Dutch politician questions UN about the efficacy of cannabis prohibition as a method of reducing consumption.
Legalize the dope and you won't have to worry about it being a funding source.
It is one of the least harmful of any controlled substance out there and our boys should not be spending their time "weeding" it out (and standing downwind from where it is being destroyed...)
Mexico Drug Cartels Send A Message of Chaos, Death
By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 4, 2008; Page A01
[excerpted below, for full story see above link]
MEXICO CITY -- The death squads of the drug cartels are killing in spectacularly gruesome ways, using the violence as a language to deliver a message to society.
Increasingly, bodies show unmistakable signs of torture. Videos of executions are posted on the Internet, as taunts, as warnings. Corpses are dumped on playgrounds, with neatly printed notes beside them. And very often, the heads have been removed.
As competing drug cartels and their fragmented cells fight the police, the Mexican army and one another for control of billion-dollar smuggling corridors into the U.S. drug market, the violence unleashed by President Felipe Calderón's war against the traffickers grows more sensational.
An estimated 4,500 people have been killed in drug-related violence since 2007, when Calderón flooded the border and other drug hot zones with 20,000 Mexican troops and thousands of federal agents. November was the bloodiest month so far, with at least 700 killings, according to tallies kept by Mexican newspapers. Some victims had no connection to the drug trade, police say.
Walters said Calderón and his troops are destabilizing the cartels, arresting and extraditing their leaders, sowing chaos among the ranks, which is one reason the violence is so extreme. "Terror is evidence of weakness," he said. "If you have power in other ways, you don't do this."
In the past, many drug lords sought to be portrayed as tough-guy Robin Hoods, as godfather mafia dons who donated soccer balls and coloring books to schoolchildren and paid for the beer and bands at town fiestas. Now the cartels and their enforcers, who include former police and military deserters, are marketing themselves as dealers of chaos and death.
Law enforcement officials in Mexico and the United States say the spasm of violence is born of overlapping struggles. The cartels, and the cells within them, are fighting each other, dealing with traitors inside the organization and competitors outside, which in many cases may include crooked cops who work for the cartels. The traffickers are also fighting the police and military.
"It is three-dimensional chess," said Bruce Bagley, a drug trade expert and a professor at the University of Miami. "Where an amazingly lucrative drug trade fuels this brutality, that serves multiple functions -- for payback, for revenge, to send messages, to scare the hell out of the public and, of course, to win. Remember, these guys will do anything to win."
"Mexico is a strange country of truths and untruths, where reality and conspiracy blend together," said Tony Payan, the author of two books on the Mexican drug trade and a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, across the river from Ciudad Juarez.
So if we stopped the drug war these crazed murdering thugs would take over? We'd all be at their mercy?
The drug war did not create this situation... just keep telling yourself that we need to outlaw guns in the US to stop the violence problem.
A Border Under Siege
American military training and Texas guns are helping boost drug-war violence.
Feature: Wednesday, December 03, 2008
By PETER GORMAN
The sun is shining on the low rolling hills covered in Texas short grass and dotted with cattle along the southern end of I-35, the road that stretches from Duluth, Minn., to the Texas-Mexico border at Laredo. Little interrupts the bucolic scene for miles in any direction except for electric towers strung together like alien giants on a forced march across the vast plains. Towns that are little more than gas-stops appear and disappear beside the highway. On the other side of the Rio Grande, the countryside looks to be more of the same.
At the border, one way to cross is via a footbridge over the river. Last spring, a banner hung on the Mexican side of the bridge turned out to be a recruiting poster for the Zetas, a murderous drug cartel that had recently taken over much of Nuevo Laredo.
At the end of I-35, Laredo and Nuevo Laredo face each other across that shallow river. It’s a famously porous international border that, given the shared culture of people on the two sides, has always seemed seriously smudged.
And yet few countries could be as different as the United States and Mexico these days. The critical nature of that difference takes hold as soon as a southbound traveler sets a foot — and it had better be a cautious foot — past the border formalities. In Nuevo Laredo, the walls of many homes and government buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes. Some have high concrete walls, four inches thick, in front of their property — protection against grenades and assault weapons. Nuevo Laredo hasn’t had a police chief in two years. The last one quit in fear of his life after only three months in office. The one before that was shot and killed in broad daylight after seven hours on the job.
Up the river in Juarez, across from El Paso, about 1,200 people have been murdered thus far this year, and the total could hit 1,500. The brutality of many of the murders is stunning. Newspaper headlines announce decapitations, people being burned alive or tortured to death, mass murders. In early November, a headless body was hung from an overpass over the city’s main road.
The story is the same, with variations, all along the U.S.-Mexico border, as various Mexican drug cartels fight each other and the government: This is no longer the drug war that has chugged along for decades along this border, where there was always violence, to be sure, but where headlines were more likely to be about the size of drug shipments seized or the latest local Customs or Border Patrol agent found to be in cahoots with the smugglers. Nor is American involvement any longer limited simply (and profoundly) to providing the market for drugs that makes the whole narcotrafficking world possible, or to low-level corruption of the occasional border cop.
Interviews with agents in numerous federal and local law enforcement agencies, border residents, and drug-war journalists paint a picture of a war beyond anything anyone has ever seen here before, an epidemic of murder and sadistic violence that’s being waged with American weapons and aided by American government dollars, led by forces trained by the American military. The level of power of the Mexican drug cartels is completely out of control, and nothing the U.S. and Mexican governments are doing seems to be working to slow it down.
Instead, the money generated by the sale of drugs in this country is so impossibly vast that corruption in local Mexican police forces, the Mexican military, and even the federal government is at the saturation point — and many times more lucrative, not to mention healthier, than staying honest. The drug gangs are now recruiting and killing people on the U.S. side of the border, and murders and corruption are on the rise in towns from El Paso to Brownsville. Unless something changes quickly, it looks as though things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Already, the Mexican side of the border has become such a horror show that many Americans will find it difficult to comprehend, no matter how many movies about it they have seen. The transformation of Mexico into a drugocracy is nearly complete, with no institution completely free from its influence, including the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
Thousands of Mexicans have paid dearly to have tracking chips embedded under their skin, so that they can be located if they are kidnapped. More Mexican citizens than ever are showing up in hospitals on the U.S. side to be treated for gunshot wounds — because there’s less chance in the United States of their attackers following them to a hospital ward to finish the job. And record numbers of Mexicans are fleeing to Canada to seek political asylum.
The firepower of the cartels is as frightening as their ruthlessness. Where do they get their weapons? From Texas and other border states, where the gun lobbies have kept the gun laws weak. Texas is considered to be the number-one supplier of weapons to the cartels.
But their artillery goes beyond anything found at your local gun shop. The cartels have M-16s, hand grenades, grenade launchers — that is, U.S. military weapons, by the truckload.
