US military expands its drug war in Latin America

http://xfinity.comcast.net/articles/news-general/20130203/LT.US.Militarizing.The.Drug.War/

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By MARTHA MENDOZA, AP
1 day ago 

The crew members aboard the USS Underwood could see through their night goggles what was happening on the fleeing go-fast boat: Someone was dumping bales.

When the Navy guided-missile frigate later dropped anchor in Panamanian waters on that sunny August morning, Ensign Clarissa Carpio, a 23-year-old from San Francisco, climbed into the inflatable dinghy with four unarmed sailors and two Coast Guard officers like herself, carrying light submachine guns. It was her first deployment, but Carpio was ready for combat.

Fighting drug traffickers was precisely what she'd trained for.

In the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War, the U.S. has militarized the battle against the traffickers, spending more than $20 billion in the past decade. U.S. Army troops, Air Force pilots and Navy ships outfitted with Coast Guard counternarcotics teams are routinely deployed to chase, track and capture drug smugglers.

The sophistication and violence of the traffickers is so great that the U.S. military is training not only law enforcement agents in Latin American nations, but their militaries as well, building a network of expensive hardware, radar, airplanes, ships, runways and refueling stations to stem the tide of illegal drugs from South America to the U.S.

According to State Department and Pentagon officials, stopping drug-trafficking organizations has become a matter of national security because they spread corruption, undermine fledgling democracies and can potentially finance terrorists.

U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, pointing to dramatic declines in violence and cocaine production in Colombia, says the strategy works.

"The results are historic and have tremendous implications, not just for the United States and the Western Hemisphere, but for the world," he said at a conference on drug policy last year.

The Associated Press examined U.S. arms export authorizations, defense contracts, military aid, and exercises in the region, tracking a drug war strategy that began in Colombia, moved to Mexico and is now finding fresh focus in Central America, where brutal cartels mark an enemy motivated not by ideology but by cash.

The U.S. authorized the sale of a record $2.8 billion worth of guns, satellites, radar equipment and tear gas to Western Hemisphere nations in 2011, four times the authorized sales 10 years ago, according to the latest State Department reports.

Over the same decade, defense contracts jumped from $119 million to $629 million, supporting everything from Kevlar helmets for the Mexican army to airport runways in Aruba, according to federal contract data.

Last year $830 million, almost $9 out of every $10 of U.S. law enforcement and military aid spent in the region, went toward countering narcotics, up 30 percent in the past decade.

Many in the military and other law enforcement agencies — the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, FBI — applaud the U.S. strategy, but critics say militarizing the drug war in a region fraught with tender democracies and long-corrupt institutions can stir political instability while barely touching what the U.N. estimates is a $320 billion global illicit drug market.

Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who chaired the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere for the past four years, says the U.S.-supported crackdown on Mexican cartels only left them "stronger and more violent." He intends to reintroduce a proposal for a Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission to evaluate antinarcotics efforts.

"Billions upon billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been spent over the years to combat the drug trade in Latin America and the Caribbean," he said. "In spite of our efforts, the positive results are few and far between."

___

At any given moment, 4,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Latin America and as many as four U.S. Navy ships are plying the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines of Central America. U.S. pilots clocked more than 46,400 hours in 2011 flying anti-drug missions, and U.S. agents from at least 10 law enforcement agencies spread across the continent.

The U.S. trains thousands of Latin American troops, and employs its multibillion dollar radar equipment to gather intelligence to intercept traffickers and arrest cartel members.

These work in organized-crime networks that boast an estimated 11,000 flights annually and hundreds of boats and submersibles. They smuggle cocaine from the only place it's produced, South America, to the land where it is most coveted, the United States.

One persistent problem is that in many of the partner nations, police are so institutionally weak or corrupt that governments have turned to their militaries to fight drug traffickers, often with violent results. Militaries are trained for combat, while police are trained to enforce laws.

"It is unfortunate that militaries have to be involved in what are essentially law enforcement engagements," said Frank Mora, the outgoing deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs. But he argues that many governments have little choice.

"We are not going to turn our backs on these governments or these institutions because they've found themselves in such a situation that they have to use their militaries in this way," Mora said.

Mora said the effort is not tantamount to militarizing the war on drugs. He said the Defense Department's role is limited, by law, to monitoring and detection. Law enforcement agents, from the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection or other agencies are in charge of some of the busts, he said.

But the U.S. is deploying its own military. Not only is the Fourth Fleet in the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Atlantic, but the Marines were sent to Guatemala last year and the National Guard is in Honduras.

The Obama Administration sees these deployments as important missions with a worthy payoff. Hundreds of thousands of kilograms (pounds) of cocaine are seized en route to the U.S. every year, and the Defense Department estimates about 850 metric tons of cocaine departed South America last year toward the U.S., down 20 percent in just a year. The most recent U.S. survey found cocaine use fell significantly, from 2.4 million people in 2006 to 1.4 million in 2011.

Aboard the Underwood, the crew of 260 was clear on the mission. The ship's bridge wings bear 16 cocaine "snowflakes" and two marijuana "leaves," awarded to the Underwood by the Coast Guard command to be "proudly displayed" for its successful interdictions.

Standing on the bridge, Carpio's team spotted its first bale of cocaine. And then, after 2 1/2 weeks plying the Caribbean in search of drug traffickers, they spotted another, and then many more.

"In all we found 49 bales," Carpio said in an interview aboard the ship. "It was very impressive to see the bales popping along the water in a row."

Wrapped in black and white tarp, they were so heavy she could barely pull one out of the water. Later, officials said they'd collected $27 million worth of cocaine.

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The current U.S. strategy began in Colombia in 2000, with an eight-year effort that cost more than $7 billion to stop the flow from the world's top cocaine producer. During Plan Colombia, the national police force, working closely with dozens of DEA agents, successfully locked up top drug traffickers.

But then came "the balloon effect."

As a result of Plan Colombia's pressure, traffickers were forced to find new coca-growing lands in Peru and Bolivia, and trafficking routes shifted as well from Florida to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Thus a $1.6 billion, 4-year Merida Initiative was launched in 2008. Once more, drug kingpins were caught or killed, and as cartels fought to control trafficking routes, increasingly gruesome killings topped 70,000 in six years.

Mexican cartel bosses, feeling the squeeze, turned to Central America as the first stop for South American cocaine, attracted by weaker governments and corrupt authorities.

"Now, all of a sudden, the tide has turned," said Brick Scoggins, who manages the Defense Department's counter-narcotics programs in most of Latin America and the Caribbean. "I'd say northern tier countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize have become a key focus area."

The latest iteration is the $165 million Central America Regional Security Initiative, which includes Operation Martillo (Hammer), a year-old U.S.-led mission. The operation has no end date and is focused on the seas off Central America's beach-lined coasts, key shipping routes for 90 percent of the estimated 850 metric tons of cocaine headed to the U.S.

As part of Operation Martillo, 200 U.S. Marines began patrolling Guatemala's western coast in August, their helicopters soaring above villages at night as they headed out to sea to find "narco-submarines" and shiploads of drugs. The troops also brought millions of dollars' worth of computers and intelligence-gathering technology to analyze communications between suspected drug dealers.

Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, predicts the balloon effect will play out in Central America before moving to the Caribbean.

The goal, he said, is to make it so hard for traffickers to move drugs to the U.S. that they will eventually opt out of North America, where cocaine use is falling. Traffickers would likely look for easier, more expanding markets, shifting sales to a growing customer base in Europe, Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Brownfield said almost all Peruvian and Bolivian cocaine goes east through Brazil and Argentina and then to Western Europe. Cocaine that reaches North America mostly comes from Colombia, he said, with U.S. figures showing production falling sharply, from 700 metric tons in 2001 to 195 metric tons today — though estimates vary widely.

When the drug war turns bloody, he said, the strategy is working.

"The bloodshed tends to occur and increase when these trafficking organizations, which are large, powerful, rich, extremely violent and potentially bloody, ... come under some degree of pressure," he said.

