Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jason Lewis: dirty hippie

Even the blind squirrel finds the occasional nut

In the Strib today, Jason Lewis says it is time to reconsider the war on drugs, or Prohibition II. Lewis brings in a few conservative luminaries to support his point, naturally, and he cannot resist a swipe at ATF and the Justice Department. But he does make a couple of good non-ideological points:

The drug habits and demand for drugs by U.S. citizens are killing Mexico, not just Mexicans, but Mexico itself:
Imagine a nightmare in which terrorists brutally murder 40,000 people in just five years. Now imagine that their base of operations is not across the globe, but directly adjacent to the United States. No doubt, hearing of such a thing, many of my conservative colleagues would be demanding a massive mobilization against the latest evils of Islamofacism.

But the real-life killers I have in mind, who revel in decapitating their victims (Al Capone's got nothing on these guys), aren't Muslim fanatics. They're narco-terrorists exploiting Mexico's failed war on drugs.

Most of the latest carnage appears to have been spearheaded by the Los Zetos gang, a group of former Mexican military men who simultaneously commit heinous acts of violence while building roads, schools and clinics for the impoverished. Sound familiar? It should -- because whether you're talking about the Taliban or Mexican drug cartels, both employ similar tactics that result when governments grant them de facto monopoly status in the distribution of illicit drugs. And the sad irony is that the exorbitant black-market profits used to finance their operations are a result of prohibition itself.
Some commentators will tell you that the 40,000 figure that Lewis quotes is conservative.

The war on drugs is killing us, too:
Nearly 80 years after the end of alcohol prohibition, the Global Commission on Drug Policy declared the war on drugs a failure with "devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world." Most of the deleterious effects reside in urban America, where young people find it much more lucrative to deal than to learn a trade. For all of the problems associated with alcohol, and there are many, you simply don't see gangs shooting one another (and innocent bystanders) over a six-pack of Bud.
I would quarrel with Lewis about the ease of learning a trade or getting a job afterwards, especially for kids in the inner-city, but I take his point. The incarceration rates for young black males is just unacceptable. As intolerance of ex-offenders only grows in the United States, the number of people who have received economic deaths sentences also grows. This is something we really cannot afford.

And holy mackerel, the war on drugs is expensive:
The United States alone has spent $1 trillion on narcotics enforcement over the last 40 years, and Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates the total budgetary impact to state and federal governments at around $88 billion per year, including lost tax revenue.
Lewis' policy prescription falls short, though. He says we should turn to the states as laboratories of reform of the drug laws.

Let's say we did that and Minnesota decided by itself to declare an end to the war on drugs, marijuana especially [as legislation by Ron Paul and Barney Frank would apparently permit]. We could look forward to only 39,500 people being killed in drug violence in Mexico in the next five years?

Current drug policy is nationally crafted and is the work of both national parties. As long as transportation and distribution of drugs remains a federal crime, the efforts of individual states will mean very little to Mexico. We might, however, be able to affect incarceration rates and the long terms effects of a marijuana bust in Minnesota; that would be a good thing.

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