“Part of the tragedy that we Mexicans are living through has to do with the fact that we are next to the world’s greatest drug consumer.” – Mexican President Felipe Calderon, said on Aug. 26
So far the American War on Drugs has worked exactly like the first prohibition that concerned alcohol. Sadly, the object of our current prohibition, illegal drugs, is even more prevalent now than when the War on Drugs started.
Worse, as a nation we have spent billions of dollars making our country into almost a police state without affecting the availably and use of these drugs other than to clog the prisons with drug users and sellers. The tools and sophistication involved in this battle have increased, but the basic premise of the intervention has not.
It would seem that we as a country learned nothing from the turbulent years when as a nation we tried to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol. President Calderon is correct; our country is the greatest drug consumer in the world. It is hard to deny American’s love for drugs. What is the effect of that love?
First, the drug cartels in Mexico exist solely because of the money paid by Americans for illegal drugs. Second, our nation is more entwined with drugs now than when the efforts started. Finally, Congress continues to not take any significant steps to address the harm we are causing other countries and ourselves.
While I do not, if I was of a mind to buy illegal drugs it is exactly just as easy to buy drugs on the street today as it was in the 1960s. It is true that the actual drugs being abused have changed somewhat, though the abusers of drugs over the years has consistently included young people. Over these years the one intervention for the prohibition of illegal drugs that our country has tried is to hire enough police so that illegal drugs disappear.
With the addition of millions of new members of law enforcement, it would seem this strategy is not working and will not work. What concerns me is that, in the War on Drugs, there is basically nothing new being tried. There are no new plans other than to keep doing what has not worked.
Before you get hopeful, I do not have a plan to deal with illegal drugs. Shuckins. But at least I admit that I have no plan. In the 1960s the plan was to catch some users and get them to name their suppliers and then incarcerate those people. As a society we have incarcerated millions of suppliers, but the supply of illegal drugs is exactly as robust as it always has been.
It’s time for an honest appraisal
So when are we going to stop doing what we have always done? We are still getting what we have always gotten, namely, not anything sustainable. There are some people who would like to give up on the prohibition of drugs and have the government tax and license those substances. I have never advocated this approach, but lately it is looking better as everything else does not have any affect on the illegal drug problem. Catching users and sellers does not seem to change the fortunes of the cartels and drug producers.
If we are to deal with the drug problem, we have to state the problem: First, our nation’s approach to illegal drugs provides a fertile ground for the development of criminal activities and crime syndicates both nationally and internationally. Second, the drugs being used by Americans are of uncertain origin, strength and purity. Finally, millions of people are being incarcerated without changing the availability of illegal drugs.
It is time for an honest appraisal of our drug policies. I know it is an industry both in providing and trying to stop the importation and use. Millions of people make their living on the misfortunes of those poor souls who use drugs.
Maybe legalization with pharmacy control is the only way to keep the money out of the hands of the drug cartels. All I know is there are no other approaches that show any signs of success. We must find new ways to deal with these problems, regardless of the answers.
Swickard is co-host of the radio talk show News New Mexico, which airs from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on KSNM-AM 570 in Las Cruces and throughout the state through streaming. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.