Saving Money, Lives, and Mexico by Raising the White Flag in the Drug War

ACORN International Organizing
March in Mexico of individuals who had family members who were murdered or disappeared in the drug war

New Orleans    Sitting in the jury pool in Orleans Parish Criminal Court and watching each case tainted by a touch with drugs and the huge waste of police and court resources and being force to think for hours at a time about exactly what I thought about the huge divisions and lack of security in the community over public safety and its agents, it was hard not to feel that locally the 30-year War on Drugs had been our worse defeat since Vietnam and much more deadly.  Visiting Mexico for the ACORN International leadership and staff meeting, the impact of the drug violence was everywhere and dominated the political discussion that culminated in what seems to be the return of the PRI to power after a dozen years in no small measure due to the loss of 50,000 lives to drug violence in the failing militarization of the drug war conducted by the now departing President Calderon of the conservative PAN party.  A recent shooting of police by either other police or narcotrafficos dressed as police happened in one of the International terminals where we had gathered to meet our organizers from Honduras and Canada.

Eduardo Porter, a financial columnist for the New York Times, made a devastating argument economic argument on this score including these key facts:

  • Retail price of one gram of cocaine now is $177.26 according to the DEA.  The price represents a 74% decrease over 30 years, meaning in class economic supply-demand terms that the supply has increased.
  • A gram of cocaine can be purchased on the streets for 16% less today than 10 years ago despite an expenditure of 20-25 billion a year by the United States alone to “fight” the drug war.
  • Early experimental drug use for high school seniors has risen from 30% 20 years ago to roughly 40% now. Seems they it’s “just say yes” to drugs now and later search for “addiction centers near me” in case things escalated.
  • Porter cites several polls to buttress his argument that the real purpose of the expenditure is political, and that is the only way the billions are providing a return, since less than one-third of the American people even care to think the drug problem is that important (where are the other 2/3rds living?!?) and only 31% think we are “winning” and they may actually be on drugs.
  • 1.64 million people were arrested in the USA in 2010 for drug violations.  80% of the arrests were simply for possession.  Almost 50% were for “often-tiny” amounts of marijuana.  20% of the inmates in state prisons are in for drugs and 50% in federal prisons are doing drug time.  In NYC each arrest alone costs close to $2000 to process and they arrest 85,000 people per year.

This is all crazy expensive and has made minority and lower income urban communities (and some meth crazed rural areas) mini-war zones as well.  Add the 55,000 Mexican dead over the last 6 years, tens of thousands claimed by drug violence in Central America, and the murder rate for minority youth which has claimed a generation of young men and the body count is devastating.

from the National Post

The drug war has produced a river of blood that no amount of money can continue to conceal, and the money.  The money is not spent in the USA on rehab, needle exchanges, and other acknowledgments of reality which also means higher health care costs, higher HIV rates, and more devastation in families and communities.

Porter cites a economist at Harvard named Jeffrey Miron who estimates that legalization could save $65 billion per year.  A RAND Corporation study suggests that legalization of only marijuana in only California would take away 20% of the $6.5 billion income Mexican cartels strip from the USA.   Presidents of Latin American countries, including many where ACORN International organizes, have asked the USA to consider “market solutions” to the drug crisis, which is a euphemism for legalization, particularly of marijuana.

Porter tries to find someone to make the case for a continued pursuit of the failed “war on drugs” strategy and can only muster one generalized position from one professor who is “worried” that legalization could lead to more usage and health care costs.  Hell, we’re all worried, but that doesn’t justify continuing to pursue a ruinous strategy that is killing our cities in the USA and the whole economies of many of our Latin American neighbors.

When you are worried, you do something to relieve your concern.  We could make that list pretty quickly.  There seems to be no excuse other than political cowardice for continuing to throw good money after bad and fill our jails and city streets with the blood and bodies that are the victims of this war.  We’re all losing now.  Why not choose a winning strategy or at least a different strategy?