It’s Cinco de Mayo! It’s time to think about drugs?

Today is Cinco de Mayo.  Most people will think of celebrating.  I think of the Mexican drug war.

Our neighbor to the south is in a war.  The Calderon government is using the military to fight drug cartels.  And innocent people are dying.  Just after coming into office, President Felipe Calderon used a surge strategy to try to stop the cartels.  He sent 50,000 troops to fight them.  Unfortunately, it isn’t working.  And a leaked report is showing just how bad it is.

Over 22,000 people have been killed in the Mexican drug war since Calderon took office.  He claims that most of these people are traffickers or gunmen of the cartels and perhaps he is right, but innocent people are dying in ever greater numbers and there seems to be no end in sight to the war itself.

While this situation seems intractable, I wonder about the roots of the problem.  Clearly this war is about drugs.  But what does that mean exactly?  Perhaps this is too simplistic, but I think of it as a simple economics equation: supply and demand.  The cartels make an incredible amount of money by supplying drugs (mostly to the US) to a demand that is seemingly insatiable.  The strategy that the Calderon government (as well as our own government) is to attack the source of the supply.  But what if we focused instead on the demand.

In a way our government already does focus on demand by trying to teach kids to “just say no” and other worthless missives.  But what if we really turned things on their head?  What if we legalized all drugs instead of using the same failed policies?

The reason that drugs are so expensive is that they are illegal.  If you could get a drug legally, this would open up a lot of different possibilities and therefore the price would come down and cartels would have much less of an incentive to use it to fund their operations.  Only if they were legal would we be able to control who made them, how pure they were or when or to whom they were sold.  Currently, we have many more questions than answers.  By bringing things out into the open, we would be able to keep track of all those things that we can only guess at now.

Obviously, we can’t just legalize everything and hope for the best.  We would need regulations and reasonable limits on who can purchase them and when they can be used.  For instance, it should still be illegal to drive a car under the influence of a drug (similar to prohibitions on driving while under the influence of alcohol).  In addition, we should have a realistic education program that taught the real dangers of using alcohol and drugs.  We don’t need to try to scare the shit out of people with horror stories, we need to teach them that certain drugs will have particular effects on their bodies.

If we are really serious about not only helping the citizens of this country with drug abuse problems but also helping to end the Mexican drug war, then legalization should be something that needs to be considered.

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