Monday, November 23, 2009

How to Destroy the Mexican Cartels in Five Easy Steps

Mexico's drug war shows no signs of stopping. And yes, this war is not merely a metaphor but an actual armed conflict. Belligerents include several Mexican cartels as well as the Mexican government, with the United States playing a supportive role to the government. In 2008, over 6000 people died, including numerous civilians, and some of the violence even spilled over to the American side of the border (most notably Phoenix). Ironically, the majority of the cartels' funding comes from drug sales in the United States, to the tune of $23 billion dollars, despite (or rather because of) prohibition of these substances. And the cartels have made significant inroads into most of America as well.

Staying the course will lead to a temporary Pyrrhic victory at best. Let's face it, the War on (some) Drugs is already lost, and is America's first major defeat.  A war we lost before it even began.  And over two thirds of Americans believe it has been a failure, while less than 10% believe it has been a success.  Like alcohol prohibition, only writ very, very large. Crime, corruption, racism, violence, and death are the fruits of our labor. And a new way forward, one that involves thinking outside the box, is long overdue. Here is what we propose to be the ONLY lasting and feasible solution:

1) Legalize cannabis for all adults over 18, period. Tax and regulate it like we currently do with tobacco and alcohol, with licenses required to sell it. Like tobacco, allow adults to grow their own cannabis for personal use as well.

2) Withdraw from all international treaties that prohibit cannabis.

3) Increase drug treatment and education, funded by the excise taxes.

4) Get tougher on violent crime, gun-running, and racketeering. This will be easier since more resources would be freed up.

5) Create a system of tight regulation for the eventual legalization and controlled distribution of many other currently illegal drugs, except perhaps for the most dangerous ones like methamphetamine, crack, or PCP.

Admittedly, the last one on the list would be the toughest on to do politically, and will be unlikely to happen in the near future regardless of who is in power. But even if the other steps were taken, especially legalizing cannabis, the cartels would be severely hurt economically since the "backbone" of their trade would collapse. It is estimated that as much as 60-70% of their profits come from the cannabis trade with the US. And it is well known that any business who suddenly loses 60% of their profits goes under. Since the cartels are strictly wholesalers (and, of course, producers) of drugs, only full legalization of the entire supply chain would work to upend their trade. In their weakened state resulting from cannabis legalization, the Mexican government would likely finish them off.

As for hard drugs, which represent much of the remainder of the cartels' profits but are highly unlikely to be legalized in either country, demand is best reduced through education and treatment, the latter estimated to be a whopping seven times more cost-effective than interdiction.

For cannabis at least, prohibition clearly fails to even make economic sense.  The social costs per user of cannabis use pale in comparison to those associated with alcohol and tobacco, as well as the cost per user of enforcing the laws against cannabis.  The potential tax revenue gained plus the huge reduction in enforcement costs would more than offset any hypothesized negative effects of legalization. 

Several economists concur with this viewpoint.  Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard professor of economics who for 15 years has studied the prohibition of both alcohol and drugs throughout history, makes some very good arguments in favor of legalization.  One of his studies found that legalization and taxation of cannabis nationwide would potentially yield $10-14 billion per year in increased revenue and reduced enforcement expenditure.  And this is a rather conservative estimate!

The TSAP is not a "pro-drugs" party. Rather, we are pro-liberty and anti-tyranny. We do not endorse the use of any substances, including alcohol and tobacco, but believe that legal adults are sovereign in body and mind and that prohibition of these substances clearly does more harm than good.  Remember, the term "controlled substance" is actually a misnomer since it is virtually impossible to adequately control that which is prohibited.

In addition, a common misconception about the violence in Mexico is that it is caused by looser American gun laws relative to Mexican laws. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the weapons used (full automatics, rockets, grenade launchers, etc.) are currently illegal in the US.  I repeat, they are currently illegal on BOTH sides of the border.  And if the corrupt Mexican government really wanted to protect their citizens, they would help them protect themselves by legalizing civilian gun ownership (and concealed carry).  Like all thugs and tyrants, the cartels just LOVE unarmed citizens.  The "experts" (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.) all agree:  Gun control works!


Looks like California has put an initiative to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis on the ballot for 2010.  The initiative, though somewhat flawed, has a decent chance of passing. A whopping 56% of Californians support legalization, as do 53% of Americans overall, the highest in US history.  And the state needs something to help plug their monstrous budget deficit--they are technically bankrupt.  Will "California Dreaming" finally become a reality?  We predict it will pass in 2010 since they finally have a critical mass of supporters.  If any state can do it, California can.

The TSAP endorses the initiative as a starting point, but notes that it is far from perfect.  For example, the age limit is 21 rather than 18, and several provisions appear to conflict with the Compassionate Use Act's protections of medical cannabis patients.  But those "wrinkles" can be ironed out later.  The sooner we legalize, the better.  And we hope other states will join California as well (already Oregon is considering it).

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