Legalizing Marijuana and Other Ways the U.S. and Mexico Can Win the Drug War

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There was a lot of drug-war hand-wringing in the U.S. leading up to President Barack Obama’s visit to Mexico this week. That’s because Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is in change-the-conversation mode: he wants the world, especially Washington, to focus less on his country’s awful drug violence — some 60,000 narco-related murders in the past seven years, with little sign of abating — and more on its robust economic potential. The fear in some Washington circles is that Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which in its dictatorial 20th century heyday was every drug lord’s cuate, or best buddy, is putting the fight against Mexico’s vicious cartels on the back burner.

And I would say to Obama: Even if that’s the case, it shouldn’t spoil your two days in Mexico City.

(MORE: Obama’s Mexico Visit: Not Just About the Drug War Anymore)

That doesn’t mean I favor abandoning the fight against los narcos. I’m just saying that if the past seven years have shown us anything, it’s that it doesn’t matter whether Peña Nieto ratchets up that fight (as his predecessor did) or dials it down, or whether Washington pumps more or less aid into it — not as long as police and judicial institutions remain dysfunctional in Mexico and demand for illegal drugs remains insatiable in the U.S. Which is why, if Obama and Peña Nieto are the smart politicos they’ve proved to be, they’ll realize that the two most important developments in the drug war over the past six months took place not during any interdiction operation but on Election Day last November in the U.S. and on Tuesday, April 30, in Mexico.

The Mexican news first, because I think it’s potentially more consequential. Tuesday night, the Mexican Senate convincingly passed a telecommunications-reform bill, pushed by Peña Nieto and already approved in the lower Chamber of Deputies. It’s aimed at dismantling the monopolies that smother competition in Mexican industries like telecom, where the América Móvil company headed by tycoon Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, controls more than 80% of the nation’s land-line market and more than 70% of its cell-phone market. The legislation packs sharper enforcement teeth and “prevents monopolies from being able to resort to the constant, endless appeals litigation they use to avoid paying fines and sanctions,” as Peña Nieto described the bill to me in a TIME interview shortly before his inauguration in December.

(MORE: 10 Questions for Enrique Peña Nieto)

So why does this impact the drug war? Call it a leap of faith, but if this reform really does turn out to be a monopoly-buster — and, this being Mexico and the ruling party being the PRI, it’s better to take a wait-and-see approach — it will be striking evidence that rule of law has a chance to take root in Mexico. Slim and the other Mexican monopolists targeted in the bill aren’t drug lords. But for decade after decade, they’ve been getting away with an unjust practice that modern democracies usually penalize if not thwart. Stripping them of their notorious impunity could go a long way toward fostering the kind of culture of legality that in turn nurtures more professional and less corrupt courts, judges, prosecutors and especially investigative cops — the judicial backbone of any credible fight against organized crime.

Washington ought to know this already after its happier experience more than a decade ago in Colombia — where the billions the U.S. poured into antidrug aid bore fruit largely because Colombia finally made the effort to strengthen rule of law. Shannon O’Neil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, aptly pointed out in her 2011 article “How Mexico Can Win the Drug War, Colombia’s Way” that Colombia emphasized “professionalizing the police and reforming [the] judicial system.” It did this via nothing less than a “transformation within” the country that saw its elites finally take responsibility for public security, something Mexico’s hypernegligent ruling class is still reluctant to do. (In fact, as evidenced by one recent scandal, Mexico’s rich and powerful still seem more interested in shutting down restaurants that don’t give them good tables.) “More than foreign security aid,” O’Neil wrote, “this is what Mexico needs today: an investment by [its] elites in the safety and well-being of all its citizens.”

(MORE: Mexico’s Drug Lords Ramp Up Their Arsenals With RPGs)

If I were Obama, and if I were truly interested in the Mexican drug war’s long-term success, I’d be focused less on Peña Nieto’s interdiction scorecard at the moment and more on the Mexican Senate’s roll call Tuesday night. And I’d hope like hell that it really is the first installment of the Mexican elite’s own, long-overdue investment in rule of law.

As for what happened on Election Day last fall in the U.S., if I were Peña Nieto I’d urge Obama to do on the federal level what the states of Colorado and Washington did: legalize marijuana. (Mexico should do the same, by the way.) That would do two things: First, deprive Mexico’s drug cartels of more than a third of the $30 billion or so they make each year. Second, save the U.S. the estimated $10 billion it wastes every year chasing down a drug that’s no more harmful than alcohol when used in moderation. It can then steer that money to drug-demand-reduction efforts like rehab services, which studies show do more to ease the drug plague than conventional supply-side interdiction does.

