Honestly discussing Mexico’s drug violence and the failed War on Drugs
I witnessed one of the more pointless conversations on Morning Joe this morning when the crew chatted about Mexican drug cartel violence.
The panel charged with discussing this serious issue was particularly abysmal. There was Kathleen Parker, glowing from the recent announcement that she will be receiving a Pulitzer Prize to commemorate her brave decision to turn against the self-destructing Republican Party seven years after the start of the Iraq occupation, and a couple years after stating that President Obama is not a full-blooded American.
Beside Kathleen sat Thomas “Suck. On. This” Friedman, who is also a Pulitzer winner (they spent about a minute congratulating Parker for entering the exclusive “Really??Club,”) and also — why not? — Pat Buchanan. Because I know when I want to have a nuanced discussion about foreign policy and relations with Mexico, I call the guy who told Iraq citizens to suck on his dick and the lunatic who wants to station armed soldiers on the US-Mexican border, respectively.
Everyone on the panel agreed that Mexican drug violence is a problem, but no one seemed prepared to discuss the issue of drugs, and specifically drug decriminalization. Talking about drug violence without bothering to point out that drug prohibition has been a spectacular failure is like a doctor treating a chronic smoker with cough drops. You’re really not getting to the heart of the matter — the thing that is catalyzing all other violence.
Prohibition has forced drugs underground, and created a permanent black market in which violent gangs get rich, and everyone else suffers the consequences. Buchanan was quick to point out that drug gangs shoot officers and sometimes kill children (if I can hunt down the episode transcript, I’ll add his exact quote,) but what he failed to mention is that many cops and DEA agents think drugs should be legalized precisely because the US has lost the War On Drugs.
Jack Cole, a 26-year veteran of the New Jersey State Police, who served 14 years undercover in the Narcotics Bureau, and executive director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), recounted to me the first moment when he realized something was wrong with drug criminalization.
It occurred to me that I liked a lot of the people I was working on more than some of the people I was working for. I discovered nearly all of the 114 million people in the US above the age of twelve whom DEA says have used an illegal drug (46% of that population) were basically just like me. The only difference was they wanted to put something in their body that I don’t want to put in my body.
We nor our bosses had any idea of how to fight a war on drugs. Our bosses did know one thing though; they knew how to keep that federal cash-cow being milked in their personal barnyard. To accomplish that they had to make the drug war appear to be an absolute necessity. So early on we were encouraged to lie about most of our statistics and lie we did.
We exaggerated the amount of drugs we seized by adding the weight of any cutting agents we found (lactose, mannitol, starch, or sucrose) to the weight of the illegal drug. So we might seize one ounce of cocaine and four pounds of lactose.
There are thousands of current and former law enforcement officials like Jack, who I’m sure would have very much liked to discuss this issue on MSNBC. It would have been wise for Morning Joe to have at least one pro-decriminalization voice on its panel, but instead the show’s producers offered Buchanan, who is always a wealth of racism-inspired rage, Friedman, who made some weird statement about Mexico being Waziristan, and Parker, who sat there thinking about her Pulitzer.
No one proposed a solution to the problem. I guess Buchanan’s “solution” is always implicitly more militarization, but he didn’t even really flesh out that strategy because Mika and Joe looked so horrified at the mere mention of it.
It’s not even like the issue of decriminalization is some whacked-out premise peddled only by stoners anymore. Millions of Americans favor legalization, including 56 percent of citizens in California where there is an upcoming vote in November that may legalize marijuana.
Moments before Buchanan aired his “Release The Hounds” strategy to relations with Mexico, Scarborough lamented the fact that California, home to the sixth largest economy in the world, is bankrupt and may soon be a failed state. Taking drug revenue away from the criminals, regulating the product like any other market commodity, and then pumping that cash into communities may save California, and yet the MJ crew managed to completely miss that link.
Furthermore, drug criminals are not terrorist insurgents as Friedo appeared to be arguing. This is a policing issue, and more importantly, this is a decriminalization issue. Drugs are a hot commodity, and they always will be. Republicans forever spout the virtues of the free market and supply and demand. Well, there’s a huge demand for drugs. That’s not going to stop, but if the US decriminalizes drugs, the police can gain some leverage against the cartels. No longer would cops have to waste time and resources policing citizens’ personal decisions about what they put into their bodies, and they can instead focus on real problems, like violence.
Most importantly, decriminalization means the cartels would lose their stranglehold on society in the same way the mob lost their booze market after prohibition ended.
I actually think all drugs should be legalized, even the “really bad ones” like heroin and cocaine. People are using them even though their illegal, and the addicts are afraid to seek help because they might be cruelly sent to prison. But heroin and cocaine still have a strong social stigma. Marijuana, on the other hand, might have a chance at being legalized.
There are obviously a whole host of details about the legalization process that need to be worked out, but that’s really exciting. Discussing those things might have, at the very least, made Morning Joe watchable — maybe even informative.