What the Drug War Needs is a Debate, Not a Disingenuous Battle Plan

In what was to become a growing trend throughout much of Latin America, the Mexican government unleashed its security forces against the drug cartels several years ago in what ended up being a failed effort at interdiction. The strategy was then to change: On August 23, 2009, Mexico City announced that it would be eliminating jail time for possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. President Felipe Calderón said that the new law would free up law enforcement resources. Now, Mexican officials can focus on the larger and more lethal drug cartels, rather than cluttering Mexico’s criminal justice system with cases dealing with petty drug dealers and small-time addicts.

While many Mexicans were indifferent about the new law, Washington could not conceal its disappointment with its neighbor. In addition to Mexico, both Brazil and Uruguay later announced the elimination of measures harshly penalizing citizens carrying small amounts of drugs. Likewise, Argentina is planning to enact a decree exempting drug users from the criminal justice system. On September 8, 2009, the Mexican president asked his Attorney General, Eduardo Medina Mora, a key figure and hard-liner in the government’s war on drugs, to step down. This occurred after criticism of the government further escalated when drug lords executed 18 people outside a rehab center in Juarez.

So the question provoked by this series of events is, when it comes to an effective drug strategy, what is the world waiting for? More directly, what will it take for the White House to act? Since the current strategy is clearly not working, why not open up the hemispheric drug policy to public debate for the very first time. The dialogue would want to stress one fundamental point: the anti-drug war quarterbacked by Washington is not working and that a new plan must not focus on the pre-existing and ineffective strategies of interdiction, eradication and prohibition of cocaine, marijuana and heroin.

A clear-cut division between the petty drug dealer, addict, and drug lord in the drug chain may not exist since they all feed on, as well as merge, into one another. If petty drug use is tolerated, it likely means that clients will be buying and shooting up, and that drug lords still will be pushing and profiting. On the other hand, we learned from Prohibition that while alcohol consumption may have slackened, illegal trafficking and associated violence escalated making the situation worse than before it was outlawed. The same can be said about today’s current legislation on drugs.

But failed drug policies are not something exclusive to Mexico. In a television segment produced by CBC news in 2007, the long list of failures of U.S. drug policies were cited. For example, from 2000-2006, the US spent $4.7 billion on Plan Colombia which indirectly forced the relocation of Colombia’s main cocaine producers to more remote areas of the country. Later, another change of methodology in 2005 was introduced due to the fact that levels of cocaine production and consumption ended up being more or less the same as in 2000. Neighboring countries like Peru also saw their drug related statutes return to familiar locations and patterns on the trafficking chart.

Solving the drug problem of course requires humility, given its persistent nature. A still largely untested portal to possibly solving the issue would be to open up constructive debate between the nays and the yeas, involving the U.S. and Mexican authorities and their critics. Rather than scoffing at the idea of opening up communication between those determined to hue to a conventional line like the Obama administration appears to be doing, or, President Calderón’s search for a new policy, why not break the current barriers by opening up dialogue. Let there be discussion with the understanding that more of the same legislation and strategies that failed in the past could not provide the profound resolution for the hemisphere.

Between orthodox viewpoints and their challengers, in which the old principles no longer axiomatically have paramountcy, holding debates would allow partisans to be heard freely, as well as spotlight approaches that could potentially yield a cut in costs. They might offer a more humane strategy for those who require treatment, but not necessarily be candidates for jail time.

10 thoughts on “What the Drug War Needs is a Debate, Not a Disingenuous Battle Plan

  • September 18, 2009 at 6:28 pm
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    The current focus of the drug war in the Americas must change. The existing direction, one held for the previous forty plus years has been ineffective and wasteful for all economies involved. While hundreds of billions of dollars have been dumped into this black hole of a policy, Hundreds of billions more are directed in profit towards gangs and cartels in every country. This improvident policy ignored all of the lessons of the prohibition of Alcohol in the United States during the period from 1920 to 1933. What the U.S. learned from their failed attempt at prohibiting their citizens’ access to a vice was the vice would multiply many times over previous levels.

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  • September 18, 2009 at 8:18 pm
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    Debaters debate the two wars as if Nixon’s civil war on Woodstock Nation didn’t yet run amok. One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights or to Cuba for political prisoners. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under banner of the war on drugs. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance global credibility.

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  • September 18, 2009 at 8:22 pm
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    While countries such as Mexico & Columbia are high profile in the production and trafficking of illegal drugs, to North America and Europe, there are others such as Guyana (in South America)which are part of the problem, and should be included in such a debate.

    Francis Quamina Farrier
    Georgetown
    Guyana

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  • September 19, 2009 at 7:13 am
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    Yes, I do fully agree, an open publicly held dialogue about this issue is needed.
    What should be mentioned also in this discussion is the U.S. government’s pretext of fighting against drug traffic for its military presence within the respective countries and the double standard when financing counter revolutions by the profit made by drug trafficking for keeping the predominance over the hemisphere.

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  • September 20, 2009 at 3:43 am
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    Marijuana Legalization does not require ANY more debate. Polls are showing time and time again that the majority of Americans support legalizing pot. What we need is the Ability to prosecute out Representatives for KNOWINGLY disobeying the will of the people. A law like this would be Good to preserve OUR democracy from lobbyists and crooked politicians.

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  • September 20, 2009 at 8:26 am
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    Adequate management of drugs requires a worldwide permanent dialoque. There is no permanent solution. And any balancing point will be dynamic. It is like pushing on water.
    A string of treaties would be the best framework but is difficult to achieve. Second best is each country working towards a solution model of the same structure. The good news is that such model can be built to handle any type of drug.
    At least some LA countries seem to be convinced now that one should not penalize drug consumers. This appears to be close to the Dutch “coffeeshop” model for drugs. By the way, the Dutch are top drugproducers, close to Colombia and Afghanistan. Further, one should not forget alcohol and tobacco. These produce heavier damage than the drugs we talk about here. But they are “accepted” to a certain degree. This shows the way to better management. Demand can only be reduced by information and education. Treatment of health damage can be financed by excise-duties.

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  • September 21, 2009 at 8:23 pm
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    I cannot believe that it is not on the G-20 agenda in Pittsburgh. What percent of the world-wide economy does this account for?

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  • September 21, 2009 at 9:24 pm
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    Addiction is a disease which require treatment. Removing the stigma and illegal stamp would throw up more people to seek treatment. Education is the key and the public debate on the subject would be helpful. The government need to target the origin of addiction LACK OF EDUCATION, POVERTY, FRUSTRATION,INSECURITY. We need to invest more in education to overcome this problem. I agree with Charles janssen that there are drugs which have social acceptability like alcohol, and tobacco and accordingly a limited acceptability may be accorded to the drugs till we are in a place to tackle the cause of the problem. A psychologist would be the best person to indicate as to what drives a person to drugs. The government should try to remove these causes.

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