Yet the strategy has often backfired when foreign partners proved too inexperienced to fight drug traffickers or so corrupt they switched sides.

In Mexico, for example, the U.S. focused on improving the professionalism of the federal police. But the effort's success was openly questioned after federal police at Mexico City's Benito Juarez International Airport opened fire at each other, killing three.

In August critics were even more concerned when two CIA officers riding in a U.S. Embassy SUV were ambushed by Mexican federal police allegedly working for an organized crime group. The police riddled the armored SUV with 152 bullets, wounding both officers.

The new strategy in Honduras has had its own fits and starts.

Last year, the U.S. Defense Department spent a record $67.4 million on military contracts in Honduras, triple the 2002 defense contracts there well above the $45.6 million spent in neighboring Guatemala in 2012. The U.S. also spent about $2 million training more than 300 Honduran military personnel in 2011, and $89 million in annual spending to maintain Joint Task Force Bravo, a 600-member U.S. unit based at Soto Cano Air Base.

Further, neither the State Department nor the Pentagon could provide details explaining a 2011 $1.3 billion authorization for exports of military electronics to Honduras — although that would amount to almost half of all U.S. arms exports for the entire Western Hemisphere.

In May, on the other side of the country, Honduran national police rappelled from U.S. helicopters to bust drug traffickers near the remote village of Ahuas, killing four allegedly innocent civilians and scattering locals who were loading some 450 kilograms (close to 1,000 pounds) of cocaine into a boat.

The incident drew international attention and demands for an investigation when the DEA confirmed it had agents aboard the helicopters advising their Honduran counterparts. Villagers spoke of English-speaking commandos kicking in doors and handcuffing locals just after the shooting, searching for drug traffickers.

Six weeks later, townspeople watched in shock as laborers exhumed the first of four muddy graves. At each burial site, workers pulled out the decomposing bodies of two women and two young men, and laid them on tarps.

Forensic scientists conducted their graveside autopsies in the open air, probing for bullet wounds and searching for signs the women had been pregnant, as villagers had claimed.

Government investigators concluded there was no wrongdoing in the raid. In the subsequent months, DEA agents shot and killed suspects they said threatened them in two separate incidents, and the U.S. temporarily suspended the sharing of radar intelligence because the Central American nation's air force shot down two suspected drug planes, a violation of rules of engagement. Support was also withheld for the national police after it was learned that its new director had been tied to death squads.

As the new year begins, Congress is still withholding an estimated $30 million in aid to Honduras, about a third of all the U.S. aid slotted for this year.

But there are no plans to rethink the strategy.

Scoggins, the Defense Department's counter-narcotics manager, said operations in Central America are expected to grow for the next five years.

"It's not for me to say if it's the correct strategy. It's the strategy we are using," said Scoggins. "I don't know what the alternative is."

___

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Dario Lopez aboard the USS Underwood in the Caribbean, Garance Burke in San Francisco, Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, and Alberto Arce in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, along with Romina Ruiz-Goiriena in Guatemala City.

 
 
DENVER – The nation's largest marijuana policy organization, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), slammed former Congressman Patrick Kennedy's plan to force marijuana consumers into treatment and marijuana "education" classes, which his new organization, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), is scheduled to unveil in Denver on Wednesday. 

 "The proposal is on par with forcing every alcohol user into treatment at their own cost or at a cost to the state," said MPP communications director Mason Tvert. "In fact, it would be less logical because the science is clear that marijuana is far less toxic, less addictive, and less likely to be associated with acts of violence."

MPP is calling on Kennedy, whose family made a fortune selling alcohol, to explain why he wants to keep an objectively less harmful alternative to alcohol illegal. Specifically, MPP is asking Kennedy to address the question on SAM's website and provide facts regarding the relative harms of marijuana and alcohol. MPP also launched an online petition this morning asking Kennedy to provide an explanation or resign as chairman of SAM, which received more than 1,500 signatures within the first hour of being posted – http://chn.ge/13e9Qjl

"Former Congressman Kennedy's proposal is the definition of hypocrisy," Tvert said. "He is living in part off of the fortune his family made by selling alcohol while leading a campaign that makes it seem like marijuana – an objectively less harmful product – is the greatest threat to public health.”


"If this group truly cares about public health, it should be providing the public with facts regarding the relative harms of marijuana and discouraging the use of the more harmful product," Tvert continued. "Why on earth would they want keep a less harmful alternative to alcohol illegal? Former Congressman Kennedy and his organization should answer this question before calling on our government to start forcing people into treatment programs and throwing them into marijuana ‘education’ camps."


Also read http://blog.mpp.org/prohibition/mpp-slams-former-congressmans-plan-to-force-marijuana-consumers-into-treatment-and-marijuana-education-classes/01082013/
 
 
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By David L. Nathan, Special to CNN
updated 9:41 AM EST, Wed January 9, 2013

Editor's note: David L. Nathan, a clinical associate professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, was recently elected as a distinguished fellow in the American Psychiatric Association. He teaches and practices general adult psychiatry in Princeton, New Jersey.

(CNN) -- David Frum is one of today's best and most reasoned conservative political voices, so his recent CNN.com op-ed on marijuana policy was just a little disappointing. Not because he advocates the drug's decriminalization -- he rightly thinks locking people up or arresting them for casual use is a bad idea -- but because he opposes its legalization for adults.

I agree with much of what he says about pot's potential harm, especially for the young and the psychiatrically ill. Like Frum, I am a father who worries about my kids getting sidetracked by cannabis before their brains have a chance to develop. But I am also a physician who understands that the negative legal consequences of marijuana use are far worse than the medical consequences.

Frum would reduce the punishment for marijuana use for adults but nominally maintain its illegality in order to send a message to young people that pot is a "bad choice," as if breaking the rules wasn't as much an incentive as a deterrent for adolescents. Kids are smart enough to recognize and dismiss a "because I said so" argument when they see one. By trying to hide marijuana from innately curious young people, we have elevated its status to that of a forbidden fruit. I believe a better approach is to bring pot into the open, make it legal for people over the age of 21, and educate children from a young age about the actual dangers of its recreational use.

Throughout my career as a clinical psychiatrist, I have seen lives ruined by drugs like cocaine, painkillers and alcohol. I have also borne witness to the devastation brought upon cannabis users -- almost never by abuse of the drug, but by a justice system that chooses a sledgehammer to kill a weed.

Alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, caffeine and refined sugar are among the most commonly used, potentially habit-forming recreational substances. All are best left out of our daily diets. Only marijuana is illegal, though alcohol and tobacco are clearly more harmful. In several respects, even sugar poses more of a threat to our nation's health than pot.

I agree with Frum that chronic use of cannabis correlates with mood changes and low motivation, especially when started in adolescence. In individuals with psychosis, it may trigger or worsen their symptoms. But these dangers are far surpassed by the perils of alcohol, which is associated with pancreatitis, gastritis, cirrhosis, permanent dementia, physiological dependence and fatal withdrawal. In healthy but reckless teens and young adults, it is frighteningly easy to consume a lethal dose of alcohol, but it is essentially impossible to do so with marijuana. Further, alcohol causes severe impairment of judgment, which results in violence, risky sexual behavior and more use of hard drugs.

Those who believe cannabis to be a gateway to opioids and other highly dangerous drugs fail to appreciate that the illegal purchase of marijuana exposes consumers to dealers who push the hard stuff. Given marijuana's popularity in this country, the consumption of more dangerous drugs could actually decrease if pot were purchased at a liquor store rather than on the street corner where heroin and crack are sold.

There is another more pressing reason to legalize and regulate marijuana, even for the sake of our children: the potential for adulteration of black-market cannabis and the substitution of even more dangerous copycat compounds. Much like Prohibition-era fatalities from bad moonshine, harmful synthetic marijuana substitutes are proliferating, with street names like K2 and Spice. The Drug Enforcement Administration struggles to combat these compounds by outlawing them, but I see no decrease in their popularity among my patients. Natural marijuana poses much less danger than synthetic cannabinoids -- legal or otherwise.

So who had the bright idea of banning cannabis in the first place? Was it physicians? Social service organizations? No. The credit goes to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which in 1937 pushed through laws ending the growth, trade and consumption of all forms of cannabis, including the inert but commercially useful hemp plant. America's ban on the so-called "Weed of Madness" was based on bad science and fabricated stories of violence perpetrated under the influence. The madness of cannabis can be ascribed not so much to its users, but to those who sought to criminalize the drug so soon after the monumental failure of alcohol Prohibition.

That's not to say our marijuana laws have failed to change drug use in America. Cannabis is more widely used today than at any time before its prohibition, even though it was domesticated in antiquity and has been cultivated ever since. Pot prohibition has also greatly increased illegal activity and violence. Otherwise law-abiding private users became criminals, and criminals became rich through the untaxed, bloody and highly lucrative illicit drug trade.

But America can fix this mess through marijuana legalization. Federal, state and local governments can regulate the cannabis trade as they do with alcohol and tobacco -- monitoring the production process for safety and purity, controlling where it is sold, taxing all aspects of marijuana production and consumption, and redirecting resources from punishment to prevention.

Forget the antiquated dogma and judge pot prohibition on its own merits. If you still believe that cannabis should be illegal, then you must logically support the criminalization of alcohol and tobacco, with vigorous prosecution and even imprisonment of producers and consumers. Does that sound ridiculous? Then you must conclude that the only rational approach to cannabis is to legalize, regulate and tax it.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.


 
 
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Kerlikowske suggests that we have a process for deciding what's good to put in our bodies (the FDA). Do you think that's what the criminalization of cannabis is about? Really? So then you must believe that being incarcerated is better for your body. That's great logic. ~ Susan Soares

By: Chris Roberts | 01/07/13 7:46 PM
S.F. Examiner Staff Writer


Gil Kerlikowske, the nation’s top drug cop advocated a “different approach” to narcotics enforcement — and stressed that there is no “war on drugs” — but had stern words Monday for the San Francisco-bred medical marijuana movement. 

Drug users need treatment and education rather than jail terms, according to Gil Kerlikowske, the former Seattle police chief who now heads President Barack Obama’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Speaking at a gathering of law enforcement officers at the University of San Francisco, Kerlikowske also said that calling cannabis medicine “sends a terrible message” to the nation’s teens. High school students are more likely to smoke marijuana than tobacco due to the growing “perception” that marijuana is less harmful, he said. 

“We have to ask if we doing everything we can to empower them to make a healthy decision about their future,” he said.

Kerlikowske was in town to highlight the Obama Adminstration’s “21st-century” approach toward drug use. Also in attendance were Mayor Ed Lee, San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr, and Berkeley chief of police Michael Meehan — who served under Kerlikowske as a narcotics captain on the Seattle police force. 

San Francisco has more than 20 licensed and taxpaying medical marijuana dispensaries. Across California, there are more than 1,000 — all of which pay state sales tax — according to Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana users’ advocacy group.

Federal law enforcement officials have long been at odds with state and local policymakers on medical marijuana. Pressure from the federal Justice Department has shut down seven San Francisco medical marijuana dispensaries since Oct. 2011. 

Before taking office, Obama said that marijuana would not be a law enforcement priority for his administration. Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated that statement, though U.S. prosecutors have since noted that marijuana remains illegal under federal law and a public health nuisance. 

Kerlikowske noted that neither he nor his office have any sway over the Justice Department, and “I wouldn’t suppose that I should tell The City what to do differently.” 

California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1996. Today, eighteen states and the District of Columbia now allow the medical use of marijuana, and adults in two states — Colorado and Washington — can legally possess small amounts of marijuana.

Kerlikowske had stern words for legalization, which is often painted as a solution to the public health and budget woes caused by drug use. “The Obama Administration strongly believes it is a false choice,” he said, and not “ground in science.”

“Medicinal marijuana has never been through the FDA process,” he added. “We have the world’s most renowned process to decide what is medicine and what should go in peoples’ bodies. And marijuana has never been through that process.”

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco and elsewhere have found that cannabis may be effective in relieving “wasting symptoms” caused by cancer and HIV/AIDS, may aid sleep and stimulate appetite, and may be effective in treating chronic pain and other ailments.

croberts@sfexaminer.com


 
 
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After more than four decades of a failed experiment, the human cost has become too high. It is time to consider the decriminalization of drug use and the drug market.

By GARY S. BECKER and KEVIN M. MURPHY
President Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs" in 1971. The expectation then was that drug trafficking in the United States could be greatly reduced in a short time through federal policing—and yet the war on drugs continues to this day. The cost has been large in terms of lives, money and the well-being of many Americans, especially the poor and less educated. By most accounts, the gains from the war have been modest at best.

The direct monetary cost to American taxpayers of the war on drugs includes spending on police, the court personnel used to try drug users and traffickers, and the guards and other resources spent on imprisoning and punishing those convicted of drug offenses. Total current spending is estimated at over $40 billion a year.

These costs don't include many other harmful effects of the war on drugs that are difficult to quantify. For example, over the past 40 years the fraction of students who have dropped out of American high schools has remained large, at about 25%. Dropout rates are not high for middle-class white children, but they are very high for black and Hispanic children living in poor neighborhoods. Many factors explain the high dropout rates, especially bad schools and weak family support. But another important factor in inner-city neighborhoods is the temptation to drop out of school in order to profit from the drug trade.

The total number of persons incarcerated in state and federal prisons in the U.S. has grown from 330,000 in 1980 to about 1.6 million today. Much of the increase in this population is directly due to the war on drugs and the severe punishment for persons convicted of drug trafficking. About 50% of the inmates in federal prisons and 20% of those in state prisons have been convicted of either selling or using drugs. The many minor drug traffickers and drug users who spend time in jail find fewer opportunities for legal employment after they get out of prison, and they develop better skills at criminal activities.

Prices of illegal drugs are pushed up whenever many drug traffickers are caught and punished harshly. The higher prices they get for drugs help compensate traffickers for the risks of being apprehended. Higher prices can discourage the demand for drugs, but they also enable some traffickers to make a lot of money if they avoid being caught, if they operate on a large enough scale, and if they can reduce competition from other traffickers. This explains why large-scale drug gangs and cartels are so profitable in the U.S., Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and other countries.

The paradox of the war on drugs is that the harder governments push the fight, the higher drug prices become to compensate for the greater risks. That leads to larger profits for traffickers who avoid being punished. This is why larger drug gangs often benefit from a tougher war on drugs, especially if the war mainly targets small-fry dealers and not the major drug gangs. Moreover, to the extent that a more aggressive war on drugs leads dealers to respond with higher levels of violence and corruption, an increase in enforcement can exacerbate the costs imposed on society.

The large profits for drug dealers who avoid being caught and punished encourage them to try to bribe and intimidate police, politicians, the military and anyone else involved in the war against drugs. If police and officials resist bribes and try to enforce antidrug laws, they are threatened with violence and often begin to fear for their lives and those of their families.

Mexico offers a well-documented example of some of the costs involved in drug wars. Probably more than 50,000 people have died since Mexico's antidrug campaign started in 2006. For perspective, about 150,000 deaths would result if the same fraction of Americans were killed. This number of deaths is many magnitudes greater than American losses in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined, and is about three times the number of American deaths in the Vietnam War. Many of those killed were innocent civilians and the army personnel, police officers and local government officials involved in the antidrug effort.

There is also considerable bitterness in Mexico over the war because the great majority of the drugs go to the U.S. drug cartels in Mexico and several other Latin American countries would be far weaker if they were only selling drugs to domestic consumers (Brazilian and Mexican drug gangs also export a lot to Europe).

