The War on Drugs Is Doomed

They say that the first step in dealing with a problem is acknowledging that you have one. It is therefore good news that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a delegation to Mexico tomorrow to talk with officials there about efforts to fight the mob violence that is being generated in Mexico by the war on drugs. U.S. recognition of this shared problem is healthy.

But that’s where the good news is likely to end.

Violence along the border has skyrocketed ever since Mexican President Felipe Calderón decided to confront the illegal drug cartels that operate there. Some 7,000 troops now patrol Juárez, a city of roughly one million. Yet even militarization has not delivered the peace. The reason is simple enough: The source of the problem is not Mexican supply. It is American demand coupled with prohibition.

It is doubtful that this will be acknowledged at tomorrow’s meeting. The drug-warrior industry, which includes both the private-sector and a massive government bureaucracy devoted to “enforcement,” has an enormous economic incentive to keep the war raging. In Washington politics both groups have substantial influence. So it is likely that we are going to get further plans to turn Juárez into a police state with the promise that more guns, tanks, helicopters and informants can stop Mexican gangsters from shoving drugs up American noses.

Last week’s gangland-style slaying of an unborn baby and three adults who had ties to the U.S. Consulate in Juárez has drawn attention to Mrs. Clinton’s trip. The incident stunned Americans. Yet tragic as they were, statistically those four deaths don’t create even a blip on the body-count chart. The running tally of drug-trafficking linked deaths in Juárez since December 2006 is more than 5,350. There has also been a high cost to the city’s economy as investors and tourists have turned away.

Even with low odds of a productive outcome, though, Mexico can’t afford to write off tomorrow’s meeting. It is an opportunity that, handled correctly, could provide for a teachable moment. I suggest that one or two of Mexico’s very fine economists trained at the University of Chicago by Milton Friedman sit down with President Obama’s team to explain a few things about how markets work. They could begin by outlining the path that a worthless weed travels to become the funding for the cartel’s firepower. In this Econ 101 lesson, students will learn how the lion’s share of the profit is in getting the stuff over the U.S. border to the American consumer. In football terms, Juárez is first and goal.

Mexico hasn’t always been an important playing field for drug cartels. For many years cocaine traffickers used the Caribbean to get their product to their customers in the largest and richest market in the hemisphere. But when the U.S. redoubled its efforts to block shipments traveling by sea, the entrepreneurs shifted to land routes through Central America and Mexico.

Mexican traffickers now handle cocaine but traditional marijuana smuggling is their cash cow, despite competition from stateside growers. In a February 2009 interview, then-Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora told me that half of the cartel’s annual income was derived from marijuana.

This is especially troubling for Mexican law enforcement because marijuana use, through medical marijuana outlets and general social acceptance, has become de facto legal in the U.S., and demand is robust. The upshot is that consumption is cool while production, trafficking and distribution are organized-crime activities. This is what I called in a previous column, “a stimulus plan for Mexican gangsters.”

In much of the world, where institutions are weak and folks are poor, the high value that prohibition puts into drugs means that the thugs rule. Mr. Medina Mora told me in the same 2009 interview that Mexico estimated the annual cash flow from U.S. drug consumers to Mexico at around $10 billion, which of course explains why the cartels are so well armed and also able to grease the system. It also explains why Juárez is today a killing field.

Supply warriors might have a better argument if the billions of dollars spent defoliating the Colombian jungle, chasing fast boats and shooting down airplanes for the past four decades had reduced drug use. Yet despite passing victories like taking out 1980s kingpin Pablo Escobar and countless other drug lords since then, narcotics are still widely available in the U.S. and some segment of American society remains enthusiastic about using them. In some places terrorist organizations like Colombia’s FARC rebels and al Qaeda have replaced traditional cartels.

There is one ray of hope for innocent victims of the war on drugs. Last week the Journal reported that Drug Enforcement Administration agents were questioning members of an El Paso gang about their possible involvement in the recent killings in Juárez. If the escalation is now spilling over into the U.S., Americans may finally have to face their role in the mess. Mrs. Clinton’s mission will only add value if it reflects awareness of that reality.

– Article from The Wall Street Journal.



  1. Medicinal Mike on

    I am not sure what the history books are going to say about Marc Emery, but I believe he and Jack Herer are the 2 most influencial people in this battle. The war is doomed because Jack and Marc have shown us the truth and the truth can not be stopped (but it does seem to be delayed!). Free Marc.

  2. Dave on

    Makes sense. That’s what i like about the internet; we can a whole bunch of valid

  3. Anonymous on

    That should read American tax dollars not Christian tax dollars.

  4. Anonymous on

    This is a biased and unfactual article. It keeps trying to tie marijuana and medical marijuana in particular to mexican cartel violence, which isn’t true.

    The medical marijuana industry and a HUGE percentage of the American market for illegal marijuana is grown domestically. Not to mention the challenge crossing the border poses and the cost to quality, it’s stupid to grow pot in another country. Look what you get; some call it ‘poop weed.’

    The Mexican drug cartels are only capable of making the kind of money they do by manufacturing designer drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. Remember the super-labs stories, news articles about labs right on the border which made 10KG of meth a day? Not marijuana. When you have places like Humboldt County, “The Emerald Triangle” producing marijuana to the caliber and scale they do, it’s easy to see there is NO market for the Mexican’s marijuana in the U.S. medical market. Although Jeff Sweetin is working hard to change that… Jeff Sweetin, by closing dispensaries, is the one supporting the Mexican Cartels. The government strategy of attacking supply instead of demand
    was always their way of secretly helping the gangsters.

    The fact is that imported Mexican marijuana isn’t going to cure _anything_ that ails you, it will give you a headache before any cannabinoids are delivered so the relief is sort-of imaginary.

    Anything that can be grown that way isn’t marketable to the degree which the cartels are financing themselves. These are meth cartels and this story is trying to make medical pot smokers look like they are indifferent to their neighbour’s safety.

  5. Atlanta Toker on

    If we don’t take a position on this issue as a people, it will be 10 years or longer. The Governments are spending billions of dollars. That means a lot of fluffy dollars going to a lot of people and their not going to want to give up that honey hole.

    Even though we know that all the bravado and preaching by the US government officials is nothing more than grandstanding. If they were making any difference in any way, the price would be higher. It’s not and they aren’t.

    However, if you think that will make a difference in the amount of money they intend to waste on your behalf for your safety and security ( as all governments use these talking points as justification)you would then classified as pretty friggin goofy. They’ll stop at nothing just to have the opportunity to waste and spend good Christian tax paying citizens money (as usual) on things that if handled differently are in fact not only controllable but far more cost effective and safer for every child in the United States.

    College athletes, College students, Professors, Ministers, Congregations, High School students, Surfers, Snowboarders, Swimmers, Track and Field, Professional Baseball, Professional Basketball, National Football League, Golfers, Canadians, Mexicans, South Americans, all have to start taking a stand in the public arena which means if the governments don’t stop restricting our freedoms over non-violent issues then we stop producing Heisman trophy winners, Super Bowl winners, Olympic Gold medalist and so on.

    Do you have any idea of the impact that stance would make on this one issue if we all stood up and said no mas? Just take 2 main businesses, television and betting parlors, the numbers would be staggering. That’s all we have to do to regain our liberty and self respect and nobody else has to get hurt.

    This will also help empty out the prisons in the US. Black men will actually have a chance to go to college and raise their families. The drug war started and is still deeply entrenched in racism at its highest level be it state or federal levels. There are more black people in jail today than were in slavery in the 1850’s. How can any black athlete play sports for colleges or a professional team knowing this is what is being done to the black community in the United States. The numbers don’t lie, check them for yourselves. Then, stand up..

    Once this is legalized for adult use, all these murders and border problems will diminish. Happens everytime…

  6. Dave on

    In my opinion, a good article but lets get a few things straight. Mexican gangsters don’t “shove drugs up American noses”, Americans snivel most of it up themselves! Furthermore to say “an unborn baby was slain” fuels the fire rather than help extinguish it. How many unborn Afghanis, Iraqis and Pakistanis babies have been slain by defenders of American corporate cartels? Or is that what you call collateral damage?

    Increasingly, I see this Mexican thing as European Spaniards still trying to conquer the indigenous peoples of the South. How can a people ever have hope of being free, on their ancestral-lands, when they have no means of economic independence?

  7. Parker on

    Secretary of State Clinton is well apprised of our current border situation and I am certain that America’s best are reviewing our nation’s drug policy.