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Adding Mexico to the Ways Our Anti-Drug Policy Fails

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Let me see if I have this straight. The only major market that encourages and pretty much single-handedly supports illegal drug production and distribution in the world today is America. Italians and Danes, Swedes and Dutch all smoke a little or shoot a little, but it’s that great American thirst that supports Coca-Cola as a drink and cocaine as a high. The poor get by on crack and the rich snort the pure stuff.

Item two is that for varying reasons (most of them having to do with poor farmers and ideal climate), the countries that grow and manufacture this stuff are mostly not our country.

Inability to control our own addictions and our government’s unwillingness to de-criminalize drug use have had a socially amazing impact.
  • Our kids are lured and pushed into stupid choices,
  • Criminals profit by making them users, 
  • Law enforcement officials are bribed,
  • Families are destroyed, 
  • Judges and juries are corrupted, 
  • $18 billion a year is wasted, 
  • Foreign nations are put at risk, 
  • Whole populations live in fear
  • Inner cities are less and less safely habitable
  • Killing has become the currency of druglords and 
  • Our prisons are choking with inmates who should (and could) be elsewhere.
And none of it, not a single aspect of it works to anyone’s advantage other than criminals. In a moralistic blindness not seen since Prohibition, we’ve made our historic criminal icons such as Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde look like kids stealing candy.

The moral conundrum is an exact replay. Our human need to substance abuse (decried and made illegal by a narrow-minded minority) has us in a permanent state of un-winnable conflict. The enablers are the same stern-faced moralists as Capone's time. The difference is that in the case of Prohibition, the great majority of us were users. We missed our alcoholic hit too much to keep up the charade and the Eighteenth Amendment was finally repealed.

In the case of illegal drugs, the user-base is too small to affect a sea change, even though the damage to society is way more serious. There are perhaps 5,000 drug deaths in America annually. Compare to that the 50,000 killed in automobile accidents and 90,000 from avoidable hospital-incurred infections.
There isn’t even the slightest national murmur about hospital staffs washing their hands more often.
The evangelical bigots among us don’t see dirty hands as a moral issue. The use of mind-altering drugs is a human trait, as old as chewing on roots, eating mushrooms  and smoking peyote a thousand years before the Europeans brought their protestant religious intolerance to the New World.
MEXICO CITY, Aug. 7 -- The Bush administration is close to sealing a major, multiyear aid deal to combat drug cartels in Mexico that would be the biggest U.S. anti-narcotics effort abroad since a seven-year, $5 billion program in Colombia, according to U.S. lawmakers, congressional aides and Mexican authorities. (Washington Post)
It’s not enough that we’re building a wall of shame and regret between the United States and Mexico. If this misguided administration, that hasn't completed a single competent act in its six year term, has its way, they will have turned Mexico into a Columbia-style failed state immediately on our southern border. Forget about those Acapulco weekends. Americans will be targets.
"I'm sure that it's going to be hundreds of millions of dollars," Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) said in an interview. "If we're going to be successful in cutting out this cancer over there, we're going to have to invest a large amount."
Wrong, Henry. We could cut out the ‘cancer’ of the drug cartels and their activities in a moment, with not a shot fired, no armaments, aircraft, wire-tapping equipment or radar and, most importantly, not a life lost. End the so-called War on Drugs with the stroke of a pen. De-criminalize all drug use, provide free drugs to addicts in controlled environments, drop the floor out of presently illegal drug profits and set our children free.

There is no greater federal influence supporting the addiction of America’s kids than current drug policy. It’s a failure and should be walked over to the edge of the road and shot. We either choose to create a more tolerant and healing world or will surely totter on the brink of social and political disaster, then plunge.

Recent history is not on the side of tolerance and healing.
The plans are being discussed at a time when Mexico is struggling to contain a war among major drug cartels that has cost more than 3,000 lives in the past year and has horrified Mexicans with images of beheadings and videotaped assassinations. Calderón has impressed U.S. officials by extraditing a record number of drug suspects to the United States and by dispatching more than 20,000 federal police officers and soldiers to fight the trafficking organizations, but that effort has failed to stop the violence.
That's the voice of recent history. Mexico begins to sound like a country in the Middle East and its prospects for success are similar. Yet, even though we are intellectual masters of choice unequalled in history, we persist against all evidence to pound ever more sand into the same hole. No rational mind could survey the absolute havoc of American drug policy, spread across other people’s countries, and continue to persist.
Persuading fellow legislators that the aid is vital and won't fall into the wrong hands, Cuellar said, is "going to be a marketing endeavor, or let me put it this way, an educational endeavor." Republican and Democratic aides said it is unclear whether the Bush administration will try to push for an emergency supplemental appropriation for next year's foreign aid budget or wait another year.
A marketing endeavor. Well, it’s certainly true that this administration believes it can market its way around the need for any substantive foreign policy. Bush named Karen Hughes undersecretary of state for public diplomacy with the rank of ambassador, a marketing job focused on changing Middle Eastern perceptions of America. After a few embarrassing gaffes, she hasn’t been heard from recently.

But who knows? Anything is  possible in this Oz-like administration. If another wrong-headed policy can be run past a hopelessly ineffective Congress, why not? It’s only Mexican lives that are at risk for our national addiction.

The discouraging fact is that so many lives, American and foreign, continue to be uselessly lost on the Bush-Cheney watch.
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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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