The Price of the Drug War

Critics of the drug war long have pointed out how criminalizing drug use creates crime.  America has been through this experience before, with Prohibition.  Just look at Prohibition-era Chicago with pervasive corruption and mob warfare.

Unfortunately, the experience is being repeated in Mexico.  And the violence is spilling over the border into the U.S.  Reports the New York Times:

Sgt. David Azuelo stepped gingerly over the specks of blood on the floor, took note of the bullet hole through the bedroom skylight, raised an eyebrow at the lack of furniture in the ranch-style house and turned to his squad of detectives investigating one of the latest home invasions in this southern Arizona city.

A 21-year-old man had been pistol-whipped throughout the house, the gun discharging at one point, as the attackers demanded money, the victim reported. His wife had been bathing their 3-month-old son when the intruders arrived.

“At least they didn’t put the gun in the baby’s mouth like we’ve seen before,” Sergeant Azuelo said. That same afternoon this month, his squad was called to the scene of another home invasion, one involving the abduction of a 14-year-old boy.

This city, an hour’s drive north of the Mexican border, is coping with a wave of drug crime the police suspect is tied to the bloody battles between Mexico’s drug cartels and the efforts to stamp them out.

Since officials here formed a special squad last year to deal with home invasions, they have counted more than 200 of them, with more than three-quarters linked to the drug trade. In one case, the intruders burst into the wrong house, shooting and injuring a woman watching television on her couch. In another, in a nearby suburb, a man the police described as a drug dealer was taken from his home at gunpoint and is still missing.

Tucson is hardly alone in feeling the impact of Mexico’s drug cartels and their trade. In the past few years, the cartels and other drug trafficking organizations have extended their reach across the United States and into Canada. Law enforcement authorities say they believe traffickers distributing the cartels’ marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs are responsible for a rash of shootings in Vancouver, British Columbia, kidnappings in Phoenix, brutal assaults in Birmingham, Ala., and much more.

United States law enforcement officials have identified 230 cities, including Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston and Billings, Mont., where Mexican cartels and their affiliates “maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors,” as a Justice Department report put it in December. The figure rose from 100 cities reported three years earlier, though Justice Department officials said that may be because of better data collection methods as well as the spread of the organizations.

Washington officials want to believe that throwing more money at the Mexican government will solve the problem.  But there’s nothing in the experience of Afghanistan, Colombia, or many other drug production and smuggling centers to suggest that more enforcement, especially by a government as weak as that in Mexico City, will end the drug trade.

Only taking money out of drug production and sales will end the violence.  And that means no longer treating what is fundamentally a health and moral problem as a criminal problem.  Legalizing adult drug use may not be a great solution, but it would be a vast improvement over drug prohibition, which promotes violent crime while tens of millions of Americans still use illicit substances.