To the Barricades — for Freedom!

When the ad hominem attacks begin, it is a cue to the reader that the debate opponent is finding himself on the losing end of the argument. I would expect the assaults if they were coming from the left, but it is disappointing to see them coming from an ally on the right. In good faith I have laid out legitimate philosophical, moral, economic, and political arguments against drug legalization. Why not engage in a civil dialogue?

Like gravity, market forces are constantly at work across the board, for good or ill, including in “industries” that conduct trade in human organs, child prostitution, and pornography. Market forces drove the slave trade, too. The difference in the case at hand is that with products that are addictive, the consumer at some point ceases to make rational choices. At what point would Dr. Carpenter draw the line and finally agree that society has a moral obligation to protect people from predatory and destructive behavior? Or would he not draw any line at all?

If by “wandering around” to place this issue into the proper context I have bumped into some inconvenient truths about the cause-and-effect relationships between legalization and the deeply difficult future problems it would create for Mexico and the United States — all the while not solving the existing ones — then I plead guilty.

Dr. Castañeda and Ms. Hanson — careful technocrats that they are — have confined themselves to narrower lines of argumentation but also have not answered the basic questions I have raised that expose the folly of the entire legalization proposal.

No one has rebutted my assertion that these drug cartels will not simply go away if legalization proceeds — and that the assortment of bad guys they support (e.g. Hugo Chavez) will continue their efforts to take down the U.S. capitalist system. (Hint: for a glimpse of that future, look at what the criminal gangs that ran Chicago did after Prohibition ended — they went into politics!)

Here are some other questions left unanswered by my worthy opponents:

• A handful of municipalities in the some of the bluest U.S. ZIP codes have recently enacted some narrow decriminalization measures, but (thankfully) there is not much relevant data or knowledge to be gained from studying the limited impact of those actions. The question remains: exactly how would full-scale legalization work in practice in the United States — where, how, and by whom would drugs be produced, packaged, marketed, and distributed? What entities would tax them? How high would those taxes be? How would gray markets and violence be prevented?

• How would there not be an increase in addiction rates? After all, these psychotropic chemical substances would be sold legally and openly, complete with the blessing and sanction of the almighty State — a god for far too many folks. The drugs differ greatly from alcohol, with which people have had centuries of experience. Indeed, beer and wine were drunk in European towns and elsewhere in the Middle Ages because the water back then gave people dysentery. So over hundreds of years, people built up a tolerance for alcohol and created social institutions that could deal with its consequences. Many even developed DNA resistance to alcoholism. However, the citizens, social organizations, and cultures of Mexico and the United States have no collective behavioral or physiological experience to draw upon in order to deal with the effects that psychotropic drugs will have on society, especially the young, if taken by masses of people on a routine basis.

• Moreover, while alcohol can damage one’s health in many ways, it is not likely to lead to lung cancer and emphysema. How will governments condone marijuana smoking while maintaining sanctimonious campaigns of opprobrium against the use of tobacco, which poses a far lesser threat to social order? If the THC ingredient in marijuana is so beneficial medically, Gen. McCaffrey jokingly asks, why not just isolate it and make it available for use in suppository form? That would at least avoid the lung damage.

• Why should taxpayers be asked to support the newly disabled and diseased drug addicts (and their broken families) that legalization will create, when governments could have exercised their most important duty by continuing to protect their citizens from the predators and parasites in the first place by resisting the siren call of legalization?

And here is a new question: did the Obama administration play a role in the recent Mexican decision to decriminalize small quantities? Why did President Calderón wait months before approving the law? It is interesting that the announcement occurred just days after the Obama–Calderón meeting at the August 9–10 North American Leaders Summit in Guadalajara, Mexico. As Professor Castañeda points out, Mexico put off decriminalization under the Bush 43 administration. Was U.S. pressure exerted this time in favor of decriminalization?

Dr. Carpenter wants to avoid a new Hundred Years War, yet he has gone to the wrong side of the barricades in a culture war that has been raging against western civilization with increasing intensity for decades. In fact, the entire 233-year history of the United States is a testament to the fight against the dark forces that would enslave humanity. Now is not the time to give into them.

Also from This Issue

Lead Essay

  • A U.S. War with Mexican Consequences by Jorge Castañeda

    In his lead essay, Jorge Castañeda observes that the consequences of the U.S. drug war fall unevenly on Mexico. The U.S. taste for drugs – and for prohibition – are the chief causes of drug-related crime in Mexico, he asserts. This creates a problem that Mexico cannot solve on its own. U.S. assistance has been insufficient, and Mexican resources are too few to take on the drug cartels effectively. Even if the resources were available, the militarization of life in Mexico would be politically unacceptable to most Mexicans, who have enjoyed a relatively tranquil military in contrast to many other Latin American countries. Another approach to the war on drugs would simply be decriminalization, but again, Mexico cannot unilaterally decriminalize, because it would face severe diplomatic consequences from the United States and possibly become a refuge for addicts. The United States must lead the way toward solving this problem, which is of its own making.

Response Essays

  • Making “Hamsterdam” an Option by Stephanie Hanson

    Stephanie Hanson suggests that decriminalizing drugs, and possibly legalizing marijuana, is a promising strategy for reducing drug-related violence. Yet she acknowledges that coordination problems exist between the United States and Mexico on this issue, and she suggests that a second-best option may be to enforce stricter controls on guns leaving the United States and heading to Mexico.

  • The United States Must Help Mexico Defeat Narco-Insurgencies by James Roberts

    James Roberts faults Prof. Castañeda for taking the easy way out: Drug legalization might not be much work for the elites, but it will ruin lives and degrade regional democracies. It won’t stop violence and may even increase it. The United States and Mexico should work together to fight Mexican drug cartels because the survival of the Mexican state is at stake, along with American lives and American morals. Mexico in particular needs to step forward, reform its corrupt government and enforcement agencies, and get its own house in order, rather than seeking U.S.-based solutions.

  • Only a Drastic Change in U.S. Drug Policy Will Ease the Carnage in Mexico by Ted Galen Carpenter

    Ted Galen Carpenter commends Jorge Castañeda for recognizing the nature of the problem that besets his country, but he suggests a more radical solution: As long as U.S. prohibition remains in place, he writes, violent criminals will dominate the trade in narcotics. Only ending prohibition can solve the international problems of the drug trade. Militarization of enforcement simply escalates the violence and corruption, because the cartels have enough money to bribe and/or fight their way through any escalation we’d be prepared to mount.

The Conversation