Legalizing All Drugs: What If Mexico’s Ex-Prez Is Right?
TheTyee.ca – Opinion – Vicente Fox’s plea follows a hopelessly failed war on drugs.
22 Feb 2014. By Crawford Kilian,
Recently Vicente Fox, the ex-president of Mexico, called for the legalization of not only marijuana, but of all drugs.
“Legalization of not just marijuana, but all drugs, is the right thing to do,” he wrote in an opinion piece published in the Globe and Mail this week.
“The dramatic war on drugs in Mexico, in which tens of thousands of young Mexicans have been killed, is proof of prohibition’s failure. These people were not born criminals; they did not possess criminality in their genes. And yet because of a flawed public policy, because of lack of education and disinformation, because of lack of better economic incentives and opportunities, they became victims of an insane war against an enemy we can never defeat with the current prohibitions in place.”
He continued: “If we were to adopt a policy of sound regulation in conjunction with the decriminalization of drugs, then we would have the money (through fees and taxes) to operate education and regulatory initiatives — as opposed to all of the money from the drug trade being controlled by the drug cartels and the criminals who run them. And we wouldn’t have to carry the immense burden of the cost of the war on drugs itself.”
Though far from the first to make such a call, Fox’s view is informed by his unique perspective: during his term of office (2000-2006) he presided over the start of the drug wars. Under his successor Felipe Calderón, the number of deaths related to the wars soared: from 2,119 in 2006 to 15,273 in 2010, and a total of 47,515 killings as of early 2012.
Worse yet, Mexico, a nation of 100 million, has suffered disastrous corruption of its institutions and economy. Offered a choice by the cartels between “plata o plomo,” silver or lead, many politicians, judges, police and military have chosen bribes over bullets. According to Wikipedia, at least 120 Mexican journalists have been killed or have disappeared since 2006 — most recently, Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz on Feb. 5, 2014.
All this violence is due to a market that is simply trying to make its American and Canadian customers feel really, really good.
Those customers may also have a really, really good idea of the suffering involved in ensuring their euphoria, but it does not appear to have caused the slightest pang of guilt, much less reduced their demand for illegal drugs.
We’ve seen this all before, when the prohibited drug was alcohol. Back then, Canadian rumrunners were figures of romance, and violating the 18th Amendment to the U.S. constitution by getting drunk was an act of high-minded civil disobedience.
A desperate grassroots effort
In hindsight, we like to consider alcohol prohibition as a few organized party poopers trying to ruin everyone’s fun. At the time, it was a desperate grassroots attempt to stop the vicious abuse of countless wives and children and to save the men abusing them — whose work was so brutalizing that cheap alcohol was their preferred anesthetic.
We also forget that prohibition worked. Canadian jails had empty drunk tanks. In his history Booze: When Whiskey Ruled the West, Canadian journalist James H. Gray argued that more workers brought home more of their wages than they had in the bad old days.
But prohibition didn’t work well enough, and Canadian provinces gradually repealed it — often replacing it with awkward and tedious state regulation like the B.C. beer parlour, where the sexes drank in separate rooms and no one could stand while holding an ale.
The alcohol wars were fought while countless other drugs were perfectly legal. Sigmund Freud sang the praises of cocaine, derived from a plant that had sustained workers in South America for centuries. If opium was a nuisance, it was also a major source of income for the British Empire, which went to war to impose it on China. Morphine is a component of opium, and heroin is a tweaked form of morphine — originally promoted as a non-addictive form of morphine and a cough suppressant.
Eventually, these and other drugs underwent their own prohibition. Nevertheless, North Americans have continued to ingest them, and many have found their effects worth repeating at any price — financial or personal.
The failure of anti-drug propaganda
Anti-drug propaganda has been with us since the days of Reefer Madness in the 1930s. In the 1950s, I saw Frank Sinatra kicking heroin cold turkey in the movie The Man With the Golden Arm. At the time, right next door to where we lived on the Santa Monica beach front, a group called Synanon was in the business of cleaning up junkies and inviting the neighbours in to meet their latest guests going cold turkey, too. (But everyone smoked like chimneys, and within a few years Synanon turned into a cult.)
Despite decades more of such propaganda, illegal drugs have grown into one of the greatest industries on the planet. As I write this on a late February evening,Worldometers indicates that today’s world spending on illegal drugs is closing in on $1 billion. In the first seven weeks of 2014, such spending was well beyond $55 billion. (In the same period, over 350,000 people died of alcohol.)
A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. No wonder drug cartels will offer lead or silver to anyone who gets in their way, and generally get silver as their answer. Obviously these drugs fill a hole in some people’s souls, however briefly, and for that those people are prepared to spend fortunes.
In response, the world’s governments have enslaved themselves to the drug industry. They have created enormous police bureaucracies to fight the drug merchants. In 2013, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration employed 11,053 people and spent a budget of $2.771 billion — about three days’ worth of world spending on illegal drugs. Anestimated 31 million Americans have been arrested on drug charges, creating a large number of jobs in the courts and the penal system.
We can assume that the RCMP and other Canadian police agencies have proportionate staff and budgets. We can also assume that Canadian governments spend much of their public health budgets on dealing with the consequences. As a Vancouver paramedic says on the TV program Emergency Room: Life + Death at VGH, “On a daily basis we deal with drugs and alcohol in some aspect.”
If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em out
Nations around the world have tried everything to deter the drug trade, from gentle rehabilitation to beheading, without effect. Vicente Fox’s argument is that if you can’t beat them, buy them out. Take over the business, become the middleman between producers and consumers, sell drugs in reasonably safe form, and skim off a nice slab of tax revenues that would otherwise go to the cartels. (Of course, you might have to pay off a lot of cartel personnel, if only to prevent them from blowing up legal drug outlets.)
Several U.S. states are now experimenting with legal drug-dealing; Colorado expects to make over $100 million this year from its tax on marijuana. Uruguay, under its president José Mujica, is doing something very similar.
The attraction of taxing the daylights out of a captive market of addicts is not lost on most politicians; they do it with tobacco, and they run lotteries after generations of opposing gambling. It’s easy to imagine legal marijuana (and then other drugs) in one jurisdiction after another, with everyone free to get high or not. The revenue stream would simply go into government accounts, not those of the cartels.
But those revenues would still have to pay for cops and paramedics and social workers. Some dealers would sell cheaper, untaxed drugs, and would find a ready market. New synthetic drugs with nasty consequences might make it onto the market as well, creating new problems in public health. The jails wouldn’t empty, and people would still die from drug misuse or abuse.
So while I respect Vicente Fox’s courage in taking his position, the best that can be said for it is that all-out legalization is a form of harm reduction. It would reduce the carnage and personal and social damage, but it would not eliminate them.
That dream will not come true until we find out what makes the hole in the human soul that drugs pretend to fill up.
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For Mexico, legalization is freedom
Feb. 17 2014. Vicente Fox
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Jim Pattison, one of Canada’s most powerful and influential business people. While sitting in his office overlooking Burrard Inlet and the mountains of Vancouver, Mr. Pattison asked me a most timely and intriguing question. “President Fox, I have read recently that you are in favour of the legalization of marijuana. Is that true?”
With Justin Bieber making headlines worldwide, I believe it’s a timely issue. The question essentially revolves around the issue of freedom of choice versus prohibition. How much money will be needlessly spent prosecuting and defending a young pop star when that same amount could be used in much more productive ways for the betterment of our societies if regulated consumption of drugs was legalized?
Legalization of not just marijuana, but all drugs, is the right thing to do.
Each person should be free to decide what’s best for himself or herself. We are all created equal and free. If we are created in such freedom, then we must be given the very freedom to decide our own behaviour and to act responsibly, as long as we do not detrimentally affect the rights of others.
Prohibition does not work, and this was proven even at the most sacrosanct moment: in the Garden of Eden. God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating the apple, and yet they ate the apple and created sin. How would history have changed if in this narrative, Adam and Eve were given the freedom of choice based upon the foundation of education – this apple is poisonous, this apple has worms in it, this apple is not good for your health? I believe they would not have eaten the apple.
The dramatic war on drugs in Mexico, in which tens of thousands of young Mexicans have been killed, is proof of prohibition’s failure. These people were not born criminals; they did not possess criminality in their genes. And yet because of a flawed public policy, because of lack of education and disinformation, because of lack of better economic incentives and opportunities, they became victims of an insane war against an enemy we can never defeat with the current prohibitions in place.
Mexico is not a significant producer or consumer of drugs. However, because of its unique geography – between drug-producing countries to the south and a giant drug-consuming country to the north – we are caught in this permanent war. We must extricate ourselves from it.
The United States has demonstrated a total incapacity to enforce its own laws and prevent the importation and distribution of drugs within its own territory. One is only left to wonder how this has occurred – loads of drugs easily cross the border from Mexico into the United States before being trafficked and sold in every corner of the country. I simply ask, who launders the money and buys the weapons and ammunition in the United States? And who brings the proceeds back to Mexico to bribe police, public officials, even members of the army?
If we were to adopt a policy of sound regulation in conjunction with the decriminalization of drugs, then we would have the money (through fees and taxes) to operate education and regulatory initiatives – as opposed to all of the money from the drug trade being controlled by the drug cartels and the criminals who run them. And we wouldn’t have to carry the immense burden of the cost of the war on drugs itself.
In this new paradigm, taking responsibility for one’s own health would mean consuming drugs responsibly, the same way society establishes an expectation for responsible eating, smoking and drinking.
Public opinion in favour of legalization considerably outweighs approval of government prohibitionist policies. The trend is well established, and like many other prohibitions, this one must eventually give way to freedom of choice exercised in an educated, responsible manner.
Mexico will have to resolve the great policy trap it has been put in by the United States. But first, the United States must repeal its prohibitionist policies against drug consumption and adopt an educated, regulated marketplace.
A solid majority of people in the United States and Canada, partners with Mexico in a massive free-trade market, are in favour of legalizing marijuana not only for medical purposes, but also for responsible use. The time has come for the governments of our countries, and for governments worldwide, to act and to govern as was envisioned by the great president Abraham Lincoln: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”
When this monumental change takes place, it will provide for a better world, including our three countries.
Vicente Fox is former president of Mexico and founder of Centro Fox.
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