Mexico is being torn apart by drug gangs, often wrongly called cartels. Cartels are created to uphold prices. In the case of Mexico, it is law enforcement and the prohibition of drugs that upholds prices–and makes drug dealing irresistibly profitable.
All along the drug chain there is death, from the campesino in the jungle who runs afoul of a drug lord to the overdosed addict.
The libertarian solution is legalization. It was endorsed by the late conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and by The Economist magazine. This would work if not one new user were to come into the drug culture. But drugs are aggressively proselytized.
The British learned this the hard way. In the early 1960s, they thought they had the hard drug problem licked with a form a legalization that worked. Heroin addicts—and there were few, just 27 in London–were under the care of a doctor and they would line up at pharmacy, waiting to get their prescriptions filled. This was fairly easily managed because heroin is a legal medicine in Britain, used as a pain suppressant for the terminally ill. The British were so proud of how they handled the hard drug problem that they liked to lecture Americans on how it should be done.
Then it all fell apart. An addict broke into a storage unit and introduced a wide range of people to heroin. The speed at which heroin addiction spread frightened the authorities. From a little over two dozen addicts, the number in London jumped to over 250. The government was shocked by the dependence and the proselytizing effect. Additionally, immigrants were pouring into Britain and bringing with them a culture of drug use.
The flood gates were open. Britain is now overwhelmed with drugs and no solution to the problem is in sight.
Here is a modest proposal: legalize marijuana. It is widely available and is used at every stratum of society. The economy of Mendocino County in
California is dependent on it and the Florida Keys are awash in smuggled pot. The Royal Canadian Mounted police told me they believe there are more than 10,000 grow houses around Toronto. They cannot compete with the growers.
The horticulture of marijuana is improving–the latest advance is cold light and hydroponic tanks. More the active ingredient, THC, is getting stronger and plant yields are way up.
The war on marijuana cannot be won because society does not take the consumption seriously. I have seen it smoked everywhere by journalists, musicians, a publisher and a Wall Street analyst. Sometimes, you can smell it in the park across from the White House.
I never fancied it myself. I tried it but I did not get high or develop the munchies. A stronger drug, alcohol, has been my downfall. I would have got in less trouble with pot.
Stabilized, taxed and supervised marijuana would be an advance on today’s hodge podge of tolerance and intolerance. Federal law is intolerant and state law can be quite lenient. Some states tolerate personal use but cultivation is frowned on. This prohibition is expensive, ineffective and contributes to the woes in Mexico.
Pot has been legal in Amsterdam for decades. The Dutch prefer those seeking a changed state to smoke a joint rather than use a hard drug or get falling-down drunk.
We also can do something about hard drugs. Considering the British experience, it has to be done with care. However, there is a road map. The French banned absinthe, a liquor distilled from wormwood, because it caused such damage to drinkers—the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec comes to mind. But rather than driving the fierce spirit underground, they introduced a substitute, Pernod. No underground bootleg trade resulted.
Therefore, we ought to throw science at the two big imported tropical drugs, heroin and cocaine, with a view to neutering them. If you cannot, as you cannot, end the human desire for changed states, make drug use safe—that is non-addictive but enjoyable.
So there are two possibilities for winning the war on drugs: unbundle them, and take marijuana out of the mix, and throw science at the dangerous drugs. There are other wars to be fought and won. Winable wars.