"The war on drugs is a failure," Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Cesar Gaviria and Ernesto Zedillo -- the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico -- wrote in the Wall Street Journal last month. "Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization … simply haven't worked," they wrote.
In Mexico, an estimated 6,290 drug-related murders occurred last year. On Feb. 20, Roberto Orduna Cruz had to resign as chief of police of Cuidad Juarez after drug traffickers announced they would kill a police officer for every 48 hours Orduna remained on the job -- and made good on the threat. As Cardoso, Gaviria and Zedillo warned, "The alarming power of the drug cartels is leading to a criminalization of politics and a politicization of crime." Their countries have received billions in U.S. aid for drug interdiction, yet the former presidents suggested "the possibility of decriminalizing the possession of cannabis for personal use."
Now, that baby step is big. They should have used the L-word, legalize, as decriminalizing drugs would leave trafficking and big profits under the control of violent cartels. But as Eric Sterling, president of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, figures, "decriminalization is often used as a euphemism for legalization," in part because voters perceive legalization as complete lawlessness, when it should entail regulation "by a state by state basis and a drug by drug basis."
Which is why Norm Stamper, the former Seattle police chief, now speaks for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He grew up in San Diego and has spent a lot of time in Mexico. "I love the country and it's heartbreaking to see what's happening, when we know there's a solution for it," Stamper told me. "There's a simple but profound stroke that can drive the cartels and the street traffickers out of business -- end the prohibition model and replace it with a regulatory model."
On March 7, The Economist resumed its call for an end to the war on drugs: "Prohibition has failed; legalisation is the best solution." Noting that more than 800 Mexican police and soldiers were killed since December 2006, the editorial noted, "Indeed, far from reducing crime, prohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before."