We’re all kidding ourselves if we still think that the war on drugs is ever going to accomplish anything. It isn’t easy for me to say this, because everything I’ve ever done professionally was about a duty to uphold laws that were written to take drugs and the people involved with them out of mainstream society. None of it is working and maybe it’s time to face the simple truth that it’s isn’t going to work. I think we should surrender and make drugs legal.
Mexico released what the country considered good news this week – that the numbers of drug related murders had fallen for the first five months of 2012. From 2011’s total of 16,800 deaths to a projected 12,000 for 2012, Mexico touted this as a positive thing. Since President Calderon took office in 2006, 47,515 people have been murdered because of drug trafficking. They were cartel leaders, drug dealers and mules, politicians and police officers who refused to be bribed, or simply innocent bystanders. The United States is responsible for these deaths, too – something which became more apparent during the recent battle over “Operation Fast and Furious”.
Fast and Furious is just one of the missions, along with Operation Wide Receiver, designed and administered by the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which came under the umbrella “Project Gunrunner”, beginning in 2006. The goal of these projects was to locate and follow members of Mexican drug cartels by selling weapons to arms’ traffickers who would, in turn, sell them to the drug gangs – a concept known as “gunwalking”. The guns, some of which are military grade, would serve as tracking devices which would lead law enforcement to the bad guys. “Project Gunrunner” was and is an epic failure. Out of the nearly 4,000 firearms which were sold, several hundred are missing and a couple of hundred have been recovered at the sites of drug related killings, including that of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
It isn’t just the number of murders that provide the evidence that drugs and drug dealers are winning. The financial resources expended on this are equally staggering. The United States spends an estimated $215 billion per year for enforcement of the laws, care and housing of prisoners and administrative costs – enough money to provide health care for 30 million of its’ citizens.
That’s not the only money that is involved, nor is it the largest amount. Between 2004 and 2007, Wachovia Bank laundered approximately $378 billion in drug money. Bank officials said that they had no idea that the problem was that bad, even though several employees from within the institution did everything they could to bring it to anyone’s and everyone’s attention. Those employees were either let go, threatened or ignored. When Wells Fargo assumed the liabilities of Wachovia after the takeover, the new banking giant paid a mere $160 million in fines and penalties, and the problem went away. It’s always a matter of following the money, and drug trafficking is no different – right down to having some powerful and influential co-conspirators in business suits and ties.
The United States learned a hard lesson during the Prohibition Era. If people couldn’t legally buy what they wanted, they would find a way to get it elsewhere or make it themselves. That time in our history also resulted in criminal conspiracies, the appropriation and distribution of illegal substances and murders. What is going on today, with the drug trade, however, makes the St. Valentine’s Day massacre look like child’s play.
Perhaps this country should stop fighting this particular vice and just do what it did with alcohol 80 years ago. The United States found itself in the business of booze. The country could regulate the way it was made, sold and distributed – and it could be taxed. It’s safer, it’s controlled and it’s profitable. The same thing could be done with those drugs now considered to be harmful and illegal. If you take the profit out of the hands of the cartels and put it into the coffers of the government, you’re way ahead of the game. It wouldn’t have an impact only on homicide statistics, either. Burglaries, robberies, car thefts and assaults, among other crimes, would all drop as a result. If we want to address the drug problem, then maybe a good way to start is to stop making it a problem. Whatever steps the country takes in this direction certainly couldn’t make it any worse.