The U.S. Needs to Address the Demand Side of Illicit Drugs

June 10, 2009 – On June 5, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy to fight the Mexican drug cartels. This is not just foreign aid; it is a recognition that Picture 22Mexico’s war on drugs has also become a homeland security problem. U.S. law enforcement officials have identified at least 230 U.S. cities, including Anchorage, Atlanta, and Boston, where Mexican drug cartels or their affiliates maintain drug distribution networks or supply drug to distributors. And border states like Arizona have suffered a rise in drug-related crime attributed to the Mexican drug cartels.

What about the demand for drugs in the U.S.? Programs for addressing U.S. drug demand are largely underfunded. Historically, our committment to drug prevention has been heavily weighted on the supply side. This seems a short-sighted view. After all, it is the high demand for illicit drugs in the U.S., which fuels the Mexican drug trade. As long as there is a demand for illicit drugs, there will be a supply.

The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of cocaine (shipped from Colombia through Mexico and the Caribbean), Colombian heroin, and Mexican heroin and marijuana, and is a major consumer of ecstasy and Mexican methamphetamines. Illicit drugs exact an enormous toll on our society, taking as many as 52,000 lives annually and draining the economy of an estimated $160 billion a year. Everyone pays the toll in the form of higher healthcare costs, dangerous neighborhoods, and an overcrowded criminal justice system. What is needed is increased funding for federal and local drug law enforcement, increased sanctions for illicit drug dealers, and treatment, prevention, education, and recovery support services, as well as research to identify and promote strategies to reduce demand.

Marijuana is the largest cash crop — the king crop — in the United States. Many of the marijuana plantations run by drug cartels are hidden in our federal and state parklands. Consider, in 2006, Marijuana was the largest cash crop in the United States, more valuable than corn and wheat combined. Using conservative price estimates, domestic marijuana production has a value of $35.8 billion. Based on production estimates derived from marijuana eradication efforts from 2003 to 2005, marijuana was the top cash crop in 12 states, one of the top 3 cash crops in 30 states, and one of the top 5 cash crops in 39 states. In California, for example, the domestic marijuana crop was larger than grapes, vegetables and hay combined and worth over $1 billion.

Maybe it is time to think the unthinkable — legalize marijuana. In this regard, on February 23, 2009, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced groundbreaking legislation that would remove state-level penalties for responsible marijuana use in California. The bill, Assembly Bill 390, would not only allow personal use and cultivation of marijuana but would also set up a legal system to tax and regulate it similarly to alcohol. That way we satisfy the demand for marijuana locally, tax it and by doing so take away the “king crop” from the Mexican drug cartels. Perhaps, it is time to hold hearings on A.B. 390. The time may be ripe.

by Ralph E. Stone. Source.

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