Pubdate: Sun, 08 Feb 2015
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2015 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Author: Mathew H. Gendle


Throughout its history, the United States' approach to controlling 
recreational intoxicants has varied. Up until the early part of the 
20th century, drug use in the U. S. was completely unfettered - 
heroin, morphine and other substances were sold openly and without 
restriction. In fact, cocaine, various opiates and syringe kits were 
once available for order from the Sears & Roebuck catalog.

Beginning with 1914' s Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, a slew of laws 
burst forth to regulate cocaine, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs 
of abuse. These laws were often the product of blatant racism, 
sensationalism and political theater, and they set the stage for 
current regulations that function as ham-fisted political instruments 
rather than data-backed guardians of public health.

In the second decade of the 21st century, the pendulum is again 
shifting, at least in regard to marijuana control. Several states 
have approved medical marijuana use and have decriminalized personal 
possession, and four have legalized cannabis use for recreational purposes.

After years of teaching and researching effects of U. S. drug policy, 
I have come to agree with what many public-policy, economics and 
health experts have been saying for decades-the current "War on 
Drugs" is an expensive boondoggle. It has not meaningfully reduced 
drug supply, demand, availability or use, and it has wasted billions 
in tax dollars with little to show in return.

In the U. S., this "war" has fostered the world's largest prison 
population, excessive court backlogs, the stigmatization of addiction 
and the erosion of constitutionally protected freedoms.

One of the most significant benefits of ending the "War on Drugs" via 
regulated drug legalization is seldom discussed because its principle 
effect would take place outside our borders. Several countries in 
Latin America- Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras and El 
Salvador - are hosts to widespread violence and civil conflict.

Throughout the region, various criminal and insurgent groups utilize 
the profits of drug trafficking to finance their activities. From 
Peru's Sendero Luminoso, to the FARC and AUC in Colombia, to Mexico's 
Los Zetas, to various Central American gangs including Mara 
Salvatrucha - better known here as MS- 13- the violent actions of 
these groups are overwhelmingly underwritten by the proceeds of 
international cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine trafficking.

This drug-funded violence is one of the primary internal pressures 
that underlie the forced displacement of Latin American citizens to 
our borders.

In recent months, this migration, particularly involving 
unaccompanied minors from Central America, has received a great deal 
of attention from the domestic press.

Yet reports seldom connect the movement of these peoples to the role 
of U. S. drug policies in fueling the violence, corruption and 
poverty that contribute to their relocation.

For decades, the United States has pumped billions of taxpayer 
dollars into these countries in various failed attempts to increase 
security and peace in the region. The common-sense solution to the 
problem of drug-funded violence in Latin America, and the human 
migration it causes, is to legalize and regulate recreational drug 
use within the United States.

The majority of money made through the production and trafficking of 
illegal drugs is never seen by the growers or the street-level 
dealers who move the product to consumers. Rather, these proceeds are 
largely retained by the transnational criminal organizations that 
transport the drugs from their source to the consumer. This 
trafficking is where the real risk lies - and where the real money is made.

A kilo of cocaine worth $ 1,000 in Colombia rises in value to $ 
13,000 as it moves through Guatemala, and ultimately achieves a 
street retail value of more than $ 170,000 on our streets. This 
massive profit is then returned to criminal organizations throughout 
Latin America, where it finances activities that promote civil 
unrest, weakened governments, corruption and human rights abuses.

By regulating and legalizing drugs in the United States, this profit 
margin would vaporize, as would much of the negative activities it supports.

Recent marijuana legalization and decriminalization efforts in a few 
states have resulted in a significant decline in the wholesale price 
of marijuana. Prices have dropped so much that many Mexican growers 
have given up on the crop entirely.

Our record of attempting to curtail use by destroying drugs at their 
source, preventing drugs from crossing our borders and jailing 
street- level distributors and users is not a winning one.

As long as there is a demand for drugs, there will be a supply. And 
as long as mountains of money can be made, transnational trafficking 
networks will be at the ready to meet this demand.

This simple lesson should have been learned from our futile 
experiment with alcohol prohibition. Because the United States 
appears to be unable to meaningfully reduce domestic demand for 
drugs, and has been unsuccessful in curtailing drug production and 
importation, legalization must be considered as a tool to combat 
violence in regions to our south - the benefits of which will also be felt here.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom