Decriminalizing Marijuana would Devastate Drug Cartels

March 30, 2010 – One step forward: California voters will get a chance in November to decide if the state should legalize marijuana. Two steps backward: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told authorities in Mexico that the United States was looking at anything that worked to fight the drug cartels killing Mexicans daily — but responded “no” when asked if anything included legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.

The California vote, however it turns out, constitutes a recognition that millions of Americans see lighting up a joint as no different than sipping a martini. Clinton’s rejection of easing U.S. law on recreational weed use reflects a wide opposing belief that allowing marijuana use would violate moral norms and inflict onerous social costs on our society.

Sponsors of the California referendum attempt to sidestep the moral argument by framing the issue in dollars and cents. They assert taxing legal marijuana could bring $1.4 billion to California’s bankrupt state coffers while cutting law enforcement and incarceration costs.

Passage of the Golden State measure would set up a state-federal conflict. Federal law trumps state law, but the Obama administration has wisely stopped federal prosecution of medical marijuana sales in the more than a dozen states that have approved them. But turning a blind eye to a defiant challenge on recreational use would be another matter.

A California yes vote could force the nation into a realistic conversation on drug prohibition. Casualties from the war on drugs keep piling up. Nowhere is this more true than in Mexico, where more than 18,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in the last three years, including several recent victims with ties to the U.S. consulate in Juarez. In this country, FBI crime statistics list narcotics circumstances behind 3,052 murders over five years ending in 2008.

The deaths and millions of arrests, convictions and imprisonments stem from a trade supplying products Americans obviously want — and No. 1 is marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that more than 40 percent of high school seniors used marijuana at least once. Sports Illustrated reports that personnel in the National Football League see joint smoking “almost epidemic” among 2010 draft-eligible players. Weed has been depicted as the norm in books and movies for years, and the medical marijuana revolution in the states now has even timid broadcast television addressing the issue.

Legalizing marijuana wouldn’t end the criminal drug trade and its violence. Addicts still would crave heroin, cocaine and other hard narcotics. But decriminalizing marijuana would be a body blow to drug cartels. Half the annual income for Mexico’s violent drug smugglers comes from marijuana, one Mexican official told the Wall Street Journal last year. Imagine how many smugglers and street-corner reefer hustlers would be put out of business.

One recent advocate of considering legalization as part of a new approach to crime is John J. DiIulio Jr., who served as President George W. Bush’s director of faith-based initiatives. Writing in the journal Democracy, DiIulio said that the impact of more than 800,000 marijuana-related arrests on crime rates last year was “likely close to zero.” He argued there is “almost no scientific evidence showing that pot is more harmful to its users’ health, more of a ‘gateway drug’ or more crime-causing in its effects than alcohol or other legal narcotic or mind-altering substances.”

Legalization backers go further, pointing to Canadian studies suggesting health-care costs are higher for tobacco or alcohol users and that police disruption of drug-trafficking gangs contributes to street violence by causing gang power struggles.

The prospect of reducing violence, undermining gangs, freeing law enforcement to concentrate on serious crimes and more revenues for hard-pressed governments — all are reasons to end the “reefer madness” in our laws. BY STEVE HUNTLEY. Source.

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