly as much violence and corruption as when you try to
clamp down on it. We've seen this big escalation in violence along the
border in the last two years at precisely the period over which
Calderone has tried to escalate the war against the drug cartels. So
we hope that maybe Obama can just say "de-escalate" and we'll get
fewer of these bad sideeffects. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake