Pubdate: Thu, 14 Jan 2016
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Steve Chapman


All across America last weekend, panicked drug users rushed to their 
dealers to stock up on marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine 
for fear of running out. The arrest of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, 
head of the biggest drug cartel in Mexico, was sure to cause a sudden 
shortage of illegal substances in this country.

That's right. And I'm Queen Latifah. In reality, the capture of the 
narcotics kingpin is likely to have about as much impact on drug 
supplies as Martian solar storms do. You wouldn't expect long lines 
at the gas pump if the CEO of Exxon Mobil were suddenly unavailable 
because the company, its retailers and its suppliers would go on functioning.

The same holds for the Sinaloa drug operation. It no doubt has a 
succession plan - Guzman was in prison for more than a year before he 
made a notorious escape last year - and plenty of experience in 
dealing with the loss of key managers to murder and other unwanted 
events. Not many people in the drug trade last long enough to collect 
a gold watch.

The cartel's vast network of growers, smugglers and retail sellers 
will continue their operations largely unimpeded. "I have a fleet of 
submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats," Guzman told actor Sean Penn 
shortly before being caught, and they are not going to be parked for 
the duration.

A bad man who has allegedly killed thousands of people in the course 
of business is now in custody, where his opportunities for murder 
will be far more limited. But anyone who expects this welcome 
development to mark a turning point in the war on drugs has to be 
smoking something. Fighting this trade is like mowing dandelions. It 
makes the lawn look better for the moment, but they grow back and 
keep spreading.

The current issue of The Atlantic has a sobering article by David 
Epstein, published before Guzman's arrest, on how, in 2005, the Drug 
Enforcement Administration managed to capture Javier Arellano, who 
ran another Mexican drug cartel, the Arellano Felix Organization.

"Javier's arrest would be hailed by officials in the (United) States 
as a decisive victory in what may have been the longest active case 
in the DEA's history - a rare triumph in the War on Drugs," he 
writes. "'We feel like we've taken the head off the snake,' the 
agency's chief of operations announced."

But there were plenty more serpents under that rock. "Far from 
stopping the flow of drugs, taking out the AFO only cleared territory 
for" (where have I heard this name before?) "Joaquin Guzman Loera - 
aka 'El Chapo'  and his now nearly unstoppable Sinaloa cartel," 
Epstein reports. "One agent who spent years on the case told me, 
'There are more drugs coming across the border than ever.' "

The supply of drugs in the United States is not likely to change 
because Guzman was caught. The volume of bloodshed in Mexico, 
however, may - and not for the better. Anything that disrupts the 
operations of one cartel creates an opportunity for others to snatch 
some of its business - a process that often involves killing rivals 
in the sadistic ways that distinguish Mexican drug traffickers.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a foreign policy analyst for the libertarian 
Cato Institute and author of "The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug 
Violence and the Danger to America," tells me, "It could lead to 
greater disorder and an upsurge of violence after a few years of 
relative stability."

If we truly want to hurt the major drug traffickers, there is a 
simple way: Legalize the use, sale and production of marijuana. A 
large share of their revenue comes from cannabis, and the United 
States is their biggest market. The legalization of recreational weed 
in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, 
Carpenter says, "has already put a dent in the revenue flows of the 
Mexican cartels."

California, which already allows marijuana for medical purposes, is 
expected to have a ballot initiative in November to legalize it for 
mere pleasure. If it were to be approved, Carpenter says, the effect 
on the drug cartels "would be the equivalent of sinking the Titanic." 
Who would buy illegal pot from El Chapo if they could buy the legal 
stuff from a reputable American company - or grow it themselves 
without fear of going to jail?

El Chapo is someone the Sinaloa cartel can replace. American 
consumers? Losing them could be fatal.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom