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I am a consultant and analyst with eight years of military law enforcement experience, six years of analytical experience covering Latin America, and over seven years of analytical experience covering Mexican TCOs and border violence issues. This blog is designed to inform readers about current border violence issues and provide analysis on those issues, as well as detailed focus on specific border topics. By applying my knowledge and experience through this blog, I hope to separate the wheat from the chaff...that is, dispel rumors propagated by sensationalist media reporting, explain in layman's terms what is going on with Mexican TCOs, and most importantly, WHY violence is happening along the US-Mexico border.

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July 04, 2011

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You make a very interesting (and important) point about the distinction between legalization and decriminalization. Like you said, the complexities of the international drug policy are not very well understood, this is in large part because the treaty is deliberately vague and because the ‘War on Drugs’ is also deliberately vague.

The US foreign aid towards ani-nartcotics is ridiculous and almost entirely focused on a military approach, but is oblivious to other very important elements, such as fight against organized crime (i.e. money laundering) which receives less than 1% of the annual budget or institution building, which is significantly less but fortunately receiving more attention as a late. Even though, the later approaches have proven more effective and are in large part the backbone of the illicit narcotics trade. (see www.foreignassistance.gov, great new webpage).

No US politician wants to touch this subject, save the renegades like Ron Paul, because they are afraid to lose valuable support from the largely uninformed population of America regarding international drug policy. If they mention it, they will be immediately labeled and attacked by their opponents. It’s much easier to criticize a war that is killing thousands of our own citizens and wasting billions of dollars on an arguably lost-cause, than one that is killing thousands of our neighbor’s citizens to “stop the flow of drugs into the USA”, despite the fact that the two wars are completely intertwined wasting billions that could be ‘invested at home.’

The legalization/decriminalization movements needs to bring the wasteful government spending issue to the debate table if they want to get anywhere. This is what America wants to hear, more money on the home front.

However, I’m still unclear about the differences between Legalization and decriminalization you make. Alcohol is legalized, not decriminalized, and is therefore regulated, taxed, tariffed, accepted and consumed internationally. But can a decriminalized substance (i.e. marijuana and/or cocaine) be taxed, traded, tariffed, regulated, consumed and accepted internationally without a complete overhaul of the UN convention?

While decriminalizing Marijuana, and even Cocaine in the US would save a considerable amount in incarcerations and policing, the US will still be wasting billions of dollars on a war on drugs to secure it’s interests abroad which are largely connected to international drug trade revenue (i.e. oil, gold and coal in Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan). By legalizing drugs in the US (more so cocaine and Marijuana) it will bluntly defy the UN treaty and force a reconsideration of a broken drug policy instead of continuing a tacit ignorance of an outdated international convention.

@Ryan - A decriminalized substance can be taxed and regulated, and it is in the Netherlands, at the least. It's even taxed by US states where state law makes its sale for medical purposes legal (although it's still illegal by federal law, and thus not taxed at the federal level).

I definitely think that the tax ramifications of this subject will be a driver for how this plays out. Imagine that California decides to decriminalize marijuana, and to tax its sales. Sounds quite possible ... esp. given the desperate shape of California's financial position. But are these same drug sales then subject to federal taxes?? My guess is that the Feds would certainly want their share. But if the Federal Gov't has not decriminalized marijuana - then that puts them in a legal pickle :-) Legal or not legal? Taxable or not taxable? And at what level of government?? Should be interesting.

I also think that thought needs to be given to the growing of marijuana. If the drug use is decriminalized, where do we stand about growing pot? Would it be legal for households to grow half a dozen plants? Would it be legal for farms to plant ten acres of marijuana plants?? Good question. It seems silly to have a policy where the drug use is decriminalized, but growing it is still a serious offense. This goes beyond mere banter over issues. If we don't decriminalize the growing of marijuana, then presumably all the activities of the cartels will continue unabated - they will remain a major source for a demand that has been allowed by law.

It needs thinking through. It probably will evolve at the local level, such as states like California, rather than at the national level. It is likely to be a legal mess for a LONG time!

P.

I see you deleted my comment....ok, I guess you want me to say that stricter laws need to be put in place against Marijuana. Tougher prison sentences might teach those pot heads a lesson. Marijuana was created by the devil and Jesus don't like it. Pharmaceutical companies need to keep their annual profits up in the billions for FDA approved drugs that are substantially more dangerous than marijuana.
Also, the alcohol and tobacco companies need to keep their multimillion dollar annual profits up. Also, we need to keep the death toll as high as possible to enforce these prohibition laws at the expense of the tax payers.
There, does that suite your fancy better? Even though that way of thinking is extremely counter productive.

@Daniel - I didn't delete your comment; in fact, I never received notification of it. Can you try to resubmit?

