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Apr. 21 2010 - 11:23 am | 884 views | 2 recommendations | 16 comments

Honestly discussing Mexico’s drug violence and the failed War on Drugs

Psychoactive drugs.

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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.


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  1. collapse expand

    Too bad John Mccain wasn’t on the show so he could throw one of his trademark old man yells at cloud rants lol

  2. collapse expand

    Prohibition is indeed a sickening horror and the ocean of incompetence, corruption and human wreckage it has left in its wake is almost endless.

    Prohibition has decimated generations and criminalized millions for a behavior which is entwined in human existence, and for what other purpose than to uphold the defunct and corrupt thinking of a minority of misguided, self-righteous Neo-Puritans and degenerate demagogues who wish nothing but unadulterated destruction on the rest of us.

    Based on the unalterable proviso that drug use is essentially an unstoppable and ongoing human behavior which has been with us since the dawn of time, any serious reading on the subject of past attempts at any form of drug prohibition would point most normal thinking people in the direction of sensible regulation.

    By its very nature, prohibition cannot fail but create a vast increase in criminal activity, and rather than preventing society from descending into anarchy, it actually fosters an anarchic business model – the international Drug Trade. Any decisions concerning quality, quantity, distribution and availability are then left in the hands of unregulated, anonymous, ruthless drug dealers, who are interested only in the huge profits involved.

    Many of us have now, finally, wised up to the fact that the best avenue towards realistically dealing with drug use and addiction is through proper regulation which is what we already do with alcohol & tobacco, clearly two of our most dangerous mood altering substances. But for those of you whose ignorant and irrational minds traverse a fantasy plane of existence, you will no doubt remain sorely upset with any type of solution that does not seem to lead to the absurd and unattainable utopia of a drug free society.

    There is an irrefutable connection between drug prohibition and the crime, corruption, disease and death it causes. If you are not capable of understanding this connection then maybe you’re using something far stronger than the rest of us. Anybody ‘halfway bright’, and who’s not psychologically challenged, should be capable of understanding that it is not simply the demand for drugs that creates the mayhem, it is our refusal to allow legal businesses to meet that demand.

    No amount of money, police powers, weaponry, diminution of rights and liberties, wishful thinking or pseudo-science will make our streets safer, only an end to prohibition can do that. How much longer are you willing to foolishly risk your own survival by continuing to ignore the obvious, historically confirmed solution?

    If you still support the kool aid mass suicide cult of prohibition, and erroneously believe that you can win a war without logic and practical solutions, then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, terrorism, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, foreclosed homes, and the complete loss of the rule of law and the Bill of Rights.

    “A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”
    Abraham Lincoln

    The only thing prohibition successfully does is prohibit regulation & taxation while turning even our schools and prisons into black markets for drugs. Regulation would mean the opposite!

  3. collapse expand

    My feeling is that you of course have to legalize even the hard drugs if you want to make a dent in drug violence. I mean, if wjust marijuana is legalized do we have cartels fighting over a smaller share of the pie? This does not seem like a recipe for less violence. Anyway, I say dent– I don’t think legalization is a panacea, but I do think ending the war will free up resources for better uses and I do feel we have way too many people imprisoned for a failed drug policy.
    But, I do think a discussion is in order. We need to bring some real thought to this issue– not simply the knee jerk responses of both sides.

  4. collapse expand

    I’m sorry, but I have to disagree- while pot is pretty innocuous, and legalizing it would likely cause no real societal harm, cocaine is different. That stuff- even more than heroin, or meth- is evil, and you simply cannot trust people around it. You’re right, we cannot continue the drug “war” in this way, but legalizing cocaine will simply replace one malignant problem with a different malignant problem. It will not make treatment and prevention- which we already don’t devote enough resources to- any easier, and may well make them much harder.

    • collapse expand

      Cocaine actually isn’t any more dangerous than alcohol, tobacco, and/or unhealthy foods like trans fat.

      - Every year tobacco kills more Americans than did World War II — more than AIDS, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, vehicular accidents, homicide and suicide combined. (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/jun/29/george-will/claims-smoking-kills-more-people-annually-other-da/).

      - Heart disease (largely caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, which includes eating crappy food) is the leading cause of death in the US: (http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HeartMonth/).

      - Alcohol kills more people annually than all the other drugs, combined: http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/30.

      Now, that’s not to say cocaine use should be encouraged. It should be regulated like any other dangerous substance in the same way we regulate alcohol consumption. Alcoholics aren’t punished for their condition, nor should cocaine addicts.

      But the plain truth is that people are going to get cocaine if they want cocaine. Does that mean the government should hand out 8-balls to school children? No, but no one is actually advocating that. This is about decriminalization i.e. ending the stupid and pointless practice of dictating what people choose to do to their own bodies, and punishing addicts instead of getting them help.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        These facts don’t really support your argument. Of course all these substances are going to cause more deaths. They are much more widely consumed than cocaine.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          And actually, I feel the “cigarettes kill more people than illegal drugs” line not particularly helpful to the pro legalization argument. Actually, it is more counterproductive. One huge factor in the lethality of cigarettes is that it is legal and highly available.
          I make these arguments, but I still feel that the drug war must end. I would like a more nuanced conversation though.
          I think it is somewhat facile, as one poster said, to say that regulation and taxation of drugs would end the black market. Well– maybe –if you are able to figure out just the right rate of taxation.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    If the War on Drugs were a success in that with only the threat of violence, drug use were eliminated, it would still be immoral and its criminalization would be unacceptable to any rational moral agent.

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