No one should ever expect a U.S. president to allow a universal legalization of drugs. The physical and social harm that illegal drugs have caused is universally known. Allowing drug cartels to have a legal and official influence in American politics, to gain legitimate entry into the economy, and to sell drugs that destroy lives simply makes no sense.
According to BBC News, the president made the following statement while addressing the Latin American summit in Cartegena, Columbia:
“I personally and my administration’s position is that legalization is not the answer, that in fact if you think about how it would end up operating, the capacity of a large-scale drug trade to dominate certain countries, if they were allowed to operate legally without any constraint could be just as corrupting, if not more corrupting than the status quo,”
He added that he is open to a debate on the matter, but will remain opposed to any legalization strategy in the war on drugs.
Street and recreational drugs have no therapeutic value. Instead, such drugs create nothing but addiction, crime, related sickness and death from overdoses. To that effect there is no helpful or legitimate reason for a person to consume cocaine, heroin or other illegally obtained and addictive substances. Legitimizing the organized criminal organizations that produce and sell illegal drugs would invite an enemy that no rational nation wants to have operating within its borders.
Two alternatives are to reduce demand for the drugs or to somehow ruin the profitability of the drug operations.
America’s allies in Latin America are clamoring to legalize banned drugs. Those nations cite the rising violence and the unstoppable power of the drug cartels in their countries. Some blame America for providing the market for cocaine and heroin, which allowed the drug cartels to rise to power in the first place. But none of the allies discussed how much more corruption and influence the drug cartels would be able to exercise if their products were transformed into legitimate trade.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the president’s point is that legalizing drugs would do nothing to solve the core problem. Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos described a situation where, when cocaine operations are shut down in Columbia, they simply move to another nation. Santos said the situation was “the famous balloon effect. If you press it on one side, it comes out the other.” He also summarized the current war on drugs: “Sometimes we struggle and struggle and pedal and pedal, and we feel like we are on a stationary bicycle.”
Most of the affected Latin leaders want a new approach to the problem and have been good allies with America. But Santo’s own country, Colombia, is the top cocaine producer in the world. He mentioned only two remaining extremes: to imprison all of the consumers or to legalize the drugs.
The problem with those two approaches: how would legalizing cocaine guarantee that Latin American governments will ever exert any control over the cartels, manufacturers, growers or distributors of the drugs? How would legalizing cocaine reduce the demand for the drug or hurt the drug cartel’s profits?
Santos is not alone. Guatemalan President Otto Perez has a long military and political history of fighting traffickers. He wisely concludes that America needs to start cutting demand for the drugs. According to NPR, Santos concluded that “Drug trafficking has expanded and corruption has tainted government institutions, including the judicial system.”
The only real progress America has made in the so-called “war on drugs” has been to enrich the private prison industry. The private prison industry lobbied for and got longer, and mandate prison sentences as well as other perks. The private prisons were filled with profitable human “product”. According to The Economist,
“… if America’s war on drugs has failed to curb drug use, it has been a boon to the prison industry: in 2008 non-violent drug offenders accounted for a quarter of American prisoners, up from less than 10% in 1980.”
The Wall Street Journal article gives some of the statistics about the war on crime, illustrating how prescription opioids and narcotics like oxycodone and hydrocodone have expanded the illegal prescription drug markets. In 2008, opioid and narcotic overdoses were higher than overdoses in cocaine and heroin combined. But the markets actually expanded. Cocaine and heroin use stayed at consistent levels instead of declining when users took up with abusing prescription drugs.
The article gives one good sign: “America’s cities, even those along the border, are far safer than they were ten or 20 years ago.”
Legalizing marijuana has gained state level approval. 16 states have legalized marijuana to some extent and 12 or more states have considered doing the same.
Sentencing laws and better rehabilitation and treatment programs are gaining popularity with more state level governments. The inexcusable racial disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentencing was ended by President Obama in 2010 when he signed the Fair Sentencing Act. Also, judges can take mitigating factors into account instead of being forced to rubber stamp mandatory minimum sentences.
Non-violent and minor offenders can now be steered into alternative programs that include some forms of supervised treatment, much more probation, release to halfway house programs, and requirements to perform daily reporting.
Since the Federal government has aimed most of the money at enforcement in the war on politics, however, some states are going it alone by trying out their own programs. But state and local programs are doomed to be expensive, labor intensive, and can become eccentric and controversial. In the end, addiction is a permanent condition where many will end up recycling through the courts and programs until they die. The goal is to reduce the demand for cocaine and heroin, and to break the backs of the cartels by treating the addiction with something else.
In summary, President Obama has restated the American position that cocaine and heroin will not be legalized under his watch. This leaves the cocaine- producing Latin countries in the same position of struggling and pedaling until they start moving forward and producing some results. America is left in the same position of somehow reducing demand and making it unprofitable to sell cocaine here.