Pubdate: Wed, 07 Apr 2010
Source: Fort Worth Weekly (TX)
Copyright: 2010 Fort Worth Weekly
Author: Dan Mcgraw


Legalizing Pot Could Reduce the Murderous Power of Drug Cartels.

In the late '90s, for a national magazine story on the issue of
somehow making marijuana legal, I interviewed then-drug czar Gen.
Barry McCaffrey. Of course, McCaffrey swatted away any notion that pot
should be legal. It was addictive, he said, and it was the "gateway"
drug that led to heroin and cocaine use.

I told him that my own experience was nothing like that. Of the 10 or
so friends I have kept up with from high school, none of us uses
marijuana anymore, and most of us had gotten it out of our system by
our early 20s. Sure, we experimented with other drugs through the
years, but marijuana was not the gateway. The tendency of youth to
experiment was the gateway.

LegalI started thinking about the issue again while reporting on the
fake pot ("The Real Deal on Fake Dope," March 24, 2010) that is being
sold legally around the country. The pro-legalization folks contend
that marijuana's illegal status causes young people to move to the
legal fake pot, whose health consequences are not really known but
potentially scary. The anti-dope folks repeat the myth about marijuana
leading to much worse drugs.

We are seeing a huge amount of violence in Mexican cities lately as
the drug cartels compete to control the huge American market. More
than 18,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico
in the past three years. In this country, FBI crime statistics list
narcotics as being behind more than 3,000 murders in the past five

In the past, the arguments for legalizing marijuana have been that it
isn't addictive and has few bad health effects and that people should
have the right to decide what to put in their bodies. But those
arguments should move to the background. The number-one reason to
legalize pot is to put the powerful and violent Mexican drug cartels
out of business -- or at least to put a big dent in their profits.

Americans spend $9 billion on Mexican pot each year, according to the
Office of National Drug Control Policy, a market that accounts for 62
percent of the cartels' profits. In addition to the billions we spend
with the Mexicans, Americans buy $36 billion worth of domestically
produced weed. That leads to 800,000 marijuana-related arrests every
year and the high cost of incarcerating those folks.

When you add it all up -- including the $44 billion a year spent by law
enforcement to fight this non-winnable drug war -- it's clear we need
to make some choices. Are there negative consequences of legalizing
marijuana? Sure. But they pale in comparison to the costs of keeping
it illegal.

The violence in Mexico has driven more than 100,000 Mexicans to flee
to this country in recent months, according to the latest reports.
Surely some of the violence will follow them here.

Marijuana can be a gateway drug in one respect. By keeping pot in the
shadows of the black market, folks buying it will likely be introduced
to other, more addictive illegal drugs through their contacts with
dealers. If pot is legalized, those contacts will be greatly reduced.
After the Netherlands legalized marijuana, officials found that use of
heroin and cocaine declined significantly.

So if marijuana were made legal, the drug cartels would lose major
portions of their income, both from marijuana and more addictive
drugs. American farmers could find themselves with a huge cash crop,
and law enforcement could move on to other issues.

More than 100 million Americans -- about one-third of the population --
have tried marijuana, according to recent surveys. Nearly half of the
population favors legalizing weed in some way, and that percentage has
been rising for decades. The politicians must get it through their
heads that public opinion is changing on this issue, and legalization
might be a more politically viable option than it used to be.

I never liked pot very much and haven't used it in about 10 years. I
have friends who use it and manage their work and family lives fairly
well. I have far more friends who have problems with alcohol
addiction. If pot becomes legal, we can regulate its use and tax it to
pay for a whole host of national programs.

The move to legalize marijuana shouldn't be dominated by the stoners
trumpeting their right to get high but by the general public, who bear
the social, economic, and political costs of the illegal drug trade.
Keeping pot illegal is a bad policy that, in essence, prints money for
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake