Monday, April 06, 2009

The L Word

The panic over the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border has some academics, journalists and politicians making a case for the legalization of marijuana and other drugs. Yours truly supports the idea.
*Image: The Economist

During her visit to Mexico last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that Mexico's drug problem is our problem given the U.S.' demand for illegal drugs, a welcome departure from our country's usual high-handed point of view on the subject that placed the blame for the drug wars squarely on drug-producing nations. And while that gesture of humility is appreciated, the fact remains that the U.S. continues to spend a lot of money on a broken system that still yields ridiculous profits for drug cartels, corrupt government officials and anyone else who's done with trying to get by through legal means.

Calling legalization "the least bad" solution to the problem of illegal drugs, The Economist attempts to break down the process of collecting tax on cocaine while admitting the potential public health pitfalls of such a move: "Legalisation would not only drive away the gangsters; it would transform drugs from a law-and-order problem into a public-health problem, which is how they ought to be treated. Governments would tax and regulate the drug trade, and use the funds raised (and the billions saved on law-enforcement) to educate the public about the risks of drug-taking and to treat addiction. The sale of drugs to minors should remain banned. Different drugs would command different levels of taxation and regulation. This system would be fiddly and imperfect, requiring constant monitoring and hard-to-measure trade-offs. Post-tax prices should be set at a level that would strike a balance between damping down use on the one hand, and discouraging a black market and the desperate acts of theft and prostitution to which addicts now resort to feed their habits."

Here in the U.S., Latino USA, one of my fav NPR programs, recently delved into the legalization debate and interviewed Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California who is open to having her homestate try a pilot program that would examine the potential gains of decriminalizing marijuana. The show also interviewed University of Miami Professor Bruce Bagley, an expert on drug cartels and violence, who said that while decriminalisation has always been an option in the war on drugs, it's a solution that most Americans just can't rally behind.

My take on the matter, as someone who has never tried drugs - which I'm not saying in some grandiose way, I'm just letting you know that I'm not a burnout - is that, regardless of my moral opinion on the subject, the death toll among law enforcement officials and civilians speaks to gross inefficiencies in a system that is, ironically, supposed to ensure the public's safety. And where some people may, rightfully so, see a public health challenge, I see an opportunity for our society to turn what has been the scourge of democracy and civility in many parts of the world into a vehicle for change and progress.

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