Many of the most murderous units of the drug armies know very well how to use those weapons because they were taught by the U.S. military — on the assumption that they were going to fight against the cartels. Now they fight for the cartels — or control them. What’s more, American corporations are getting into the act, working under contract with the Mexican and U.S. governments to train specialized soldiers, including in torture techniques, and to act as private security agents on both sides of the border, a prospect that is as chilling to some as the drug lords themselves.
A recent government report said one Mexican cartel, angered at raids in the U.S. that targeted their people (including in North Texas) has threatened retaliation. The cartel is calling on the American gangs that are its business partners to “confront U.S. law enforcement agencies.” One cartel boss allegedly has ordered reinforcements to Reynosa, the report said, “armed with assault rifles, bulletproof vests, and grenades and … occupying safe houses throughout the McAllen area.”
What’s more, the sign on the bridge was just one example of the cartel’s new practice of brazenly advertising for foot soldiers. In Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo, their fliers were plastered everywhere recently.
The banner on the bridge echoed the words of the old U.S. military recruiting poster, and it specifically targeted members of the military: “The Zetas operations group wants you, soldier or ex-soldier,” it read. “We offer you a good salary, food, and attention for your family. Don’t suffer hunger and abuse any more.” It listed a cell phone number to call to sign up.
In Nuevo Laredo, things are much quieter now than they were two years ago, when gunfights broke out almost daily. But even now, entering Mexico at Laredo is intimidating because the town is still tense with the memory of those battles. Stores are boarded up, international medical and dental clinics that used to cater to Texans have for-rent signs on their doors, and it’s not a safe place to wander around. The relative peace is not the result of any law enforcement victory over the drug traffickers, far from it. The warring cartels have simply reached a détente.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon came to power in 2006 vowing to eliminate the drug scourge and its attendant violence. George W. Bush’s administration handed over hundreds of millions to help with that quest. But all that’s happened since Calderon took office, despite his efforts, is that the violence and corruption have increased. It’s not just the death toll that’s up; robberies, extortions, and kidnappings are on the rise as well.
The next-to-last Nuevo Laredo police chief was murdered because he promised to crack down on drug violence, which claimed 170 lives in that city in 2005 alone, not to mention dozens of kidnappings or the assassinations carried out on the U.S. side.
“It’s a war zone,” Webb County Sheriff Rick Flores told ABC News at the time. “We’ve got level-three body armor; they’ve got level-four. We’ve got cell phones; they’ve got satellite cell phones that we can’t tap into. … We’re being outgunned.”
In the fight against drug-based corruption, there has been no détente. In the last five months, 35 agents with the Mexican federal prosecutor’s office were arrested for corruption. According to Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, each was being paid between $150,000 and $450,000 monthly by the cartels. In late October, two high-ranking officials with Mexico’s Office on Organized Crime, part of the attorney general’s office, were arrested for supplying a Sinaloa-based cartel with information on possible drug seizures. Each was being paid $400,000 per month. An Interpol agent working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration at the American embassy in Mexico City, caught supplying the same cartel with inside information last month, was thought to have been earning $30,000 monthly.
The current rash of violence in Mexico, as well as the violence that erupted in Nuevo Laredo a couple of years ago, can be traced to Calderon’s policy of going after cartel leaders. His belief was that the cartels would be destroyed with their capos gone. So he sent 32,000 federal soldiers out across Mexico with orders to bring the peace by eliminating cartel bosses. Dozens were captured or killed, including many who have since been extradited to the U.S. for prosecution. But the push also had two negative side effects: First, the cartels were able to corrupt large segments of those military forces sent out against them, and secondly, the removal of the bosses created a power vacuum that’s led to the current violence among those seeking to become the new cartel leaders.
In many ways, it’s a repeat of what happened in Colombia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Medellin and Cali cartel leaders were eliminated. Violence in that country escalated to brutal heights. But interestingly, the victor in those internecine wars turned out not to be any of the Colombian cartel lieutenants, but the drug bosses in Mexico, who moved up from being middle men to running the cartels themselves.
The campaigns then didn’t stop corruption or even slow it down, and the same has been true of Calderon’s efforts thus far. Much of the violence in Nuevo Laredo was carried out by municipal police, including gun battles between them and federal officers. Eventually more than half of Nuevo Laredo’s 700-man police force was fired for corruption. In June 2007, Calderon purged 284 federal police commanders from all 31 Mexican states and the Mexico City federal district. All that did, one DEA source said, was to raise the cost of monthly payments to corrupt federal agents and prosecutors.
U.S. drug agents estimate that, every day, $10 million worth of drugs crosses over the Laredo bridges — not to mention the rest of the 2,000-mile long U.S.–Mexico border — and heads up I-35. It’s enough to pay for a lot of corruption and a lot of weaponry. Unfortunately for their victims, the drug lords don’t have to go far to do their gun-shopping.
The Texas-Mexico frontier has always been a smuggler’s paradise, and through the decades, the trade — in whatever goods were in demand at the moment — has gone both ways. These days, although the drugs traveling north grab most of the headlines, there’s an equally deadly trade, in weapons, going into Mexico, since that country has no arms manufacturing industry. According to U.S. officials, nearly all of Mexico’s drug-war violence is done with U.S.-manufactured weapons. The worst-offending states are Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, all of which permit almost anyone to purchase and own as many pistols, machine pistols, rifles, and assault rifles as they want, with no waiting time and no record of the sale going beyond the gun dealers’ files.
In those states, only an instant background check is done. According to Stephen Fischer, a spokesman for the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, anyone who sells a gun in this country — with a major and troublesome exception — must notify NICS. “The buyer is required to fill out a form, and the dealer then calls an 800 number, enters the buyer’s information, and either gets an OK or a “red light.” If it’s the latter, Fischer said, “the information will get transferred to the FBI, and we’ll make a decision whether the transaction can go through or not.”
A would-be buyer can be turned down for things as simple as not having gotten a new driver’s license after a move or as serious as being in this country illegally or having a felony criminal record. But Fischer noted that the form does not include the number of weapons being purchased, “So in theory a person could buy 100 or more at a time if they want.”
He also said that information on green-lighted purchasers is purged within 24 hours. Red-lighted forms are kept until the FBI determines the cause of the warning flag.
One Texas gun owner, a former NASA engineer who asked not to be identified, said he sees the problem with a system that doesn’t flag purchases of multiple guns. “Maybe something should be in place even in Texas that would call that sale into question,” he said. “I mean, how many AK-47s does a person need to have fun target shooting?”
He himself owns an Uzi, a semi-automatic bought over the counter at a gun store. “But you go to any gun show, and it doesn’t take long to find someone who’ll offer to take your semi-automatic and turn it into a fully automatic weapon,” he said.
Mexican authorities have repeatedly called on the U.S. to pass laws to stop or slow the estimated 2,000-weapon-a-day pace of gun sales into Mexico. But gun restrictions are extremely unpopular in Texas and other border states, an easy way for any politician to get unelected.
“Texas is probably the biggest supplier of guns that make their way into Mexico,” said Tom Crowley, special agent for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. “That’s both because of that long border they share and the number of gun dealers in the state.” BATF’s job is to handle the investigation of illegal gun and arms sales, as well as to trace guns that have been used in criminal activity.
“Now let’s say I’m a Mexican cartel member or illegal gun dealer, and I want to get my hands on some weapons,” Crowley said. “I’ll get a friend to purchase the guns I want and have him deliver them to me in Mexico. That’s called a straw-man purchase, and it’s illegal, but it’s done. And until one of those weapons is recovered at a crime scene, no one is going to know about it. Of course, that’s where BATF comes in: If the Mexican government provides us with that gun — and they’ve been more and more cooperative — we can trace it back to the manufacturer. They’ll tell us to which gun dealer it was shipped, and that gun dealer had better have kept the paperwork. ... And with that, we’ll be coming after you, to ask what the heck a gun you purchased is doing in Mexico in the hands of someone in a cartel gun battle.”
The system is flawed, Crowley admitted, both because of people obliterating serial numbers and because of the “gun show loophole.” The exception allows individuals to sell their own weapons at a gun show, such as the regular events held in large coliseums in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. No NICS check is done, and often no names are exchanged. If the gun later turns up to have been used in a multiple murder in Juarez and gets traced back to the legitimate owner, he can just say he sold it at a gun show to a stranger. And that’s the end of the case.
But Celerino Castillo, the former DEA agent who blew the whistle on the U.S.-backed Contras’ arms-for-drugs deals during the Nicaraguan civil war in the mid-1980s, said the problem isn’t limited to weapons being sold legally by individuals and then being resold to the cartels. The author of Powderburns, an account of the cocaine-for-arms scandal, Castillo worked undercover with the DEA for 12 years, mostly in Central and South America, including Mexico.
“The majority of the weapons being used by the cartels these days are U.S. military weapons and explosives,” he said. “They’ve got M-16s, hand grenades, grenade launchers. Even in Texas you can’t buy those. Those are U.S. military weapons. Last year an 18-wheeler full of M-16s was stopped headed to Matamoros, a border town controlled by the Gulf Cartel. Our U.S. military is either supplying the Mexican military with that weaponry, and corrupt elements in the Mexican military are selling it to the cartels, or someone in the U.S. military is supplying them. Either way, those are U.S. military guns being used in very violent cartel rivalries.
“So the responsibility still lies with the U.S., whether it’s military or gun shop owners,” Castillo said. “Without the guns, there would be less violence.”
Whatever version of corruption or bad policy is responsible for massive amounts of American military weapons ending up in the hands of the cartel, there is little mystery about the more routine forms of drug-money corruption being practiced, another longstanding border tradition. In October, FBI agents arrested a South Texas sheriff and charged him with “conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana” among several other offenses. Starr County Sheriff Reymundo Guerra, who faces life imprisonment, follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Sheriff Eugenio Falcon, who pleaded guilty to non-drug-related conspiracy charges in 1998. Among many other law enforcement officers caught dealing with the cartels, in 2005 former Cameron County Sheriff Conrado Cantu was sentenced to 24 years in prison for running a criminal enterprise out of his office.
The corruption extends as far as the drug supply lines themselves. In September, 175 people thought to have ties to the Gulf Cartel were arrested in several U.S. states, including 22 in north Texas. The raids netted $1 million in cash, 400 pounds of methamphetamine, and 300 kilograms of cocaine — and drew the anger of drug bosses.
The Gulf Cartel isn’t exactly subtle in its recruitment of the military and others to its ranks. The Gulf Cartel has been plastering signs all over Reynosa and at times in Nuevo Laredo and elsewhere, asking soldiers and police officers to desert their posts and join the Zetas. One sign posted recently in Tampico asked soldiers and ex-soldiers to “Join the ranks of the Gulf Cartel. We offer benefits, life insurance, a house for your family and children. Stop living in the slums and riding the bus. A new car or truck, your choice.”
In Juarez, the war between cartels is still going full bore.
“What we have are factions of the old Juarez Cartel that were followers of Amado Carrillo Fuentes fighting it out with followers of Joaquin Guzman Loera, known as El Chapo, head of the Sinaloa Cartel. And it is hell there,” said Diana Washington Valdez, a reporter with the El Paso Times. Juarez has been the site of some of the most horrific killings along the border.
“Our paper won’t even let us go across into Juarez for stories anymore because they have no way to protect us. The U.S. Army at Fort Bliss here has warned their troops to stay out of Juarez,” Valdez said. According to news reports, one of the 1,200 or so people killed this year in Juarez in the internecine drug war was an American living in Juarez who was assassinated in October after he posted a sign asking the cartels not to leave any dead bodies in front of his house.
“You’ve got to understand that these guys are hitting night clubs, burning tourist clubs, kidnapping people, targeting payroll trucks,” Valdez said. “People who are not involved at all with the cartels are getting caught in the crossfire. That’s what makes it all so dangerous. … If you’re in a club they’re going to burn down … well, that’s just that.”
Whoever can flee is doing so, she said. “Here in El Paso we’ve got a lot of people coming over to stay with relatives, but we’ve also got a lot of people just wandering around the bus station with nowhere to go, just to avoid being in Juarez.”
Along the California-Mexico stretch of the border, similar death tolls are being rung up in Tijuana, where the Arellano-Felix Cartel — headed by Fernando Sanchez Arellano, known as “The Engineer” — is being challenged by several other cartels. In all, more than 3,500 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico in 2008. Included in that number are several Mexican journalists who were killed in reprisal for writing about the drug wars or cartel activities. The most recent was Armando Rodriguez, a crime reporter for Juarez’ El Diario, who was shot numerous times while sitting in his car in front of his home three weeks ago. These days, many newspapers, radio shows, and television stations in Mexico won’t cover drug issues at all, for fear of deadly reprisals.
The violence associated with the cartel wars is spreading north of the Rio Grande in different ways than in the past. In April 2007, Gabriel Cardona, then 18, pleaded guilty to five murders carried out in or near Laredo at the behest of then-Gulf Cartel leader Miguel Trevino Morales. Cardona was part of a group of teens who acted as cartel hitmen on the U.S. side of the border. Among Cardona’s hits was the kidnapping and murder of a former Laredo police officer. Rosario Reta, a Cardona associate, was recently convicted of a separate murder committed in Laredo in 2006.
U.S. drug officials have suggested that Cardona and Reta were part of a group known as the Zetitas, or Little Zetas, recruited from street gangs in Laredo and trained by the paramilitary group that calls itself the Zetas. Cardona and Reta both allegedly began working for the Gulf Cartel by delivering weapons from Laredo to Nuevo Laredo, and were subsequently singled out for hitman training.
Javier Sambrano, the El Paso police department’s public information officer, said there is no such spillover happening in his city. “There has been no spillover [of the violence from Juarez] at all,” he said. “Those individuals on the Mexican side of the border committing those atrocities have no incentive to come here and commit those sorts of crimes.” It’s true that some murders in El Paso are linked to drugs, he said, “but we have solved them, which is further discouragement to people imagining they could come here and commit them” without getting caught.
That might be good public relations for El Paso, but it’s also nonsense, said one border-area journalist who asked not to be named — and who pointed out that members of an El Paso gang called the Aztecas have recently been found operating in Juarez as hitmen for the Juarez cartel. The gang started in an El Paso prison, with the idea of protecting prisoners of Mexican descent, but has been suspected of cartel ties for years, particularly in connection with drug distribution and weapons smuggling. “We’ve long suspected the tie between the cartel and the Aztecas from El Paso,” the reporter said, “but now that some of them are on trial, we’ve got it in testimony being given in federal court.”
In November, El Paso children on their way to school found the body of a man tied to window bars, his feet dangling just above the ground. He was wearing a pig’s mask. A sign above his head said: “This is going to happen to all Aztecas.”
Another sign of the spillover, the reporter said, are the number of people who’ve been shot in Mexico but brought to the U.S. for treatment: “The Thomason Hospital here in El Paso has received more than 30 people this year who have been shot in Juarez. They get shot there and brought here, because if those people were targets, the gangs will go into the hospitals [in Mexico] and make sure they’re dead.”
The rumor is that federal agents are allowing Mexican cartel victims to be brought to El Paso for treatment “because they want a chance to interview them,” the reporter said. “On the other hand, a lot of people here in El Paso are worried that they might be followed into Thomason Hospital and killed.”
Two days after the reporter spoke to Fort Worth Weekly, the El Paso Times carried a story about a wounded man whose attackers followed him into a Juarez hospital and finished the job.
If the paramilitaries in the Mexican drug trade are recruiting killers from American streets, one could say they are only returning a favor.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, the United States began to train Special Forces for the Mexican government, called the Zetas, to enable them to better confront the emerging Mexican drug cartels. Earlier, in the mid-70s, the U.S. also undertook to train another Special-Forces group, in Guatemala, which then was in the midst of a civil war. That group specialized in guerilla warfare and counter-insurgency tactics.
In both cases, the American military training backfired. Many of the specially trained units defected from the Mexican and Guatemalan armies and went to work for the cartels. Then they became the cartels.
“A lot of Zetas broke away from the Mexican military in the 1990s,” said Castillo, the former DEA agent. The Zetas, he said, “began working as enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, which controlled Mexico’s Caribbean coast and several inland border cities.” The Zetas were ruthless and fearless. “They were some of the best-trained Special Forces anywhere,” Castillo said. “Well now it’s gotten to the point where they pretty much control the cartels.”
When stories first broke about the Zetas working for the cartels, the Mexican government denied it. But in recent reports, Castillo said, Mexican officials have finally admitted that there is a “paramilitary arm in the Mexican military,” meaning that some members of the military are also active paramilitaries with the cartels.
And, he said, “don’t forget the Kaibiles” — although there are probably a lot of people in the U.S. government and military who would like to. The Kaibiles, named after a Guatemalan indigenous leader who fought the Conquistadors, were the Special-Forces unit the U.S. trained in Guatemala, many of whose members also went over to the drug lords, for much higher wages.
“The Kaibiles started working for the cartels, but they are now working for the Zetas, and they’re the ones responsible for the beheadings,” Castillo said. “That’s their trademark.” In one case last year, several human heads were tossed onto a dance floor in Michoacan. In October of this year, four heads in an ice chest were sent to the Juarez police headquarters.
The Zetas, Castillo said, have now realigned with corrupt elements in the Mexican army, a marriage that is spreading the infection in the military, particularly among the 32,000 troops Calderon sent into nine Mexican states specifically to stamp out the cartels. “And so the military is sort of running the whole show down there,” said Castillo. “You’ve got thousands of military put all over the country, a lot of them corrupt, a lot of them also working as paramilitaries. They’re operating under the guise of stamping out drugs when they’re actually moving [the drugs] and stamping out rivals for the drug trade.”
Calderon’s strategy of fanning out the army to try to regain some semblance of control from the cartels in those states has worked about as well as the U.S. Special-Forces training. Rather than restoring government control, in many areas the military has wreaked havoc with the citizenry, prompting calls for Calderon to remove them.
Bill Weinberg, an award-winning journalist who specializes in Latin American and drug-war issues, said the situation is incomprehensible for many Americans. “You’ve got to understand that the military and the cartels overlap, so the military isn’t necessarily worse than the cartels; they are the cartels,” he said. “Then you have the police, who in some places, like Reynosa — across the border from McAllen — have been completely co-opted.”
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission issued a report in July about four particularly grave cases of recent military abuse in different Mexican states, Weinberg said. “All of those cases involved torture of civilians, some of it very brutal, [including] electric shock and rape. … In Michoacan, soldiers at a roadblock shot up a car and killed some kids.”
The human rights commission called on the Mexican defense secretary to punish those who violate human rights. “Up until now, those recommendations have been ignored,” Weinberg said, “and so the abuses keep occurring.”
Human rights groups fear that another set of new players in the drug war won’t help that situation, companies like Blackwater and DynCorp that carry their own bloody baggage.
Blackwater USA, the American private security firm already accused of atrocities in Iraq, is negotiating with Calderon’s government to train specialized soldiers in the Mexican army and to also act as a private security force.
“But you know they’re going to be all over everything, doing a little busting of people, doing a little dirty work for people … . It’s what they do,” Castillo said.
Made up primarily of former members of the U.S. Special Forces, Blackwater, like DynCorp and several other private companies, has been used extensively by the U.S. Department of Defense in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to provide security and other services. Blackwater came under intense media scrutiny in September 2007 when several of its contractors opened fire on unarmed civilians in Iraq, killing 17 people. Nonetheless, with former CIA higher-ups in its ranks, the company continues to get lucrative federal contracts.
Blackwater will soon have a large presence on the U.S.-Mexican border: An 824-acre training complex in California, just 45 miles from Mexico, should be open soon. The company already has a contract with the U.S. government to train Border Patrol agents, and there is speculation that once their presence is established there, they will vie for contracts to work border security alongside U.S. government agents.
The Mexico Plan, or Merida Initiative, recently signed by President Bush, may ratchet up the use of mercenaries. It promises an immediate $400 million to Calderon to help fight drugs in Mexico, with an additional $1.1 billion in the next two years.
The plan includes an unspecified amount of money for contracts to U.S. private security companies. A year ago, the Army Times reported that the Defense Department had just given Blackwater a sizable chunk of a grant that, over time, could total $15 billion, “to deploy surveillance techniques, train foreign security forces, and provide logistical and operational support” for drug-war initiatives.
That could mean the U.S. government is already funding a mercenary force of former U.S. Special Forces soldiers operating on both sides of the border but not accountable to anyone in Mexico. Blackwater already employs 1,200 Chileans, former members of ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet’s military, some of whom are thought to be working in Mexico.
“You have to be very wary of mercenary soldiers in a democracy, which is more fragile than people think,” U.S. Rep. Bob Filner told Salon.com last year. “You don’t want armies around who will sell out to the highest bidder.”
At least one other U.S.-based security firm is already operating in Mexico. In July, the day after Bush signed the Mexico Plan, two different videos of a torture training session for police in the city of Leon, Guanajuato, were released by the local paper El Heraldo de Leon. The tapes showed graphic images of torture techniques (as practiced on police volunteers), including images of one volunteer having his head forced into a pit of rats and feces, and another being dragged through his own vomit after he was beaten.
Kristin Bricker, an investigative reporter with NarcoNews.com, subsequently uncovered evidence that the trainers in the video were from Risks, Incorporated, a Miami-based private security outfit that specializes in, among other things, teaching psychological torture techniques.
“There is no question that the U.S. is involved in every aspect of the drug war in Mexico,” Castillo said. And if you don’t believe the author and former DEA undercover agent, how about the departing U.S. ambassador to Mexico? Tony Garza is now saying that they United States must accept responsibility for the gun trade and for providing the market for Mexican drugs. The Dallas Morning News reported last week that Garza said in a recent speech that Mexico “would not be the center of cartel activity or be experiencing this level of violence, were the United States not the largest consumer of illegal drugs and the main supplier of weapons to the cartels.”
But Castillo has an even darker vision of what sustains the drug war. In essence, he said, the economy of Mexico is addicted to drug money, and no one, not even Calderon, would completely shut off that spigot, even if it were possible. Castillo’s judgment of the United States is similar: The war on drugs provides a huge boost to the economy, via private prisons, the gun industry, and the federal forces arrayed against it.
Calderon “absolutely would not” stop the drug trade if he could, Castillo said. “Mexico’s economy depends too heavily on drug money.”
On a beautiful fall afternoon in Nuevo Laredo, sun sparkles off the pastel-colored walls. The streets are quiet. At an open-air taqueria not far from a border crossing, the staff is smoking meats and vegetables on flat grills, getting ready for a busy night.
The proprietor, Maria (she asked that her last name not be used), said she was lucky: The taqueria came through the violence of a year or two ago unscathed. But she worried when members of one cartel or the other would occasionally come in to eat, for fear that her staff and other customers could get caught in the crossfire.
“It was not good. Gunfights. Dead people. Crying mothers. It was having a war in your own house,” she said. “Wars are cleaner when they happen somewhere else.”
A customer at a nearby grocery store was equally glad the shooting war had quieted down on his stretch of the border for the moment.
“It’s much better that they stopped the gun battles,” he said. “Now everybody can get back to making money with the drugs instead of dying over them.”
75 Years Ago Prohibition Was Repealed
Lew Rockwell interviews Dr. Mark Thornton [podcast 12:49]
He discusses the misallocation of resources (law enforcement, judicial, correctional) to enforce prohibition as well as the opportunity cost of possible tax, licensing, and excise revenues.
Mark Thornton wrote The Economics of Prohibition. *50% off today!!*
Last edited by Jasonik; December 5th, 2008 at 01:17 PM.
Let's End Drug Prohibition
Most Americans agreed that alcohol suppression was worse than alcohol consumption.
Celebrating the end of alcohol prohibition, Dec. 5, 1933.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
OPINION | DECEMBER 5, 2008
By ETHAN A. NADELMANN
Today is the 75th anniversary of that blessed day in 1933 when Utah became the 36th and deciding state to ratify the 21st amendment, thereby repealing the 18th amendment. This ended the nation's disastrous experiment with alcohol prohibition.
It's already shaping up as a day of celebration, with parties planned, bars prepping for recession-defying rounds of drinks, and newspapers set to publish cocktail recipes concocted especially for the day.
But let's hope it also serves as a day of reflection. We should consider why our forebears rejoiced at the relegalization of a powerful drug long associated with bountiful pleasure and pain, and consider too the lessons for our time.
The Americans who voted in 1933 to repeal prohibition differed greatly in their reasons for overturning the system. But almost all agreed that the evils of failed suppression far outweighed the evils of alcohol consumption.
The change from just 15 years earlier, when most Americans saw alcohol as the root of the problem and voted to ban it, was dramatic. Prohibition's failure to create an Alcohol Free Society sank in quickly. Booze flowed as readily as before, but now it was illicit, filling criminal coffers at taxpayer expense.
Some opponents of prohibition pointed to Al Capone and increasing crime, violence and corruption. Others were troubled by the labeling of tens of millions of Americans as criminals, overflowing prisons, and the consequent broadening of disrespect for the law. Americans were disquieted by dangerous expansions of federal police powers, encroachments on individual liberties, increasing government expenditure devoted to enforcing the prohibition laws, and the billions in forgone tax revenues. And still others were disturbed by the specter of so many citizens blinded, paralyzed and killed by poisonous moonshine and industrial alcohol.
Supporters of prohibition blamed the consumers, and some went so far as to argue that those who violated the laws deserved whatever ills befell them. But by 1933, most Americans blamed prohibition itself.
When repeal came, it was not just with the support of those with a taste for alcohol, but also those who disliked and even hated it but could no longer ignore the dreadful consequences of a failed prohibition. They saw what most Americans still fail to see today: That a failed drug prohibition can cause greater harm than the drug it was intended to banish.
Consider the consequences of drug prohibition today: 500,000 people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails for nonviolent drug-law violations; 1.8 million drug arrests last year; tens of billions of taxpayer dollars expended annually to fund a drug war that 76% of Americans say has failed; millions now marked for life as former drug felons; many thousands dying each year from drug overdoses that have more to do with prohibitionist policies than the drugs themselves, and tens of thousands more needlessly infected with AIDS and Hepatitis C because those same policies undermine and block responsible public-health policies.
And look abroad. At Afghanistan, where a third or more of the national economy is both beneficiary and victim of the failed global drug prohibition regime. At Mexico, which makes Chicago under Al Capone look like a day in the park. And elsewhere in Latin America, where prohibition-related crime, violence and corruption undermine civil authority and public safety, and mindless drug eradication campaigns wreak environmental havoc.
All this, and much more, are the consequences not of drugs per se but of prohibitionist policies that have failed for too long and that can never succeed in an open society, given the lessons of history. Perhaps a totalitarian American could do better, but at what cost to our most fundamental values?
Why did our forebears wise up so quickly while Americans today still struggle with sorting out the consequences of drug misuse from those of drug prohibition?
