Pubdate: Mon, 13 Sep 2010
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Column: The Americas
Page: A19
Copyright: 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Mary Anastasia O'Grady


The Resolutions Offered by El Paso's City Council to End Prohibition 
Are Quashed by Fear of Retaliation by Washington.

El Paso, Texas - In the national debate about the efficacy and 
morality of the U.S. war on drugs, it is not uncommon for 
prohibitionists to accuse their opponents of harboring libertine 
motives. But as opposition to current policy increases in places like 
this culturally conservative and predominantly Catholic border city, 
that charge isn't sticking.

The growing tendency here to question U.S. drug policy has nothing 
whatsoever to do with ideology or an affinity for drugs. Rather, it 
is an acknowledgment that while the "war on drugs" has done nothing 
to curb the U.S. appetite for mind-altering substances, its 
unintended consequence has been to empower organized crime networks. 
These gangs, which aggressively target children as customers and 
low-level employees on both sides of the border, are undermining the 
economy and the quality of life in the binational El Paso-Juarez 
metropolitan region.

As a result, over the last two years the city council here has been 
growing more vocal about the need for an alternative to current 
policy. But thus far it has been rebuffed by Washington politicians, 
many of whom are allied with the special interests, such as the Drug 
Enforcement Agency, that the drug war has spawned.

In the 40 years since Richard Nixon declared war on drug suppliers 
abroad-because American consumers had consistently demonstrated that 
they had no interest in curtailing demand-illicit drug use in rich 
countries has remained fairly constant. Only preferences have shifted.

A report released in June by the United Nations Office on Drugs and 
Crime found that "drug use has stabilized in the developed world." 
Cocaine use in the U.S. has dropped in recent decades, but there is 
"growing abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants and prescription drugs 
around the world." The report also said that "cannabis is still the 
world's drug of choice." In other words, billions of dollars in 
warring has left us about where we started, except, according to the 
report, that the indoor cultivation of cannabis is now a major source 
of funding for criminal gangs.

Meanwhile, Juarez is dying. Since the beginning of this year, more 
than 2,200 people in the city have been murdered. Since 2008, the 
toll is almost 6,500. On a per capita basis this would be equivalent 
to some 26,000 murders in New York City. Drug warriors play down 
these numbers by claiming that some 85% of the dead were themselves 
involved in trafficking. But that claim is dubious since in many of 
the murders-more than 90% of cases this year-there hasn't even been 
an arrest. And what about the hundreds of innocents, the other 15% of 
the victims, that the government admits were not criminals?

Because organized crime corrupts institutions, impunity is also 
flourishing. This has encouraged an epidemic of kidnapping and 
extortion which has sent entrepreneurs and investors running for 
their lives. Thus the city's economy has collapsed and the municipal 
government is broke. I visited JuA rez last week and saw the vacant 
buildings and empty taco joints.

Thirty-seven-year-old El Paso City Council member Beto O'Rourke, a 
father of three, told me that before witnessing the slaughter of his 
neighbors and the economic decline of his city, he'd never really 
given the drug war much thought. But in 2008, after more than 1,660 
murders, the city council sponsored a resolution condemning the 
violence with an amendment he offered "calling for an open and honest 
dialogue on ending the prohibition in this country." The resolution 
passed 8-0, but the mayor vetoed it on the grounds that it would make 
the city look bad in Austin and Washington.

When the council tried to override the veto, Mr. O'Rourke says 
council members received phone calls from Democratic Congressman 
Sylvester Reyes that "basically threatened [the city] with loss of 
federal funds if we continued with this resolution." Mr. Reyes's 
office says it only sent a message that in a moment when the 
congressman was trying to garner stimulus funds for El Paso, the 
resolution "wasn't helpful." The override failed by two votes.

In 2010, the council offered another resolution. Mr. O'Rourke told me 
that this one was "much more sharply worded and included a call for 
the regulation, control and taxation of marijuana in the U.S., given 
that 50%-60% of cartel revenues are marijuana sales to U.S. 
consumers. That was $8.6 billion in 2006 alone according to White 
House Office on Drug Control Policy."

The vote was 4-4 and the mayor broke the tie by voting against it. 
But Mr. O'Rourke says he is confident that a growing number of people 
here can see prohibition isn't working. He tells me that after 
speeches to Rotary Clubs and civic organizations he is invariably 
approached by many individuals who say they agree though they don't 
want to say so publicly. Feedback from his own constituents also runs 
heavily in favor of changing the policy.

Perhaps it is time to stop using character assassination and the 
power of the federal purse to quash this conversation. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake