Pubdate: Thu, 01 Oct 2015
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Orange County Register
Author: Sal Rodriguez


America will never get control of illegal drugs or immigrants until 
it accepts the failure of the "war on drug."

For over four decades, the U.S. government has been on a quixotic 
mission to stamp out drug use through prohibition, mass incarceration 
and international interdiction. One trillion dollars and millions of 
arrests later, 49.2 percent of Americans aged 12 or older reported 
illicit drug use in their lifetimes, 16.7 percent in the past year 
and 10.2 percent in the past month, according to the 2014 National 
Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The survey, overseen by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health 
Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human 
Services, showed nearly 8 million more Americans reported illicit 
drug use in the past month in 2014 than in 2004.

The prohibitionist model of drug control just isn't stopping people 
from buying. And Americans are paying quite a bit of money for 
illegal drugs. Between 2000 and 2010, Americans spent approximately 
$100 billion annually on cocaine, heroin, marijuana and 
methamphetamines, according to the Rand Corporation.

In certain parts of Latin America, cashing in on American vices makes 
sense, given the proximity to such a lucrative market. With many 
countries in the region just decades removed from (often 
American-facilitated) civil wars and military dictatorships, and 
prospects for economic mobility in many countries stifled by a 
multitude of factors, the drug market understandably is appealing.

As such, the allure of a multibillion-dollar market contributes to 
the corruption of law enforcement and governments, undermines the 
rule of law and trust in public institutions and brings substantial 
violence to the region. In recent years, the problem has gotten 
worse. During the presidency of Felipe Calderon in Mexico, between 
2006 and 2012, an estimated 70,000 people were killed as a result of 
the ongoing drug war. Meanwhile, violence surged in Central American 
countries. Honduras now has the highest murder rate in the world, 
with Guatemala and El Salvador not far behind.

Unsurprisingly, more Central American immigrants now are caught at 
the border than Mexicans, as desperate circumstances force people to 
flee their countries. All because of a problem that has its roots in 
the belief that what didn't work for alcohol in the 1920s and early 
1930s should work for other drugs today.

The most reasonable proposals for resolving these problems largely 
have come out of Latin America itself. In 2009, the Latin American 
Commission on Drugs and Democracy, co-chaired by former presidents 
Fernando Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto 
Zedillo of Mexico, called for "discussion of a new paradigm leading 
to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies."

Following the panel's work in 2011 was the Global Commission on Drug 
Policy, which included former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and 
former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. The commission called 
for an end to "the criminalization, marginalization and 
stigmatization of people who use drugs but do no harm to others." 
Further, it recommended "experimentation by governments of legal 
regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and 
safeguard the health and security of their citizens." These are the 
sorts of ideas that need to be talked about in the United States.

But whereas much of Latin America has decriminalized drug use and 
possession, American politicians are still stuck in the 1970s. At 
best, they say more drug offenders should be sent to drug courts. In 
the context of a multibillion-dollar market, that just isn't going to 
cut it. The inability to admit the failure of prohibition will doom 
us to many more years of dealing with the consequences. Continued 
dysfunction and violence south of the border means more people will 
try to flee to the United States. All because we can't deal with some 
people wanting to get high.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom