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Uruguay’s government may go into the drug-dealing business to fight crime June 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs, Latin America, Uruguay.
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Roger’s note: decriminalization is a no brainer.  A Canadian sociologist did a cost analysis showing (I read this years ago, so these are not exact figures, but you get the idea), for example, that a kilo of street cocaine might sell for $10,000 whereas the actual cost of production is something like fifty dollars.  It is the enormous profit that makes drug dealing a matter for the criminal underworld, and that includes not only Mafia types, but police, governments, the CIA, etc.; and that is where the real political problem lies with respect to achieving decriminalization.

Pablo Fernandez, The Associated Press, June 21, 2012

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY—Peaceful Uruguay is planning a novel approach to fighting rising crime: having its government sell marijuana to take drug profits out of the hands of dealers.

Under the plan backed by President Jose Mujica’s leftist administration, only the government would be allowed to sell marijuana and only to adults who register on a government database, letting officials keep track of their purchases over time. Profits would reportedly go toward rehabilitating drug addicts.

“It’s a fight on both fronts: against consumption and drug trafficking. We think the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself,” Defence Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro told reporters late Wednesday.

Fernandez said the bill would soon be sent to Congress, which is dominated by Mujica’s party, but that an exact date had not been set. If approved, Uruguay’s national government would be the first in the world to directly sell marijuana to its citizens. Some local governments do so.

The proposed measure elicited responses ranging from support to criticism to humour.

“People who consume are not going to buy it from the state,” said Natalia Pereira, 28, adding that she smokes marijuana occasionally. “There is going to be mistrust buying it from a place where you have to register and they can typecast you.”

Media reports have said that people who use more than a limited number of marijuana cigarettes would have to undergo drug rehabilitation.

“I can now imagine you going down to the kiosk to buy bread, milk and a little box of marijuana!” one person in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, wrote on their Twitter account.

Behind the move is a series of recent gang shootouts and rising cocaine seizures that have raised security concerns in one of Latin America’s safest countries and taken a toll on Mujiica’s already dipping popularity. The Interior Ministry says that from January to May, the number of homicides jumped to 133 from 76 in the same period last year.

The crime figures are small compared to its neighbours Argentina and Brazil but huge for this tiny South American country where many take pride in being able to leave their doors open and gather in the streets late at night to sip traditional mate tea.

To combat rising criminality, the government also announced a series of measures that include compensation for victims of violent crime and longer jail terms for traffickers of crack-like drugs.

The idea behind the marijuana proposal is to weaken crime by removing profits from drug dealers and diverting users from harder drugs, according to government officials.

“The main argument for this is to keep addicts from dealing and reaching substances” like base paste, a crack cocaine-like drug smoked in South America , said Juan Carlos Redin a psychologist who works with drug addicts in Montevideo.

Redin said that Uruguayans should be allowed to grow their own marijuana because the government would run into trouble if it tries to sell it. The big question he said will be, “Who will provide the government (with marijuana)?”

During the press conference, the defence minister said Uruguayan farmers would plant the marijuana but said more details would come soon.

“The laws of the market will rule here: whoever sells the best and the cheapest will end with drug trafficking,” Fernandez said. “We’ll have to regulate farm production so there’s no contraband and regulate distribution … we must make sure we don’t affect neighbouring countries or be accused of being an international drug production centre.”

There are no laws against marijuana use in Uruguay. Possession of marijuana for personal use has never been criminalized here and a 1974 law gives judges discretion to determine if the amount of marijuana found on a suspect is for legal personal use or for illegal dealing.

Liberal think tanks and drug liberalization activists hailed the planned measure.

“If they actually sell it themselves, and you have to go to the Uruguay government store to buy marijuana, then that would be a precedent for sure, but not so different than from the dispensaries in half the United States,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of U.S.-based NORML, an organization that advocates decriminalization of marijuana use.

St. Pierre said the move would make Uruguay the only national government in the world selling marijuana. Numerous dispensaries on the local level in the U.S. are allowed to sell marijuana for medical use.

Some drug rehabilitation experts disagreed with the planned bill altogether. Guillermo Castro, head of psychiatry at the Hospital Britanico in Montevideo, said marijuana is a gateway to stronger drugs.

“In the long-run, marijuana is still poison,” Castro said, adding that marijuana contains 17 times more carcinogens than tobacco has, and that its use is linked to higher rates of depression and suicide.

“If it’s going to be openly legalized, something that is now in the hands of politics, it’s important that they explain to people what it is and what it produces,” he said.

Overburdened by clogged prisons, some Latin American countries have relaxed penalties for drug possession and personal use and distanced themselves from the tough stance pushed by the United States four decades ago when the Richard Nixon administration declared the war on drugs.

“There’s a real human drama where people get swept up in draconian drug laws intended to put major drug traffickers behind bars, but because the way they are implemented in Latin America, they end up putting many marijuana consumers behind bars,” said Coletta Youngers, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America think-tank.

“There’s a growing recognition in the region that marijuana needs to be treated differently than other drugs, because it’s a clear case that the drug laws have a greater negative impact than the use of the drug itself,” Youngers said. “If Uruguay moved in this direction they would be challenging the international drug control system.”

The Future? April 26, 2012

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The Top Five Special Interest Groups Lobbying To Keep Marijuana Illegal April 22, 2012

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By posted Apr 20th 2012 at 9:04AM, www.republicreport.org

Last year, over 850,000 people in America were arrested for marijuana-related crimes. Despite public opinion, the medical community, and human rights experts all moving in favor of relaxing marijuana prohibition laws, little has changed in terms of policy.

There have been many great books and articles detailing the history of the drug war. Part of America’s fixation with keeping the leafy green plant illegal is rooted in cultural and political clashes from the past.

However, we at Republic Report think it’s worth showing that there are entrenched interest groups that are spending large sums of money to keep our broken drug laws on the books:

1.) Police Unions: Police departments across the country have become dependent on federal drug war grants to finance their budget. In March, we published a story revealing that a police union lobbyist in California coordinated the effort to defeat Prop 19, a ballot measure in 2010 to legalize marijuana, while helping his police department clients collect tens of millions in federal marijuana-eradication grants. And it’s not just in California. Federal lobbying disclosures show that other police union lobbyists have pushed for stiffer penalties for marijuana-related crimes nationwide.

2.) Private Prisons Corporations: Private prison corporations make millions by incarcerating people who have been imprisoned for drug crimes, including marijuana. As Republic Report’s Matt Stoller noted last year, Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest for-profit prison companies, revealed in a regulatory filing that continuing the drug war is part in parcel to their business strategy. Prison companies have spent millions bankrolling pro-drug war politicians and have used secretive front groups, like the American Legislative Exchange Council, to pass harsh sentencing requirements for drug crimes.

3.) Alcohol and Beer Companies: Fearing competition for the dollars Americans spend on leisure, alcohol and tobacco interests have lobbied to keep marijuana out of reach. For instance, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors contributed campaign contributions to a committee set up to prevent marijuana from being legalized and taxed.

4.) Pharmaceutical Corporations: Like the sin industries listed above, pharmaceutical interests would like to keep marijuana illegal so American don’t have the option of cheap medical alternatives to their products. Howard Wooldridge, a retired police officer who now lobbies the government to relax marijuana prohibition laws, told Republic Report that next to police unions, the “second biggest opponent on Capitol Hill is big PhRMA” because marijuana can replace “everything from Advil to Vicodin and other expensive pills.”

5.) Prison Guard Unions: Prison guard unions have a vested interest in keeping people behind bars just like for-profit prison companies. In 2008, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association spent a whopping $1 million to defeat a measure that would have “reduced sentences and parole times for nonviolent drug offenders while emphasizing drug treatment over prison.”

RELATED: Why Can’t You Smoke Pot? Because Lobbyists Are Getting Rich Off of the War on Drugs

A Conspiracy of Whores April 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Cuba, Drugs, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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This sort of reform is never easy, and it’s never perfect. But we  know criminalization and militarization doesn’t work and that they are  extremely costly approaches. In a way, we have become socially addicted  to these approaches. Maybe it’s time for the nation to go into rehab and assume a little of the spirit of E. F. Schumacher’s famous book Small Is Beautiful.

  • To borrow the subtitle of the book, we’d be a whole lot better off if our leaders stopped being such corporate, imperial whores and began to  govern “as if people mattered.”

 

John Grant

I am a 62-year-old American who served in Vietnam as a 19-year-old kid who has been studying US counter-insurgency war ever since. I live outside of Philadelphia, where I am a photographer and a writer — sometimes a video filmmaker. I have been a member of Veterans For Peace for 24 years. I think the economic reckoning we are living through, that has only just begun, makes it clear we need to re-evaluate who we are as a nation and ratchet down the imperial world policeman role and look after our own deteriorating nation’s problems. I like good writing, good film, good music and good times. I drink alcohol and smoke dope responsibly. I confess this because I think the Drug War is an abysmal failure. I’m a committed pragmatist who believes in the old line: My Country Right Or Wrong. The fact is, it’s wrong a lot of the time. And I’m sticking around.

Latin American military men against drug war April 14, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Guatemala, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: There was a time when Canada lead the way.  In 1972, the Le Dain Commission headed by Supreme Court Judge Gerald Le Dain, recommended the decriminalization of soft drugs such as marijuana.  That was exactly 40 years ago.  Although ignored by a succession of Canadian governments to this day, the report was a landmark for a policy of a sane harm reduction approach to the drug problem. 

By Jefferson Morley, www.salon.com, April 13, 2012

In Colombia Obama will hear from presidents looking for alternatives to prohibition

Drug warriors no more: Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina and Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos  

Ending drug prohibition is creeping into the U.S. political debate, thanks to a couple of Latin American military men. Oh sure, George Will’s not-quite endorsement of legalization is noteworthy, but more than one erudite conservative columnist has gone further before. The views of three Latin American statesman are important but former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz made the same case 23 years ago. The record high in public support for marijuana legalization found in a Gallup poll last year may be a factor, but the Obama administration has declared a “war on pot” since then.

It is the anti-prohibition campaign of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, one a former general, the other a former defense minister, that has forced the Obama administration to engage critics respectfully for the first time. Perez will be pushing a formal proposal to open discussion of alternative policies at the summit of American heads of state that President Obama is attending, in Cartagena, Colombia this weekend.

While Obama doesn’t support decriminalization, said his advisor Dan Restrepo this week, “we welcome” the debate. “It’s worth discussing,” Vice President Biden told reporters in Central America last month, “but there’s no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization.”

So while there’s no change of heart in Washington, there has been a change of tone. The Obama administration cannot afford to blow off the views of two staunch U.S. allies who have both waged drug wars in their countries, not at a time when public opinion in Latin America is increasingly disenchanted with the militarized approach.

Their approach is tactful. Santos says he doesn’t want to change U.S. policy, but merely hear U.S. officials defend it.

“There are good arguments for legalizing, but I would prefer to reach that conclusion after an objective discussion,” Santos told the Washington Post this week. “The U.S. says, ‘We don’t support legalization, because the cost of legalization is higher than no legalization.’ But I want to see a discussion where both approaches are analyzed by experts to say, really, the cost is lower or not.”

In a piece for the Guardian, Perez called for an “intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach – drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that consumption and production should be legalized but within certain limits and conditions … Legalization therefore does not mean liberalization without controls.”

Perez and Santos may not make headlines in Cartagena this weekend. In an effort to lower expectations and avoid confrontation with Obama, Santos told reporters in Cartagena yesterday that drugs should not be the “center of discussion” at the summit. At the same time, he added, a review of drug policy was necessary and reflected the will of the “vast majority” of countries in attendance.

“We will not see any shift in policy,” said Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the Cato Foundation, “but this is forcing Washington to engage and defend its position at high levels.”

“In the public forum, ending prohibition will probably only get a brief discussion,” predicted Ethan Nadelman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Privately it will be much more vigorously discussed. The challenge for the United States will be how to blur the differences. This is the first time ever that the decriminalization and alternatives to prohibition have ever been on the agenda of a major gathering of heads of states.”

Perez and Santos are still in the minority among Latin American presidents, most of whom say, at least publicly, that they oppose legalization. But the desire for alternatives to legalization and prohibition is widespread. In Mexico, President Felipe Calderon has followed the U.S. approach in declaring war on the cartels in 2006. Some 41,000 people have been killed in the last six years without reducing the supply of drugs or increasing the public’s sense of safety.  Calderon has said legalization might be the only solution but with the Mexican presidential election approaching in July is not going to change his policy. After the election is a different story. The Mexican business community is increasingly supportive of legalization and regulation as the only solution to the country’s appalling levels of violence.

As the calls for reconsideration of drug war have proliferated, the Obama administration sent Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield to Central America to argue for a prohibitionist policy.

“To send three top officials in a month shows that the administration is taking this seriously,” said Hidalgo. “They don’t want this debate to gain ground.”

But the more the administration responds in Latin America, the more legitimate drug policy reform becomes at home.

Jefferson Morley is a staff writer for Salon in Washington and author of the forthcoming book, Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (Nan Talese/Doubleday).More Jefferson Morley

‘War on Drugs’ Has Failed, say Latin American Leaders April 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs, Latin America.
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Published on Sunday, April 8, 2012 by Common Dreams

  – Common Dreams staff

On April 14 and 15, heads of state and government from across the Americas, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and their Latin American and Caribbean counterparts, will gather for a two-day ‘Summit of the Americas’ in Cartagena, Colombia, and the ‘War on Drugs’ will top the agenda.

On July 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared what has come to be called the “War on Drugs” Latin America’s leaders are unified in calling the ‘War on Drugs’ a failure and in seeking alternatives to prohibition.

However, nobody expects the Barack Obama administration to do the right thing and provide leadership on the issue in an election year.

In 2004 Obama said: “The war on drugs has been an utter failure. We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws… we need to rethink how we operate the drug wars.” Since then, he has shown little appetite to engage in the debate.

The Guardian reports:

Watershed Summit will Admit that Prohibition has Failed, and Call for More Nuanced and Liberalized Tactics

A historic meeting of Latin America’s leaders, to be attended by Barack Obama, will hear serving heads of state admit that the war on drugs has been a failure and that alternatives to prohibition must now be found.

One diplomat closely involved with the summit described the event as historic, saying it would be the first time for 40 years that leaders had met to have an open discussion on drugs. “This is the chance to look at this matter with new eyes,” he said.The Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia is being seen by foreign policy experts as a watershed moment in the redrafting of global drugs policy in favor of a more nuanced and liberalized approach.

Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, who as former head of his country’s military intelligence service experienced the power of drug cartels at close hand, is pushing his fellow Latin American leaders to use the summit to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition. In the Observer, Pérez Molina writes: “The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated.” [...]

One diplomat closely involved with the summit described the event as historic, saying it would be the first time for 40 years that leaders had met to have an open discussion on drugs. “This is the chance to look at this matter with new eyes,” he said.

Latin America’s increasing hostility towards prohibition makes Obama’s attendance at the summit potentially difficult. The Obama administration, keen not to hand ammunition to its opponents during an election year, will not want to be seen as softening its support for prohibition. However, it is seen as significant that the US vice-president, Joe Biden, has acknowledged that the debate about legalizing drugs is now legitimate.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil and chairman of the global commission on drug policy, has said it is time for “an open debate on more humane and efficient drug policies”, a view shared by George Shultz, the former US secretary of state, and former president Jimmy Carter.

1 Comment so far

Posted by NC-Tom
Apr 8 2012 – 12:35pm
      ‘War on Drugs’ Has Failed, say Latin American Leaders The private, for profit prison industrial complex begs to differ.  It’s like the”health care” (health insurance industrial complex),  in the united states, it’s all about profit, nothing else matters.

The Vienna Declaration: A Global Call to Action for Science-Based Drug Policy July 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Health.
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The following announcement is sent to you by the Canadian Harm Reduction Network
http://www.canadianharmreduction.com
Please visit our website, check it out and support us by becoming a member.
The web address for the Vienna Declaration is http://www.viennadeclaration.com/.Please sign on, and urge your colleagues and friends to do so as well.

In lead up to XVIII International AIDS Conference, scientists and other leaders call for reform of international drug policy and urge others to sign-on

28 June 2010 [Vienna, Austria] – The International AIDS Society, the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy and the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS today launched a global drive for signatories to the Vienna Declaration, a statement seeking to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies. The Vienna Declaration is the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010), the biennial meeting of more than 20,000 HIV professionals, taking place in Vienna, Austria from 18 to 23 July 2010.

The Vienna Declaration describes the known harms of conventional “war on drugs” approaches and states: “The criminalisation of illicit drug users is fuelling the HIV epidemic and has resulted in overwhelmingly negative health and social consequences. A full policy reorientation is needed. … Reorienting drug policies towards evidence-based approaches that respect, protect and fulfill human rights has the potential to reduce harms deriving from current policies and would allow for the redirection of the vast financial resources towards where they are needed most: implementing and evaluating evidence-based prevention, regulatory, treatment and harm reduction interventions.”

The Vienna Declaration calls on governments and international organizations, including the United Nations, to take a number of steps, including:

  • Undertake a transparent review the effectiveness of current drug policies;
  • Implement and evaluate a science-based public health approach to address the harms stemming from illicit drug use;
  • Scale up evidence-based drug dependence treatment options;
  • Abolish ineffective compulsory drug treatment centres that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and
  • Unequivocally endorse and scale up funding for the drug treatment and harm reduction measures endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations.

The Declaration also calls for the meaningful involvement of people who use drugs in developing, monitoring and implementing services and policies that affect their lives.

To sign the Vienna Declaration, please visit the official website at http://www.viennadeclaration.com/.  There you will find the full text of the declaration in Chinese, Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, along with a list of authors. The two-page declaration references 28 reports, describing the scientific evidence documenting the effectiveness of public health approaches to drug policy and the negative consequences of approaches that criminalize drug users.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  
Please circulate widely . . .

Marijuana issue suddenly smoking hot March 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs.
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JEREMY D. MAYER

www.politico.com, March 29, 2009

Smoking pot doesn’t cause schizophrenia, but marijuana as an issue sure gives our political system the symptoms. We have just elected our third president in a row who at least tried marijuana in early adulthood, yet it remains illegal.

As we discovered again this week, President Obama, like his two predecessors, supports imprisoning people for making the same choices he made.

Beyond imprisonment, one of my policy students, who was honest on a security clearance about her one time use of pot, could lose her job for doing what Clinton, Bush and Obama did.

On television, leading comedian Jon Stewart and America’s sweetheart, Sandra Bullock, swap pot smoking stories with lighthearted abandon, laughing along with their audience, who, like most Americans, end up voting for politicians who support draconian punishments for pot users and dealers.

Year after year, major Hollywood films like Pineapple Express show potsmoking in a positive light, yet legalization remains unmentionable to both our political parties. And America’s most popular Olympian, Michael Phelps, like the majority of people his age, has tried pot, but loses millions in sponsorship when it is revealed that he has done what most of his fans have done.

Several states have legalized medical marijuana, and a few are contemplating decriminalization, and yet, other states are about to prevent those whose urine tests positive for marijuana from receiving desperately needed benefits to which they would otherwise be legally entitled.

At least eight states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, are actively considering making drug tests mandatory for food stamps, welfare, or unemployment. In a classic demonstration of how America has always had one drug law for the rich and one for the poor, no one has suggested drug testing recipients of billions in bailout cash. We could probably save a lot of money by testing Wall Street financiers for pot (or cocaine, for that matter).

Perhaps these accumulated paradoxes have finally become large enough for the nation to begin reconsidering its position on pot. For an issue that has been in stasis for decades, marijuana is suddenly hot, one might even say, smoking.

By jamming up the White House’s “Open for Questions” website with votes for questions about their favorite substance, advocates for the legalization of marijuana managed to force President Obama to address the issue.

This is success in Washington, even when the president chuckled derisively and came down against legalization. Of the thousands of issues in the competitive policy environment, only a few get this kind of attention.

Some think the economic crisis will help the legalization cause.

California state legislator Tom Ammiano argues that marijuana, by far the most lucrative crop with an estimated $14 billion in sales, could provide over a billion dollars of tax revenue in California alone.

There are, however, a few problems with these numbers. First, it is always tough to estimate what total sales are for any illegal substance. Good data just doesn’t exist in this area. Second, even if $14 billion is accurate, that’s the California sales total when pot is illegal. When a pothead scores a dimebag in Los Angeles, the high price is mostly a function of the illegality. He’s paying for the risks taken by the grower, the importers, and the dealers at each step of the marijuana process.

Currently, dealers risk not only jail, confiscation of property, and the burden of a criminal record, but they also face violence from other rival dealers. That’s why the markup on pot is so extreme.

Legalize pot, and perhaps 80% of its price vanishes. And since marijuana requires very little processing, unlike cocaine or heroin, the supply of pot could skyrocket if it were legalized, further driving the price down. Why pay for it when you can grow your own, tax-free?

It is also possible, though, that legalization would result in a surge in demand, since potential users who avoided it due to fear of incarceration or its high price might now indulge.

Advocates of decriminalization or legalization have reason to take cheer from many recent developments. Tax revenues, although not as high as some dreamers would wish, would certainly be substantial, and would replace the billions spent interdicting and confiscating marijuana, as well as imprisoning users and small time dealers. Legalizing marijuana would immediately remove millions of dollars in income from the international drug cartels that are making life hell in Mexico.

The tide of public opinion is slowly moving towards decriminalization. As polling expert Nate Silver recently pointed out, only 10% supported legalization in 1969, while at least 40% do so today. The younger you are, the more likely you are to have tried marijuana, and to support its legalization. NORML doesn’t have to persuade anyone to win; if they just wait for the anti-pot geezers to die, most Americans will favor legalization within a decade.

Or, they could wait for Obama to go back to the position he had when he was an obscure Illinois state legislator, just four years ago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQr9ezr8UeA

I don’t use pot, but I do believe that the tide of history is moving against our ridiculous and counterproductive ban on this relatively harmless substance. The question is not will we decriminalize, but when?

Jeremy D. Mayer is the author of “American Media Politics in Transition” (McGraw Hill, 2007) and an associate professor and director of the master’s program in public policy at George Mason University in Arlington, Va.

Obama and the Lethal War on Drugs February 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Mexico.
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The death toll in Tijuana, Mexico, is now higher than in Baghdad

by Johann Hari

With the global economy collapsing all around us, the last issue President Barack Obama wants to talk about is the ongoing War on Drugs. But if he doesn’t – and fast – he may well have two collapsed and haemorrhaging countries on his hands. The first lies in the distant mountains of Afghanistan. The second is right next door, on the other side of the Rio Grande.

Here’s a starter for 10 about where this war has led us. Where in the world are you most likely to be beheaded? Where are the severed craniums of police officers being found week after week in the streets, pinned to bloody notes that tell their colleagues, “this is so that you learn respect”? Where are hand grenades being tossed into crowds to intimidate the public into shutting up? Which country was just named by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff as the most likely after Pakistan to suffer a “rapid and sudden collapse”?

Most of us would guess Iraq. The answer is Mexico. The death toll in Tijuana today is higher than in Baghdad. The story of how this came to happen is the story of this war – and why it will have to end, soon.

When you criminalise a drug for which there is a large market, it doesn’t disappear. The trade is simply transferred from chemists and doctors to gangs. In order to protect their patch and their supply routes, these gangs tool up – and kill anyone who gets in their way. You can see this any day on the streets of London or Los Angeles, where teen gangs stab or shoot each other for control of the 3,000 per cent profit margins on offer. Now imagine this process on a countrywide scale, and you have Mexico and Afghanistan today.

Drugs syndicates control 8 per cent of global GDP – which means they have greater resources than many national armies. They own helicopters and submarines and they can afford to spread the woodworm of corruption through poor countries right to the top.

Why Mexico? Why now? In the past decade, the US has spent a fortune spraying carcinogenic chemicals over Colombia’s coca-growing areas, so the drug trade has simply shifted to Mexico. It’s known as the “balloon effect”: press down in one place, and the air rushes to another.

When I was last there in 2006, I saw the drug violence taking off and warned that the murder rate was going to rocket – but I didn’t imagine it would reach this scale. In 2007, more than 2,000 people were killed. In 2008, it was more than 5,400 people. The victims range from a pregnant woman washing her car, to a four-year-old child, to a family in the “wrong” house watching television. Today, 70 per cent of Mexicans say they are frightened to go out because of the cartels.

The cartels offer Mexican police and politicians a choice: plato o plomo. Silver or lead. Take a bribe, or take a bullet. Juan Camilo Mourino, the Interior Secretary, admits the cartels have so corrupted the police they can’t guarantee the safety of the public any more. So the US is trying to militarise the attack on the cartels in Mexico, offering tanks, helicopters and hard cash.

The same process has happened in Afghanistan. After the toppling of the Taliban, the country’s bitterly poor farmers turned to the only cash crop that earns them enough to keep their kids alive: opium. It now makes up 50 per cent of the country’s GDP. The drug cartels have a bigger budget than the elected government, so they have left the young parliament, police force and army riddled with corruption and virtually useless. The US reacted by declaring “war on opium”.

The German magazine Der Spiegel revealed that the NATO commander has ordered his troops to “kill all opium dealers”. Seeing their main crop destroyed and their families killed, many have turned back to the Taliban in rage.

What is the alternative? Terry Nelson was one of America’s leading federal agents tackling drug cartels for over 30 years. He discovered the hard way that the current tactics are useless. “Busting top traffickers doesn’t work, since others just do battle to replace them,” he explains. But there is another way: “Legalising and regulating drugs will stop drug market violence by putting major cartels out of business. It’s the one sure-fire way to bankrupt them, but when will our leaders talk about it?”

Of course, the day after legalisation, a majority of gangsters will not suddenly join the Hare Krishnas and open organic food shops. But their profit margins will collapse as their customers go to off-licences and chemists, so the incentives for staying in crime will largely end. We don’t have to speculate about this. When alcohol was legalised, the murder-rate fell off a cliff – and continued to drop for the next 10 years. (Rates of alcoholism, revealingly, remained the same.) No, Obama doesn’t want to spend his political capital on this. He is the third consecutive US President to have used drugs in his youth, but he knows this is a difficult issue, where he could be tarred by his opponents as “soft on crime”.

Yet remember: opinions are febrile in a depression. At the birth of the last great downturn, support for alcohol prohibition was high; within five years, it was gone. The Harvard economist Professor Jeffrey Miron has calculated that drug prohibition costs the US government $44.1bn per year – and legalisation would raise another $32.7bn on top of that in taxes if drugs were taxed like alcohol. (All this money would, in a sane world, be shifted to drug treatment.)

Can the US afford to force this failing policy on the world – especially when it guarantees the collapse both of the country they are occupying and their own neighbour?

Drug addiction is always a tragedy for the addict – but drug prohibition spreads the tragedy across the globe. We still have a chance to take drugs back into the legal regulated economy, before it’s too late for Mexico and Afghanistan and graveyards-full of more stabbed kids on the streets of Britain. Obama – and the rest of us – have to choose: controlled regulation or violent prohibition? Healthcare or warfare?

To join the fight to legalise drugs, good organisations to join are Transform or Stop the Drug War.

Latin American Panel Calls U.S. Drug War a Failure February 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Colombia, Latin America, Mexico.
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Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2009

MEXICO CITY — As drug violence spirals out of control in Mexico, a commission led by three former Latin American heads of state blasted the U.S.-led drug war as a failure that is pushing Latin American societies to the breaking point.

“The available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war,” said former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in a conference call with reporters from Rio de Janeiro. “We have to move from this approach to another one.”

The commission, headed by Mr. Cardoso and former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and César Gaviria of Colombia, says Latin American governments as well as the U.S. must break what they say is a policy “taboo” and re-examine U.S.-inspired antidrugs efforts. The panel recommends that governments consider measures including decriminalizing the use of marijuana.

Associated Press

Mexico has been besieged by drug violence amid a two-year government crackdown.

The report, by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, is the latest to question the U.S.’s emphasis on punitive measures to deal with illegal drug use and the criminal violence that accompanies it. A recent Brookings Institution study concluded that despite interdiction and eradication efforts, the world’s governments haven’t been able to significantly decrease the supply of drugs, while punitive methods haven’t succeeded in lowering drug use.

John Walters, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said, “It’s not true that we’ve lost or can’t do anything about the drug problem,” and cited security improvements in Colombia.

President Barack Obama has yet to appoint a successor to Mr. Walters. A spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy said he couldn’t comment on speculation over the appointment of a new director.

According to a Democratic official familiar with the process, Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske is under consideration for an administration job, most likely to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The three former presidents who head the commission are political conservatives who have confronted in their home countries the violence and corruption that accompany drug trafficking.

The report warned that the U.S.-style antidrug strategy was putting the region’s fragile democratic institutions at risk and corrupting “judicial systems, governments, the political system and especially the police forces.”

The report comes as drug violence is engulfing Mexico, which has become the key transit point for cocaine traffic to the U.S. Decapitation of rival drug traffickers has become common as cartels try to intimidate one another.

Mr. Walters said increased violence in border areas of Mexico was partly a result of criminal organizations compensating for reduced income from the supply of drugs by turning to other activities, such as people-smuggling, and continuing to fight over turf.

U.S. law-enforcement officials — as well as some of their counterparts in Mexico — say the explosion in violence indicates progress in the war on drugs as organizations under pressure are clashing.

“If the drug effort were failing there would be no violence,” a senior U.S. official said Wednesday. There is violence “because these guys are flailing. We’re taking these guys out. The worst thing you could do is stop now.”

Latin American governments have largely followed U.S. advice in trying to stop the flow of drugs from the point of origin. The policy has had little effect.

In Colombia, billions of dollars in U.S. aid have helped the military regain control from the hands of drug-financed communist guerrillas and lower crime, but the help hasn’t dented the amount of drugs flowing from Colombia.

In the conference call, Mr. Gaviria said the U.S. approach to narcotics — based on treating drug consumption as a crime — had failed. Latin America, he said, should adapt a more European approach, based on treating drug addiction as a health problem.

—David Luhnow, Louise Radnofsky and Evan Perez contributed to this article.Write to José de Córdoba at jose.decordoba@wsj.com

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