Our Curiously Ineffective War on Drugs

Credit: justice.gov

The much ballyhooed war on drugs in the United States is a failure. Our prisons are filled with low level drug users but drug cartels hardly ever get broken up. Meth is a scourge, devastating families and communities, as does heroin and cocaine. Tons of marijuana are routinely smuggled into the country, or grown here. Large amounts of prescription drugs are prescribed by Dr. Feelgood’s to patients who are not suffering symptoms. America leads the planet in drug use.

A declaration of war assumes the enemy is external and definable. But in our war on drugs, the ultimate “enemy” is our own citizens, because they are the drug consumers. However, when shaping our policies, we rarely focus on the end user or ask why the United States is so dependent on drugs. If we could cut demand by genuinely trying to determine why people use drugs and attempt to provide them with alternatives and rehab, much of the corruption and violence in the drug world would vanish. Instead, the path to getting a joint or meth to the consumer in America leaves a bloodstained path.  Unsurprisingly, officials are bribed and financial firms who turn a blind eye get wealthy.

Western banks reap billions from Colombian cocaine trade,” says a new study from Columbia. One of the researchers says:

“The whole system operated by authorities in the consuming nations is based around going after the small guy, the weakest link in the chain, and never the big business or financial systems where the big money is.”

He adds that Colombia itself benefits little from the drug money because virtually all the money goes elsewhere. Plus, appallingly, bank controls in drug consuming countries are less stringent than in Colombia. How convenient.

Drug money saved banks in global crisis,” claims a UN advisor

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks on the brink of collapse [in 2008]. He said that a majority of the $352bn of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.

You can’t take blood money without getting blood on your hands or without becoming corrupted yourself. It is delusion to think otherwise, especially when the drug cartels are ruthless, vicious, and highly skilled in transnational money laundering. The thugs we read about in the papers committing horrific acts are just the street soldiers.

In a review of “The Executioner’s Men,” which is about Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas, intelligence professional Sylvia Longmire notes that the Zetas “are operating as a state parallel to the Mexican state. The chart (one of many helpful charts and tables) in [a chapter titled Dual Sovereignty] outlines side by side all the state functions that both execute is quite eye-opening.”

Don’t think that can’t happen here. Yes, many in law enforcement are dedicated and honest, but our drug war is compromised and has failed. The best and perhaps only way to end the pervasive corruption and horrific violence is to legalize drugs. The corruption is already here and the violence is coming. We need to act now.