It's not because alcohol is any less dangerous than the drugs that are banned today. Marijuana, by comparison, is relatively harmless: little association with violent behavior, no chance of dying from an overdose, and not nearly as dangerous as alcohol if one misuses it or becomes addicted. Most of heroin's dangers are more a consequence of its prohibition than the drug's distinctive properties. That's why 70% of Swiss voters approved a referendum this past weekend endorsing the government's provision of pharmaceutical heroin to addicts who could not quit their addictions by other means. It is also why a growing number of other countries, including Canada, are doing likewise.
Yes, the speedy drugs -- cocaine, methamphetamine and other illicit stimulants -- present more of a problem. But not to the extent that their prohibition is justifiable while alcohol's is not. The real difference is that alcohol is the devil we know, while these others are the devils we don't. Most Americans in 1933 could recall a time before prohibition, which tempered their fears. But few Americans now can recall the decades when the illicit drugs of today were sold and consumed legally. If they could, a post-prohibition future might prove less alarming.
But there's nothing like a depression, or maybe even a full-blown recession, to make taxpayers question the price of their prejudices. That's what ultimately hastened prohibition's repeal, and it's why we're sure to see a more vigorous debate than ever before about ending marijuana prohibition, rolling back other drug war excesses, and even contemplating far-reaching alternatives to drug prohibition.
Perhaps the greatest reassurance for those who quake at the prospect of repealing contemporary drug prohibitions can be found in the era of prohibition outside of America. Other nations, including Britain, Australia and the Netherlands, were equally concerned with the problems of drink and eager for solutions. However, most opted against prohibition and for strict controls that kept alcohol legal but restricted its availability, taxed it heavily, and otherwise discouraged its use. The results included ample revenues for government coffers, criminals frustrated by the lack of easy profits, and declines in the consumption and misuse of alcohol that compared favorably with trends in the United States.
Is President-elect Barack Obama going to commemorate Repeal Day today? I'm not holding my breath. Nor do I expect him to do much to reform the nation's drug laws apart from making good on a few of the commitments he made during the campaign: repealing the harshest drug sentences, removing federal bans on funding needle-exchange programs to reduce AIDS, giving medical marijuana a fair chance to prove itself, and supporting treatment alternatives for low-level drug offenders.
But there's one more thing he can do: Promote vigorous and informed debate in this domain as in all others. The worst prohibition, after all, is a prohibition on thinking.
Mr. Nadelmann is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Please add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.
I am all for the rollback on MJ, but Heroin is a difficult one in that it is very addictive and destructive in its effects. Ignoring things like AIDS or infections, the simple degeneration of the body because of prolonged use is a serious issue.
Now, prescribing it? Maybe. That is still a tough one though.
As for teh speedies like coke and meth. They are also a bit too destructive for open market, and maybe easier to focus on if we roll back our restrictions on the less destructive substances (how truly dangerous is absinthe?).
Maybe the key here is for society to start taking up the mantle of responsibility towards users, but the only problem with that is, do you seriously see a labor company having any difficulty with a crew that can work 18 hours a day without getting tired? Would that be fair to those that would not use those stimulants? How could you compete as a lawyer or broker if you NEED 8 hours of sleep a night and they don't?
Maybe you will last longer, but it takes many years to see a true burnout, and sometimes that still does not get those that do not use into the places they want.
Lastly, what about the otehr drugs. The halucinogens? Is it wise to legalize some of the stronger substances that can seriously mess with a persons perspective? Are there ones that are less warping and more "perception enhansing" as many call them?
I thin the guy is right in saying we are a bit draconian in our restrictions, but it is difficult to draw a line. Maybe the line should be drawn at any naturally occuring substance? Anything that requires actual synthing or purification should have restrictions? (Coca leaves vs cocaine).
What do you think? How far do you think the law can be rolled back that would achieve a balance point that would not be destructive?
First define "destructive".
Then balance that against the current destruction of lives, liberty, wealth, opportunities, and lost revenue -- offset of course for such societal and cultural riches as the exploding prison industry, FBI and DEA surveillance infrastructure, and federal tax dollars funneled into local policing decreasing their autonomy and local accountability, (and don't forget the Fox TV show [COPS]).
Then explain how your speculative suppositions about future drug use, loss in productivity, and rehabilitation costs would be more "destructive" than what is currently borne by this country and the many others who are largely the battlefield for this 'war'.
The real point is for people to realize that PROHIBITION AS A CONCEPT AND AS A PRACTICE IS UNTENABLE AND NECESSARILY RELIES ON FREEDOM CRUSHING MILITANT AUTHORITARIANISM which is incompatible with the principles of our society.
Happy Repeal Day!
Reducing the cost may lengthen this from happening (getting a "cleaner" batch) but how would this enable anyone to maintain a productive lifestyle? How inexpensive would it have to be to give an addict with no job the ability to pay for it?
Are we saying that we not only have to legalize it, but GIVE addicts what is "ailing" them?
Subtract what is spent on things like MJ or some other less destructive chemicals.Then balance that against the current destruction of lives, liberty, wealth, opportunities, and lost revenue -- offset of course for such societal and cultural riches as the exploding prison industry, FBI and DEA surveillance infrastructure, and federal tax dollars funneled into local policing decreasing their autonomy and local accountability, (and don't forget the Fox TV show [COPS]).
The problem with this "war" is that it is taking on too much to be of any good whatsoever. Including things that can be grown naturally, copiously and in short term does not make it any easier.
You are saying that forbidding PCP has cost the community too much, but I say there has to be a line. They just made the line too big to be enforced.
Explain how it wouldn't. You are throwing out more rhetoricals on a subject that is hard to bring any real numbers to because it has never been documented properly and you know it.Then explain how your speculative suppositions about future drug use, loss in productivity, and rehabilitation costs would be more "destructive" than what is currently borne by this country and the many others who are largely the battlefield for this 'war'.
Tell me, how many people would become addicted to Coke or Heroin if it was readily available. And by readily, I do not mean by your definition of finding a dealer on teh street and purchasing something you KNOW to be illegal.
If it was not illegal, and there was NO RISK, how many more do you think would try it "just once"?
That is where all of our numbers fall apart. Somehow thinking that society will be responsible about anything and that legalization of a substance that has been proven to have a substantially negative effect on social contact and productivity can somehow be better because of how much death and destruction its prohibition has brought, with no real link to how many people have been hurt in direct correlation to that substance in particular, is not, and has never been a valid argument.
I know what you are saying. I am not putting devils horns on an inanimate substance, nor denyingthe cost of its prohibition, but absolute release from this regulation is not a productive solution.
Even if it saves lives? If they did a study and found out that the prohibition of Heroin saved more lives than it cost, and saved more money in preserved productivity than what it cost in its enforcement, would you still call the process draconic?The real point is for people to realize that PROHIBITION AS A CONCEPT AND AS A PRACTICE IS UNTENABLE AND NECESSARILY RELIES ON FREEDOM CRUSHING MILITANT AUTHORITARIANISM which is incompatible with the principles of our society.
I think you simply resent its prohibition, or anyone telling you what you can or cannot do. I can sympathize strongly with you on that (as a pedestrian barrier jumper myself, I am fine with someone asking me to please do something, but telling me to do something and trying me to prent me from doing so irritates me. Ironic, is it not? )
But some things, like gun control, do help society. Should we make guns legal? How about allowing minors to purchase firearms? Automatic weapons?
I mean, they are needed for protection, right? The sale of illegal weapons has funded many an organization and has cost so many lives, why do we prevent them from being sold freely?
Granted, guns are a bit more directly lethal than drugs, but I hope the point is expressed.
Question is, what REALISTIC method of distribution/allowance would you support? Even Alcohol has rules (involving age of consumption, licensing for distribution and production, and even "drunk and disorderly" statutes).
So, in memory of:
How would you regulate these chemicals, especially those with the worst track records?Happy Repeal Day!
From The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008
2 Colombian Coca Production Increases
Coca [prohibition] is a serious destabilizer—keeping Colombia’s rebels armed and the country’s progress in check. But after almost a decade, U.S.-assisted efforts to reduce the crop’s production in Colombia haven’t just failed; they’ve been downright counterproductive. Plan Colombia was meant to improve security, stamp out drug cultivation, and improve law and order after a decades-long conflict with leftist militants. But coca cultivation rose 15 percent between 2000 and 2006, an October 2008 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found. A separate U.N. study found that in 2007 alone, the area of land hosting coca crops rose 27 percent. To put it mildly, something is not working.
Coca, the base crop for cocaine, has funded the operations of various paramilitaries and the rebel group FARC for decades. Although Colombian military operations have severely hampered FARC’s activities during the last several years, the drug trade continues apace. Aerial spraying and manual eradication have had temporary effects, but coca farmers tend to grow the lucrative crop again because there’s rarely an equally profitable alternative. The GAO reckons that many farmers have moved to more remote areas to avoid the eradication efforts. Meanwhile, the market value of coca rose by roughly $450 per kilogram in 2007 to more than $2,000.
The United States has spent $6 billion on Plan Colombia, but Colombia still supplies 90 percent of U.S. cocaine. Time for a rethink on the drug war?
Innocents Die in the Drug War
Roni Bowers and her infant daughter Charity (seated
second from right).
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY | DECEMBER 15, 2008
Of all the casualties claimed by the U.S. "war on drugs" in Latin America, perhaps none so fully captures its senselessness and injustice as the 2001 CIA-directed killing of Christian missionary Veronica Bowers and her daughter Charity in Peru.
No one is suggesting that the CIA intentionally killed Mrs. Bowers and her baby. It was an accident. But according to Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R., Mich.), it was an accident waiting to happen because of the way in which the CIA operated the drug interdiction plan in Peru known as the Airbridge Denial Program. Mr. Hoekstra says the goods to prove his charge are in a classified report from the CIA Inspector General that he received in October.
Under the program, initiated by President Clinton, the CIA was charged with identifying small civilian aircraft suspected of carrying cocaine over Peru on a path to Colombia, and directing the Peruvian military to force them down.
Strict procedures were put in place to minimize the risks to innocents. But after viewing the IG report, Mr. Hoekstra -- the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee -- says that it is clear that those procedures had gone out the window long before the April 20, 2001 tragedy.
On that day the Bowers family was flying in a single-engine plane over the Amazon toward their home in Iquitos. Mrs. Bowers was holding the infant on her lap when a bullet fired by the Peruvian Air Force, under direction of the CIA, hit the aircraft, traveled through her back and into Charity's skull. The plane crash-landed on the Amazon River. Mr. Bowers, his young son and the pilot survived. Neither the plane nor its passengers were found to be involved in any way in the drug business and initial reports said that the mistaken attack was a tragic one-time error.
The IG report looked at the Airbridge Denial Program from its inception in 1995 until its termination in 2001 and took seven years to complete. In statements to the press last month Mr. Hoekstra said it demonstrates every one of the 15 "shootdowns" that the CIA participated in over the life of the program had "violations of required procedures." He also said that the report "found that CIA officers knew of and condoned the violations, fostering an environment of negligence and disregard for the procedures."
Equally troubling, the congressman says, is the IG finding that after the tragedy there was an attempt to cover up what had been going on in Peru. He has also said that the IG report finds that there were "unauthorized modifications" made to "the presidentially mandated intercept procedures by people who had no authority to do so" and that "there was effectively no legal oversight of the program." He further charges that "there is evidence that CIA officials made false or misleading statements to Congress," and that "the CIA denied Congress, the NSC [National Security Council] and the Department of Justice access to key findings of internal reviews that established and documented the sustained and significant violations of the required procedures."
"It was a rogue operation," he told me by telephone on Tuesday. "They knew they weren't following the rules, and they never did anything about it. They were callous about it." When I asked him to explain further, he said: "My take on this is that they became obsessed with the mission."
The CIA says that director Michael Hayden has "recognized the seriousness of [the report's] findings" and "is absolutely committed to a process looking at systemic issues and accountability that is as thorough and fair as possible." The office of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D., Texas) won't comment on the report. But Mr. Hoekstra is calling for more of it to be declassified and for the Justice Department to review "whether further criminal investigation is warranted."
Yet to honor the memory of Mrs. Bowers and her daughter and spare innocent lives in the future, a broader discussion in Congress about U.S. drug policy in the region is needed.
Consider the fact that Mr. Clinton's justification for the Airbridge Denial Program was that drug trafficking was a threat to Peruvian national security. Of course it was: Prohibition naturally produces powerful criminal networks that undermine the rule of law. But as a 2001 Senate Intelligence Committee report found, the drug runners learned to avoid detection by altering their routes via Brazil. It also found that while Peru's coca business shrank, Colombia's took off.
Since then, U.S. interdiction has put the pressure on Colombia and the problem is now resurging in Peru. The latest reports are that Mexican cartels are teaming up with remnants of the Shining Path terror network to rebuild the business, proving once again the futility of the supply-side attack as a way of minimizing drug use in the U.S.
Write to O'Grady@wsj.com
[Video] Mary Anastasia O'Grady talks to Kelsey Hubbard about the collateral damage caused by the CIA's fight against drug trafficking.
Legalizing marijuana is one of the changes Obama should be promoting.
Time to End the Second Prohibition
Posted by Charles Glass on January 04, 2009
Salvation was in the air. Repeal, also, was in the air. Two weeks before, the lame-duck Congress had turned a somersault and voted the amendment to the Constitution ending Prohibition. The wets were making merry with applejack, bathtub gin and prohibition hooch. “Beer by Easter,” they cried. Forty-one legislatures were in session for the chance to approve the wet amendment and to slap taxes on beer and liquor to save their empty treasuries… The country, the states, the towns needed money – something to tax. And liquor was the richest target. “Revenue,” said one commentator, “unlocked the gates for Gambrinus [beer’s patron saint] and his foaming steed.”