1) "Decriminalization" of marijuana is what we generally call a relaxed policy towards possession of small amounts of pot. It does not change the laws in ANY WAY with regard to manufacture or sales. It's really not a significant policy change. It's just more of the same. It doesn't stop the SWAT teams and their no-knock raids murdering citizens, it doesn't stop cops from stealing property from citizens without ever charging them with a crime(civil forfeiture is a major related issue in the Drug War), and most importantly, IT DOES NOT DO ANYTHING TO HALT THE BLACK MARKET. Everyone who wants pot will still be purchasing it illegally.

2) When a country doesn't want to be part of a UN treaty anymore, they withdraw from it. Bolivia withdrew from the UN Single Convention last week. Drug Warriors want us to think that it's impossible to ever contravene the UN Single Convention, but when it suits their purposes in other political arguments, they'd be happy to thumb their noses at the UN.

3) The USA basically invented and exported the idea of virulent international prohibitionist policies. It will take the USA's opposition to end this ill-conceived and destructive war on civil liberties. Now is the time to start repairing the damage that has been done.

"United Nations requires member states to enact prohibitionist policies."

So you are saying that a foreign entity has required us to enact laws that violate our federal constitution? "Regulate interstate commerce" means to "make regular" or establish a fair and free trade zone between the states. If the hippies can put down the bong they should be getting rid of the federal drug laws based on the fact that the federal government has not authority to ban these substances. That power only resides with the state and local governments if their constitutions gives them that power.

There is a reason that the first federal drug laws appeared in 1914 (Harrison Narcotics Tax Act) and not earlier. That is when the progressives (Christian based at the time; alcohol prohibition what a progressive Christian movement) began to circumvent the enumerated power in the constitution. It is interesting to note that the Harrison Act only required opium sellers to be licensed, similar to how our federal gun laws require licenses (FFL) for sellers. It is also interesting to note that these early laws were very racially based due to the fact that early progressives (T. Roosevelt, W. Wilson, Margaret Sanger,) were rabid racists and eugenicists.

A house built on a contradictory foundation will never stand.

The sooner the hippies and liberals begin to support constitutional principles, the sooner they can light up legally (if their state allows it), the sooner I won't be held responsible for their screwed up lives (e.g. medicaid), and the sooner the cartels can begin to focus on the more lucrative business of kidnapping and extortion of US citizens.

@ Sylvia

as Ben has pointed out, Bolivia has just withdrawn from the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotics...

portraying this as a question of legal niceties and legal necessities is a big mistake...

going beyond the Conventions is in fact nothing more than a question of political will, just as the abolition of slavery was

America can find that will, but only as long as it continues, as it is now, to wake up to the costs of prohibition - the financial costs, the costs to individual liberty, and the terrible human costs...

the distinction between decriminalization of personal cultivation and decriminalization of possession is very important, and I didn't feel you were clear on this

just last week, the Italian supreme court decriminalized personal cultivation of cannabis. This is in marked contrast, for example, to the proposals before the New Jersey legislature right now which would, if they passed, only decriminalize personal possession of cannabis...

by enabling cannabis users to cultivate small amounts of cannabis for their own use, the Italian laws have now made the essential step of cutting the link between the cannabis market and organised crime - and this is the heart of the matter

if a parallel change was made in the US and personal cultivation of cannabis was decriminalized at a federal level, the savings in human life not just outside the US, but inside too, would be of the order of tens of thousands a year

how? well, Jeffrey Miron, a Professor of Economics at Harvard, estimates that around 60% of the Mexican cartels' income comes from cannabis. In the four years up to Jan 2011 some 34,612 Mexicans lost their lives in the drugs wars, most in gang competition over supply routes to the US. The eminent economist Milton Friedman estimated that some 10,000 Americans each year die as an indirect consequence of prohibition, again in gang violence...

that cost in human life, those tens of thousands of deaths a year in the Americas, can be avoided by enabling US citizens to meet their own cannabis needs

there are a large variety of policy options: whether a fully normalised legal market, or through some form of decriminalization, Nanny State control of supply (as proposed in France this week)... or the decentralized Spanish cannabis club system, as an example of a decriminalized not-for-profit option

all offer a way out of the drug war drain on the economy, all offer a way out of the endless futile cycle of murder and mass incarceration - the deaths in Mexico and the US alone amount an ongoing tragedy equivalent to several 9/11s a year... the public need to understand this

the essential point here is that prohibition is a humanitarian catastrophe - morally indefensible, practically counterproductive - and there are many options on the table for bringing that to an end; as they say - "where there is a will, there is a way"

Why does society deplore Big Tobacco but yet assume that a legalized/decrim. marijuana market would behave any differently or benevolently?

I hope that all the Libertarians who agitate for legalization of drugs first examine the historical example of unfettered Libetarian ideals in practice. Why did those societies collapse? Perhaps seeing the utter failure of these societies influenced drug laws?

"Those who do cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana

"Why does society deplore Big Tobacco but yet assume that a legalized/decrim. marijuana market would behave any differently or benevolently?"

"Four legs good, two legs bad!"

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