Monday, August 9, 2010

Reefer Madness: Legalize Drugs in Mexico?

The violence stemming from Mexico's war on drug cartels is well known. Now, with a population growing ever more weary of the gruesome brutality of the cartels, former Mexican president Vicente Fox is adding his voice to the legalization debate, calling for broad legalization as a way to wrest money and power from the cartels.
"Legalization does not mean that drugs are good ... but we have to see (legalization of the production, sale and distribution of drugs) as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to earn huge profits," Fox wrote in a posting over the weekend. "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked."
He might be referring to the US experience with Prohibition in the 1920s (let's hope because he caught a sneak peek of the new HBO drama Boardwalk Empire about liquor barons in Atlantic City during Prohibition).

But Fox has some work cut out for him when it comes to convincing current Mexican president Felipe Calderón to get on board with his ideas. Calderon recently called for an open debate on legalization, signaling a possible willingness to move to an even broader liberalization than already exists in Mexico. But Calderón remains publicly skeptical that full-on legalization would serve the broader good of weakening the drug trade's negative role in Mexican society:
'If you legalize, for example, the high price of drugs in the black market would go down, and that would reduce criminals' financial capacity, that may be right. But totally liberalizing the drug market, and even the price reduction itself, are two factors which will lead millions and millions of young people to use drugs,' Calderon said.
Fox's call follows the assertion by César Gaviria of Colombia, Fernando Cardoso of Brazil and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico to legalize marijuana across Latin America.

I imagine that any proposal to legalize would lead to howling from American politicians, who do after all hold the purse strings on significant parts of the anti-drug budget. But it would interesting to see to what extent, given that there's growing recognition that the 40-year-old "War on Drugs" hasn't produced many results for all the invested time, treasure and lives.

The turning of elite public opinion may give Mexico and other countries the political cover to take the drug fight in a new direction.

Image Source: New York Post
Online Sources: Reuters, YouTube, HBO, Yahoo! News, Reuters, Wikipedia, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal


Tambopaxi said...

The idea that millions of people would become addicts if all drugs were legalized is wrong. Reported use would go up, but actual use would go up by a small increment, is my guess.

Reported alcohol use went up after the end of Prohibition simply because more people felt free to admit that they drank (because it was legal to do so!). Most likely, the same thing would happen with drugs.

Regarding addiction itself, conventional wisdom is that you touch certain drugs, you're instantly an addict. Not true. As with alcohol, some people are physically or psychologically disposed to addiction, but to become one, you need to repeat, and repeat, and so on. As with alcohol, the vast majority of people do not have the above dispositions or money, time, or interest (or desperation) to abuse themselves, and they won't do so simply because a substance suddenly becomes legal.

As you mention, there are heavy duty interests that are vested in the CN war that will fight Fox's proposal (I did the same thing over at Latin America Thought a year or so ago) tooth and nail, but eventually (50-60 years?) common sense and reality will wear them down. Not soon enough, to my way of thinking...

Ben G. said...

I agree that addiction is far from cut and dry - certain people are more susceptible to addiction than others.

I also wonder, though, if Fox isn't trying to give Calderón some political cover to push the legalization path.

Anonymous said...

I'm pro legalization, since the use of drugs are no different than the use of alcohol and cigars, if somebody wants to poison his/her body, is free to do so, but not if the product being use (drugs) are tainted with blood.

The solution is and will always be education, the drugs are not a problem of poor countries, since rich countries are the highest consumers. Is a problem of education, and just like we are progressing in the use of tobacco and alcohol we can teach in the moderated use of drugs, and keep things legal.

The problem is that is not only a decision from Mexico, the US has to be involved too, and the world, they all need to allow drugs and educate the population.

Blanca said...

In theory, through legalization the Mexican government would tax and regulate the drug trade and use the money generated from this to educate the public about the risks of drug-taking and to treat addicts.

In theory, legalization would push prices down as drugs would become easily available and because reputable pharmaceutical companies would get involved in the development and distribution of safe and cheap alternatives.

Ha ha ha. What I would like to see is the implementation process of this theory.

Let’s say that Mexico decides to legalize drugs and by definition the drug trade. Then what? Mr. Drug Baron, who is already paying hefty bribes on both sides of the border to run his business and has a complicated network that goes all the way from producing to distributing and pushing, agrees with this ‘wonderful’ idea and goes legal?

So he registers “Fumate Un Churro S.A.” in Mexico and “Fly High Inc.” in the U.S.A. Enrolls his gangsters in the IMSS (social security), exchanges their guns for business cards, starts raising invoices, paying taxes and allowing the government to regulate the selling price of this produce? All these to see his revenues and profits plummet because the demand is not there anymore as Pfizer and Novartis are producing safer and cheaper alternatives to good’ol coke and marihuana?

Ha ha ha. Wake up and smell the coffee! Legalizing drugs without getting rid of the drug cartels first will only give users a cheaper ride to lah-lah-land and will increase the violence exponentially.

So, how about having the Americans commit to selling to someone else the top-notch weapons that have been empowering the drug cartels? Hey! How about giving those weapons to the Mexican drug squads instead so that they can fight on equal grounds with the gangsters? … and how about if the Americans lend Mexican authorities their international agents, specialized in finding the really bad guys (the ones that found Sadam Hussein, please, not the ones that are still looking for Osama Bin Laden) to locate the drug barons? This way you leave the ‘little bad guys’ headless and under-armed and easier to control … and then, we can all take a ride on those 3 Black Hawks that the USA so kindly suggested to donate to fight the drug war, and we can all can take some lovely aerial pictures of a safer Mexico.