Drug prohibition has failed in the U.S. and will someday end just as alcohol prohibition did in 1933. Despite the legal consequences of illicit drug use, some 22 million Americans use illegal drugs. And support for legalization of marijuana, the most widely used illegal drug, has been growing in past years with Gallup Polls reporting that a record high of 50 percent of Americans now support legalization. Despite this public support for legalization, about one million people are incarcerated each year because of the “War on Drugs,” the term first used by Richard Nixon in 1971 to describe the policy of drug prohibition.
The War on Drugs requires over $40 billion for law enforcement in the U.S. Treating drug use and addiction as a crime and not as a medical condition has made the U.S. the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, according to The New York Times. But the policy of drug prohibition extends beyond our borders. Exorbitant amounts of money are used towards reducing the drug trade in other countries, particularly in South and Central America, because the drugs grown there usually make their way into the United States. The Bush administration created the Mérida Initiative which was signed into law in 2008. It was nicknamed “Plan Mexico” and, according to the institution Foreign Policy In Focus, supplied the Mexican government with equipment and financial aid totaling $1.6 billion. A more dramatic means of controlling the drug industry in South and Central America is the spraying of herbicides over areas of suspected drug-related crops. However, this method involves dropping toxic chemicals, often on farmers who are not actually guilty of growing drugs. The pesticides destroy legitimate crops and can cause severe health issues for the people exposed.
Operation Fast and Furious was carried out between 2009 and 2010 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, a branch of the Justice Department. According to The Washington Post, government agents sold weapons from gun shops within the U.S., mostly through Arizona, to Mexican cartel members. There are approximately nine major drug cartels operating in Mexico and they are responsible for drug trafficking and most of the violent crime in the country. The Juarez cartel and Sinaloa cartel are frequently clashing over territory along the U.S. border. Over the course of the 15-month operation, more than 2,000 firearms were sold to cartel members. The original goal of the operation was to sell these weapons and track them as they made their way through Mexico, in order to track down criminals. But the operation was poorly planned, and it did not take long for things to go wrong.
Officials lost track of the weapons and only 600 of the original 2,000 sold have been recovered. Investigations have shown that, of those weapons recovered, most were found at violent crime scenes. One such scene was where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was found dead. Along with Agent Terry, 200 Mexicans’ deaths have also been traced to Operation Fast and Furious. The Mexican government claims they were never even told about this dangerous operation that has armed violent criminals within their country. Meanwhile, the Mexican cartels continue to make upwards of $23 billion a year in the drug trade.
Obama assured us back in August that “people who screwed up will be held accountable.” So far we’ve seen a few slaps on the wrist here and there but no one has really taken full responsibility for the deaths of both Mexican and American citizens. Thanks to the negligence of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, a continuing threat will now linger for Mexicans and Americans alike.
I propose a new drug policy, one where we stop treating recreational drug use as a crime and instead utilize the profitability of the drug industry. The drug trade is currently a shared problem between the U.S. and Mexico because the cartels would not be so profitable if they did not have such a massive consumer base in North America. If we legalized drug use, sale and production here in the U.S., we would completely undermine the violent Mexican drug cartels. Harvard economists have estimated that tax revenues from a legal drug trade would be a least $32 billion, not to mention how much would be saved by the massive reduction of the number of convicts burdening our prison system. If drugs were legalized, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms could focus on safely regulating the trade within the U.S instead of arming criminals abroad.