~John T. Flynn, writing about the eve of Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration in March 1933 in The Roosevelt Myth.
America’s First Prohibition, on alcohol, ended in 1933, not because it failed—although it most certainly had. Not because the murder rate in America’s cities doubled during 13 years of the “noble experiment.” Not because the enforcement of a law that attempted to prevent people from doing what they went on doing anyway had corrupted the police, courts, legislatures and businesses of the nation. Not because Prohibition handed a share of the economy to a criminal underworld that grew richer than U.S. Steel without paying a penny in tax. Nor because the federal prison population swelled by more than five hundred per cent to accommodate all those who were caught (a small percentage of the offending total) producing, importing, selling and drinking the devil’s liquid.
No, it ended because the Great Crash of 1929, the banking crisis that followed, the loss of tax revenues from business that had gone bust and millions of workers without jobs made it too expensive. The Great Depression killed Prohibition, because the United States just couldn’t afford it.
When Barack Hussein Obama assumes office on January 20th, he should remember the precedent his party set in 1933 and end the Second Prohibition, on drugs. This will create an immediate tax windfall to give the Treasury back more than it lost on Iraq, the bank bailouts and the annual subsidy to Israel. It would also relieve the American taxpayer of the burden of enforcing laws that Pew Center on the States’ Public Performance Project estimated [pdf] cost federal and state governments $20 billion a year. Not a bad savings, when times are tough, especially when the so-called “war on drugs” is failing as surely as the crusade against alcohol did 80 years ago.
The architects of both Prohibitions made sweeping claims for the good they would bring to the American public—an end to the addiction and penury associated with alcohol and narcotics. Both promised to reduce crime on the premise that, once the country had rid itself of chemical self-harm, no more drunks or junkies would commit crimes while in a state of inebriation. That isn’t quite how it worked, however. Crime went up, as criminal killed one another and innocent civilians to control the illegal market. Corruption increased as criminals used their vast wealth to buy judges, prosecutors, cops, city councilmen and the occasional senator. Most American politicians now admit having smoked marijuana in their youth, but that has not stopped them from passing more laws to put the next generation of children into prison. This was no different during the first Prohibition. H. L. Mencken wrote that every city hosting a Republican or Democratic national convention during the 1920s saw its alcohol consumption rise by several hundred per cent for that week. The lawmakers didn’t respect the law, and the usually law-abiding public followed their example.
The great Chicago columnist Mike Royko wrote in 1973 about Swastek’s Tavern, which stayed open throughout Prohibition. Stanley Swastek told Royko how his father, John, stayed in business with the help of Captain Daniel (Tubbo) Gilbert, “a political badge who became known as the world’s richest cop”: “In those days, he was in charge of the district station. He’d come in here and if we took in $10, he figured his share was $20. No wonder he was the world’s richest cop. He could have retired on what he took from us.” Tubbo was not the only one shaking down the saloon keepers, and there are many cops today who take money to look the other way when the goods arrive from Bolivia, Columbia, Mexico, and the hash fields of northern California. Why should that money go to crooked cops rather than to the Treasury, which could spend some of it on drug rehabilitation, education and medical care? Why should narcotics be sold from the backseats of Cadillacs rather than under license from pharmacies?
Legalizing marijuana, heroin, cocaine and other modern equivalents of 1920s gin would not only bring in revenue, it would save billions. The United States has the largest prison population on earth with 2.3 million souls behind bars. Admittedly, things could be worse. If everyone who took a drug illegally were caught and put away, there would be thirty-five million of us doing hard time. Prisons already cost $50 billion a year, but 100% enforcement would raise that to something like $750 billion. And the taxpayer, even in good times, cannot afford that. Instead enforcement has been as selective as the choice of lynchee at a Ku Klux Klan jamboree: white Americans may represent 72% of the drug-taking public, but black Americans comprise 37% of those arrested—and a staggering 42% of federal penitentiary population there for drug crimes.
Repealing the Second Prohibition would save a lot of time and money for the prison service. It might even leave them time for the usually unpracticed remit to rehabilitate. (The US has the highest rate of prison re-admissions in the world.) But other government agencies would benefit as well: U.S. Customs, the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Agency (which could be dissolved), the U.S. Army in South America, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (which might do something about kidnapping, extortion and bribery instead), every local police force in the 50 states and the Treasury’s own police would no longer waste time and resources hunting for bags of weed and powder.
How much longer will the American taxpayer, who is already paying for Goldman Sachs, the chicanery of Bernie Madoff and the ineptitude of Detroit, afford to subsidize a crusade against his fellow citizens who don’t care whether taking drugs is approved by Washington’s elite or not? Joe Taxpayer would be a lot richer if his government gave the Fabulous Freak Brothers the same break it gives Joe Sixpack.
This time, stupid, it is the economy.
Sanjay Gupta would be no fan of marijuana policy reform as Surgeon General
January 7, 12:45 PM
by J.D. Tuccille, Civil Liberties Examiner
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is no fan of drug-policy reform. CNN's Sanjay Gupta hasn't yet been officially named as Barack Obama's pick for Surgeon General, but the TV talking head and Emory University neurosurgeon has been approached about the job and reportedly is more than a little interested in becoming the nation's chief scold. In that role, he would almost certainly continue the government's tradition of nagging the public about its choice of intoxicants.
You can expect a Surgeon General Gupta to take a relatively hard line on marijuana, for one thing. In Time magazine in 2006, Gupta wrote "Why I would vote no on pot":
"Maybe it's because I was born a couple of months after Woodstock and wasn't around when marijuana was as common as iPods are today, but I'm constantly amazed that after all these years--and all the wars on drugs and all the public-service announcements--nearly 15 million Americans still use marijuana at least once a month. ...
The Nevada and Colorado marijuana initiatives have gained support from unlikely places. More than 33 religious leaders in Nevada have endorsed the measure, arguing that permissive legalization, accompanied by stringent regulations and penalties, can cut down on illegal drug trafficking and make communities safer.
Perhaps. But I'm here to tell you, as a doctor, that despite all the talk about the medical benefits of marijuana, smoking the stuff is not going to do your health any good. And if you get high before climbing behind the wheel of a car, you will be putting yourself and those around you in danger."
Gupta's take is certainly less strident than that of some advocates of Prohibition. He's willing to actually discuss the issue, rather than treat the war on drugs as some sort of religious crusade. Ultimately, though, he wants to keep in place laws that threaten people with legal penalties for ingesting substances of which he disapproves.
It's hard to predict whether Dr. Sanjay Gupta would make a good Surgeon General -- it depends on how convincing he is about wagging his finger, which is the job's main responsibility. But Gupta would certainly not represent any new direction for the Obama administration in terms of drug policy.