Make Sense, Not War

David Harsanyi
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Posted: Mar 27, 2009 12:00 AM

This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that our nation's "insatiable" appetite for illegal drugs is in large part to blame for the violence in northern Mexico.

And it would be poor form, clearly, to single out violent Mexican drug cartels for the violence. It does, after all, take a village.

Clinton went on to say that over the past three decades, the drug war has failed to control demand, and with weapons smuggled from the United States, we are fueling Mexico's drug wars and murder.

So what are we going to do about it? Continue the drug war, of course.

A war on drugs -- in whatever form it is implemented -- never will alleviate our "insatiable" appetite for illicit drugs in any way. Appetite, or demand, is not affected by laws. Laws only affect the cost. And I don't know how many times I cursed Nancy Reagan's name for the outrageous price of Californian skunk.

For some time now, we've blamed our own consumption for the violence and lawlessness of Mexico -- which, apparently, would be a crime-free Shangri-La were it not for Phish heads. But the brutality taking place inside the borders of our veritable Third World neighbor is fueled by a black market we create, not the drugs themselves. If drugs were traded legally, there would be no violence.

Yet Washington never wastes a crisis. The erupting violence south of the border has allowed certain politicians a chance to climb on the anti-gun hobbyhorse, as well. We are, if you haven't heard, unable to prevent the massive shipments of weapons to Mexico.

The problem with this well-known fact is that it's highly dubious.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week, titled "Law Enforcement Responses to Mexican Drug Cartels," one senator after another tried to induce law enforcement officials, who have every motivation to play along, to claim that military-style arms are streaming into Mexico from the United States.

Not one expert agreed.

The Los Angeles Times, in fact, recently reported that the "enhanced weaponry" used by drug cartels "represents a wide sampling from the international arms bazaar, with grenades and launchers produced by U.S., South Korean, Israeli, Spanish or former Soviet bloc manufacturers. Many had been sold legally to governments, including Mexico's, and then were diverted onto the black market."

Which brings us to the real problems: the drug war and the Mexican government. Both are corrupt. Both should be defunded. Both need to be reformed.

Instead, Congress has approved another $700 million in "assistance" (because hey, who needs that money here?) to help Mexico's corrupt and hopelessly inept law enforcement agencies to crack down on drug traffickers.

Members of Congress and Mexican officials actually have complained that the equipment is taking too long to arrive.

So we're missing the point once again.

"The success of our efforts to reduce the flow of drugs is largely dependent on our ability to reduce demand for them," Gil Kerlikowske, the new drug czar, said at his formal introduction this year.

He's right. And the drug czar never has been able to control demand, nor will he ever.

In the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 8 percent of Americans admitted using illegal drugs within a month of participating in the poll. The numbers may fluctuate slightly, but they never correlate with drug war policy.

And no matter how much money we send to Mexico to fight violence, that teenager in the blood-soaked gangland of Vermont, which leads the nation in marijuana use, will find a joint whenever and wherever he or she pleases without any violence or much interference.

You may not like the idea of decriminalization, but this is about economics. And most economists would tell you there are no solutions, only trade-offs.

How many of these users have been stopped by the tens of billions of dollars pumped into drug war funding? How many will be stopped by this new front in this war?

Not one.