Let’s focus our cross-border angst on raising Mexican rule of law and reducing American appetite for blow, smack and meth. Because if those efforts fail, all the other drug-war hand-wringing we do is meaningless.

MORE: The Rise of Mexico’s Vigilante Militias: Will They Help or Hurt the Drug War?

118 comments
DREGstudios
DREGstudios

Marijuana is the safest drug with actual benefits for the user as opposed to alcohol which is dangerous, causes addiction, birth defects, and affects literally every organ in the body.  Groups are organizing all over the country to speak their minds on reforming pot laws.  I drew up a very cool poster featuring Uncle Willie Nelson and The Teapot Party for the cause which you can check out on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/01/vote-teapot-2011.html  Drop in and let me know what you think!

GartValenc
GartValenc

This is the kind of article that makes my blood boil. 

Firstly, the author of this article, Tim Padgett, continues peddling the idea that Colombia is the best example that the War on Drugs has been successful, and therefore, that it works. A quick review of the information about micro trafficking, bacrims, violence associated to drug trafficking and organised crime in Colombia will show that Colombia is far from being the success Mr Padgett and fellow travellers want to portray.

Secondly, Tim Padgett is dead right when he says that Mexico should fight impunity—which, I should add, is endemic, happens at all levels and involves all types of crimes, not just homicides, but also blue and white collar crimes, corruption, illegal enrichment, money laundering, to mention but a few.

What I find irritating is that when people like Mr Padgett talk about corruption, bribery, impunity, etc. they talk as if such things only apply to drug producing countries, the likes of Mexico or Colombia, for instance.

It is quite telling, is it not, that more than four decades have passed by since the US declared an all out war on drugs, and yet the US has not been willing to break the vast drug distribution network operating inside its own country—after all, the US is, and has always been, the largest consumer of drugs in the world.

What most people, including Mr Padgett, fail to realise is that for the illegal drug market to function a close and effective network of operators needs to be in place in those countries where the demand for drugs is not only high, but where buyers are also able and willing to pay a high price for them.

Take the organised crime and the financial system, for instance. Both go hand in hand and their relationship has been crucial to the survival and relentless growth of organised crime. The banking system does not only allow drug cartels launder the enormous amount of cash generated by their trade, but more importantly, also allow them to recycle, capitalise, invest and increase the profits on their astronomical wealth LEGALLY.

Yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg, for it is not just banks or some isolated “bad apples” that are instrumental in the efficient and smooth operation of the drug market on behalf of organised crime worldwide. The corruption runs wide as well as deep, and touches every echelon of our society: government officials, politicians, judges, you name it!

We have to ask ourselves: can the thousands and thousands of tons of drugs that manage to enter the
US, the UK, and any other major drug consuming country in the world, year after year be explained by the ingenuity and industriousness of drug traffickers alone?

The reality is that a business that generates US320 billion per year (and remember this has been going on for several decades) cannot be sustained on drug traffickers’ ability to fool enforcement agencies in every country and every port alone. Their high success can only be achieved by developing a sophisticated network of highly skilled and motivated ‘entrepreneurs’ in drug consuming countries.

It is extremely indicative of the pivotal role that whole industries, markets and institutions in developed countries like ours play in securing the smoothly functioning of the illegal drugs market that only a tiny fraction (some estimates talk of as little as 3%) of its revenues manages to make its way back into the economies of drug producing countries.

Figures published by UNODC suggest that criminals may have laundered US$2.1 TRILLION in 2009 alone, and if that were not bad enough, less than 1% of the total amount of illicit money laundered worldwide in any given year has ever been seized.

As history has shown us again and again, every war has losers as well as winners. And judging by what has happened with the war on drugs over the last 50 years, I would say that, all in all, it has been a good war for us. And by us, I mean the whole host of parties that feed off and are fed by the industry, the criminal industry, prohibition really is: financial services, industrial military complex, enforcement agencies, security service providers, politicians, captains of industry…you name it!

Thank you very much, Prohibition!

Gart Valenc
Twitter: @gartvalenc

RydMizar
RydMizar

Leave it to the son of frank marshall davis communist, obama son of islam middle east mother pretending to be white, to be on the dope as he used to be on dope, to want tolegalize dope. If you want to beat the earth born nephilim races like these mexican descendants of aztecs to mayans, you have to hit him with a plague that will affect their 4,000 cdc verified gene flaws, and wkl1 gene. otherwise legalizing it will just put em in business not out of it, and resets the black market.

destor23
destor23

Legalize all consensual crimes. Why should I care if somebody snorts coke or meth? If they commit crimes that involve nonconsenting victims, prosecute those.

