Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

Is the US Drug War is Ruining Mexico and Latin America?

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Is the US Drug War is Ruining Mexico and Latin America?

Some of my posts here are more academically oriented — on issues like social policy or psychology — but since this is a blog, some posts are more ‘from the heart’.  This one is a case in point.

The other day I saw a television news story about the Mayor of Juarez (Ciudad Juárez), the large Mexican city that borders El Paso, Texas. (You can watch the same or a similar interview here:

http://www.ticklethewire.com/2010/03/25/mayor-of-juarez-mex-hates-the-drug-cartels-they-want-him-dead/ )

It was shown how, after receiving death threats from Mexican drug cartels, he has to go everywhere with an armed guard.  In reply to the interviewer’s question whether he’s considered quitting, he said ‘No’, and explained that he was too committed to helping the city develop at a critical point in its history.

The Mayor seemed completely credible, and if that is his motivation then he is heroic.  I tend to believe him.  When I was a child, my family frequently drove into El Paso (the nearest large city).  I vividly remember looking south across the Rio Grande to the hillsides of Juarez, filled with shacks, and signs of utter poverty.  It was incredible to think that, this close to the US, people could live under these conditions.  A person could not witness this without being motivated by the innate human sense of compassion to want to see these conditions improved.

So when this man says that he has a vision of a decent life for his city and people, I believe him.  But standing in his way are drug cartels.  And standing behind the Mexican drug cartels is the insane Drug War of the United States.

Let us speak plainly here, enumerating the plain facts:

1. The Drug War doesn’t work.

Despite the billions of dollars spent, drug abuse is still common in the United States.  Anyone who wants to can easily by marijuana or harder drugs.

2. Public sentiment favors decriminalization of marijuana.

In virtually every referendum in which it’s been put to the test, voters have demanded decriminalization.

3. The Drug War is a cheap ploy to curry favor with voters by appearing tough on crime.

If any American citizens do want the war on drugs, it’s probably because their opinions have been manipulated by politicians.

4. The Drug War results in numerous (and sometimes fatal!) civil rights violations of American citizens.

DEA agent:  “What do you mean, ‘wrong address’?  Oops! Sorry about that gunshot wound.  Nothing personal, right?”

5. The Drug War has filled our prisons.

How to create jobs:  (a) make more laws, (b) put more people in jail, (c) hire more guards.

6. By making drugs illegal, it becomes no longer necessary for people to develop moral character by choosing not to use drugs.

What’s really revealing is that this argument is completely over the heads of government officials.


Americans lived without the Drug War for a long time and it didn’t cause society to collapse.  From the 1930’s through the 1950’s, marijuana use was well known.  It was considered a vice, but wasn’t criminalized to the extent it is today. It was associated with artists, musicians, and bohemians.   Common sense, social norms, and a plea to personal responsibility were enough to keep the problem from getting out of control.

In the 19th century, people could go into a drug store and by opium tincture (laudanum).  Again, this did not lead to the breakdown of society.

These and other examples show that legalization of drugs doesn’t cause society to fall apart.  Yes, there will be cases of addiction and abuse, but these can be dealt with, just as we now deal with alcohol abuse and addiction.  It’s less disruptive to society to deal with drug abuse by individuals than to deal with a government that has gotten out of control, and, at least with regard to drug policy, is indistinguishable from a fascist state.

All this would be bad enough if the problems of the Drug War were confined to our own country, but, as the example of Juarez’ mayor shows, that is not the case.  By making marijuana and cocaine illegal we create a demand for illegal drugs, which are supplied by Latin America.

On top of this, American policy is hypocritical, since the fact is that many Americans want to use marijuana.  In how many motion pictures or television shows do you see sly innuendos or allusions to marijuana use?  Our laws make it illegal, but our culture sees it as ‘cool.’

We are making Latin America do our dirty work, while our politicians strut around congratulating themselves on their high moral principles.

We have no right to do this.  The just and honorable thing, not to mention the practical thing, is to decriminalize recreational drugs.

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