JimmyJohn
JimmyJohn

The only way to "beat " the cartels is legalizationProblem is...the cartels control the politicians both US and Mexican

JimmyJohn
JimmyJohn

The only way to "beat " the cartels is legalization

Problem is...the cartels control the politicians both US and Mexican

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

Look at alcohols impact on society......dui's, deaths, injuries, property damage, hospitalizations, e.r. Visits, domestic violence, lost productivity, lost potential, corrupted minors, so much bad stuff. Why u wanna double all that by legalizing marijuana? Just so some moron can get high? Who cares about them, let them go to their back alley for it. Why would society bring in more dangerous things, makes no sense. It is ok for Cali, that decadent culture is hopeless anyway, hwood and its trashy values and drugs go hand in hand.

buffalo.barnes102
buffalo.barnes102

I was going to ask how we could ignore the violence and open corruption so prevalent in Mexico and then remembered the last, oh, say, 6 months in the U.S., and all the wind went out of my argument. 

prurka
prurka

Obama apologizing for America again

WilliamHouse
WilliamHouse

Attacking Civil Rights is the Problem, not the solution.

If we care to reduce gun violence we must end the bigoted war on drugs.

Mexico shows how strict gun control is no solution and how the bigoted drug war is the cause of such violence.

President Obama claims Mexico's gun problem is due to our 2nd Amendment freedoms, and that is just wrong.

Even if the gun bigots banned guns, there would only be another underground market for guns put in place, with more violence.

Especially now that you can print guns on your desktop now.

Cocaine, Meth and Opium are all made worse, and violent, due to their prohibition.

Drug Use is a Medical Issue, not a criminal issue.

BobKaminski
BobKaminski

I don't know why, but I just had to look, having read the book. I luv to turn u on!

BobFawcett
BobFawcett

How long has this drug war been going on, decades with nothing really changing. Try something else because this approach is not going to ever work.

LenSimpson
LenSimpson

The richest man in the world is a Mexican , wonder where he got all his money ?

Hectorsanchez7
Hectorsanchez7

@ruedareport they should check out all the problems that Colorado is having after legalizing pot... its a Pandora's box

arthurwilton
arthurwilton

Thanks, Mr. Padgett for an excellent article. Professionalizing the Mexican police and judiciary would  be much easier if the criminal cartels were less rich. As it is, Mexican mayors, prosecutors, judges, police, and witnesses are faced with the dreaded "plata o plomo" choice: "I will give you silver or I will give you lead." In other words, "I will bribe you and therefore corrupt you, or I will kill you." Millions of Mexican officials face this choice knowing that if they do the lawful and honorable thing, they will pay for it with their lives and achieve no victory except a moral one--because their successor will not likely be so stubborn. It is a terrible dilemma to force upon decent people, and we can stop it by ending the War on Drugs--starting with marijuana. 

MichaelLeeSimon
MichaelLeeSimon

The Rule of Law was in full force in America during Alcohol Prohibition. It was in the Constitution. Did that stop the alcohol makers and distributors?

indianascarface
indianascarface

The Indians said, "The white man speaks with a split tongue", right before the settlers poisened and  killed them and stole their land! This country has a history of being dishonest, the history of drugs such as opium, hemp, and cocaine and them being outlawed are all the results of racist fear mongoring of Chinese, Mexicans and Blacks. In fear that white women would accept the advances a black men,  they claimed drugs made blacks agressive and would cause them to rape white women. However it was convenient to give cocaine to slaves as to curtail their appetites and allow them to work longer, now these unconstitutional laws are used to carry out racist population control, again affraid that the white population was in jeopardy of losing the label of Majority and those inhereint powers that come along with it. RESEARCH IT YOURSELF, stop believing what youve been told to be true, if you havent came to that conclussion on your own through UNBAISED researched. If a friend or someone you trusted told you someone was a theif, and you had no reason to disbelieve them you too would begin to believe this to be the truth and possibly inform others of the FACTS, with no proof. Your being used to prop up BS. dont keep being a tool

indianascarface
indianascarface

I have never been sold a drug, though ive purchased some. ive never seen a drug sale advertisement, but knew where they were cheapiest, and never, has a so called dealer pushed or forced ANY drugs on me i didnt ask for. Though ive only smoked MJ, i  believe this to be true with other drugs as well. We as adults should be able to choose what we consume, the government believes we as the citizens of the US  are not smart enough to know whats best for ourselves, so they declared us WARDS OF THE STATE, thats why they feel they can control our every move. They count on the mindless and uneducated to prove their point as they showcase the newest idoits actions on the evening news, so that those ignorant enough to believe what they see, continues to perptuate their rhetoric.  

MxlBc
MxlBc

What about a vaccine to prevent drug use

cleverlyc
cleverlyc

@ChikuMisra Because they are not the same. Social effects of one substance are not the same as another. Indeed, in stated where they have legalized medical marijuana, DUI's are DOWN.

The only morons are those posting without understanding what they're talking about.

sacredh
sacredh

I rolled a joint today oh boy. 4000 burn holes in my couch.

Darr247
Darr247

@LenSimpson - he owns their entire telephone (AND cable TV) system. Yeah, I wonder.

budman45
budman45

@Hectorsanchez7 @ruedareport  we are not having any problems our politicians are having the problems

pcowdin
pcowdin

@Hectorsanchez7 @ruedareport What problems are those? Deciding how much tax the state can collect on it? legislative squabbling over the legal limit while driving? We've had thousands of people legally smoking in Colorado for years now, and almost nothing has happened but an uptick in Cheetos sales. Colorado will have far fewer problems with cannabis smokers than we have with drunks, that's for sure.

cleverlyc
cleverlyc

@Hectorsanchez7 @ruedareport No, no it's not. It's vastly preferable to the miserable failure that is outright prohibition.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@indianascarface 

The tension goes up when you are buying the more "exotic" and expensive drugs... When I was buying heroin from a middleman dealer that offered large amounts there was always a guy in the room with us with a loaded gun... 

The year i spent as an addict was full of such wonderful encounters. Dont miss the hassle very much.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@MxlBc 

jd has it correct.... you ARE an idiot.


a vaccine to prevent drug use is virtually impossible because different drugs to different things and most of them are created within the body anyway.... Morphine only works because your body is making and using its own morphine right now; how the hell are you going to vaccinate against that genius?

terribly stupid comment/

but2star
but2star

@MxlBc 

The vaccine should be a ' more powerful drug'.  Just saying,  if you are a pot smoker, if you decide to kick that habit ... turn on to coke ... well it will work.  

And the funny thing is, USA had declared marijuana under illegal drug and fighting in Afghan is about fighting the terrorists and fighting poppy and marijuana drug baron.  While the Afghan is still ongoing ... US had just made a U turned ... legalizing Marijuana in three states.  

So who ever were those soldiers who had died in this war ... are made a fool.  A trillion $ which used to fight drug baron were all gone in smoke. 



MichaelLeeSimon
MichaelLeeSimon

@MxlBc  

We need to flood the body with endocannabinoids  so exogenous cannabinoids are not required.

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

Wish you potheads would just shut up about alcohol. Two wrongs don't make a right. Alcohol should be banned too, but that toothpaste is out of the tube. We won't make the mistake of letting marijuana and the other garbage out of the tube. Please continue to go to your sleazy back alleys to sustain your drug addiction.

BobKaminski
BobKaminski

@sacredh I made sum cannabutter today , I'm having sugar cookies 4 dinner! 

indianascarface
indianascarface

Im sure.., Unlike most other drugs, the dependancy and physical withdawls associated with heroin use, makes those users unpredictable and dangerous, however a loaded gun still does not make your dealer violent, maybe smart to protect himself from such unpredictable users. I know people with degrees and that does not make them smart, its the use or application of those things that makes them good or bad. Congradulations on your recovery !!!!!!!!!!!

MxlBc
MxlBc

With your intelligent" response the idiot here is you and unfortunately there is no cure. Neither a vaccine....

MxlBc
MxlBc

With your intelligent" response the idiot here is you and unfortunately for you there is no cure. Neither a vaccine....

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

I do not gamble and especially not with complete strangers. You are of low class.

Darr247
Darr247

@ChikuMisra - I'll bet you a thousand bucks if we do a piss test every day for a year you'll fail more than I do.

Darr247
Darr247

@budman45 @sacredh - he was channeling the beatles song A Day In The Life, which BobKaminski started. Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire... was the original line. Your reply doesn't really flow, so you should probably go see a film today, or something.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@indianascarface 

No longer use heroin.... though ive used it single times with perhaps 6 instances last year.

Right now it is the Xanax I'm using like a mad man.... I just like to escape the loneliness I guess.


Good news is that nobody points guns at me these days

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@MxlBc @Hadrewsky 

and for the record the antibody idea is pretty damned clever.... until I alter the molecule so that I can get around it.

I also wonder what this does to natural endorphin ... a stubbed toe hurt that much worse? yikes... also if it hits only heroin why not switch to shooting up hydromorphone?


a ton of problems with this idea.... but I admit it is a clever one.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@MxlBc @Hadrewsky 


sure I have used but does that put the mark of Cain on me?


I just happen to know the body runs off of the same chemicals one can put into it to get high.... thus a vaccine is impossible.

Just because I am a former user does not make me ignorant of this subject.... I was going through acute renal problems leading to a transplant/ I used Heroin for pain relief and got addicted until I got my transplant.

so perhaps you should know my story before judging me.