The main gain from the war on drugs claimed by advocates of continuing the war is a lower incidence of drug use and drug addiction. Basic economics does imply that, under given conditions, higher prices for a good leads to reduced demand for that good. The magnitude of the response depends on the availability of substitutes for the higher priced good. For example, many drug users might find alcohol a good substitute for drugs as drugs become more expensive.

The conclusion that higher prices reduce demand only "under given conditions" is especially important in considering the effects of higher drug prices due to the war on drugs. Making the selling and consumption of drugs illegal not only raises drug prices but also has other important effects. For example, while some consumers are reluctant to buy illegal goods, drugs may be an exception because drug use usually starts while people are teenagers or young adults. A rebellious streak may lead them to use and sell drugs precisely because those activities are illegal.

The U.S. spends about $15 billion a year fighting illegal drugs, often on foreign soil. But America's deadliest drug epidemic begins and ends at home

More important, some drugs, such as crack or heroin, are highly addictive. Many people addicted to smoking and to drinking alcohol manage to break their addictions when they get married or find good jobs, or as a result of other life-cycle events. They also often get help from groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, or by using patches and "fake" cigarettes that gradually wean them from their addiction to nicotine.

It is generally harder to break an addiction to illegal goods, like drugs. Drug addicts may be leery of going to clinics or to nonprofit "drugs anonymous" groups for help. They fear they will be reported for consuming illegal substances. Since the consumption of illegal drugs must be hidden to avoid arrest and conviction, many drug consumers must alter their lives in order to avoid detection.

Usually overlooked in discussions of the effects of the war on drugs is that the illegality of drugs stunts the development of ways to help drug addicts, such as the drug equivalent of nicotine patches. Thus, though the war on drugs may well have induced lower drug use through higher prices, it has likely also increased the rate of addiction. The illegality of drugs makes it harder for addicts to get help in breaking their addictions. It leads them to associate more with other addicts and less with people who might help them quit.

Most parents who support the war on drugs are mainly concerned about their children becoming addicted to drugs rather than simply becoming occasional or modest drug users. Yet the war on drugs may increase addiction rates, and it may even increase the total number of addicts.

One moderate alternative to the war on drugs is to follow Portugal's lead and decriminalize all drug use while maintaining the illegality of drug trafficking. Decriminalizing drugs implies that persons cannot be criminally punished when they are found to be in possession of small quantities of drugs that could be used for their own consumption. Decriminalization would reduce the bloated U.S. prison population since drug users could no longer be sent to jail. Decriminalization would make it easier for drug addicts to openly seek help from clinics and self-help groups, and it would make companies more likely to develop products and methods that address addiction.

Some evidence is available on the effects of Portugal's decriminalization of drugs, which began in 2001. A study published in 2010 in the British Journal of Criminology found that in Portugal since decriminalization, imprisonment on drug-related charges has gone down; drug use among young persons appears to have increased only modestly, if at all; visits to clinics that help with drug addictions and diseases from drug use have increased; and opiate-related deaths have fallen.

Decriminalization of all drugs by the U.S. would be a major positive step away from the war on drugs. In recent years, states have begun to decriminalize marijuana, one of the least addictive and less damaging drugs. Marijuana is now decriminalized in some form in about 20 states, and it is de facto decriminalized in some others as well. If decriminalization of marijuana proves successful, the next step would be to decriminalize other drugs, perhaps starting with amphetamines. Gradually, this might lead to the full decriminalization of all drugs.

Though the decriminalization of drug use would have many benefits, it would not, by itself, reduce many of the costs of the war on drugs, since those involve actions against traffickers. These costs would not be greatly reduced unless selling drugs was also decriminalized. Full decriminalization on both sides of the drug market would lower drug prices, reduce the role of criminals in producing and selling drugs, improve many inner-city neighborhoods, encourage more minority students in the U.S. to finish high school, substantially lessen the drug problems of Mexico and other countries involved in supplying drugs, greatly reduce the number of state and federal prisoners and the harmful effects on drug offenders of spending years in prison, and save the financial resources of government.

The lower drug prices that would result from full decriminalization may well encourage greater consumption of drugs, but it would also lead to lower addiction rates and perhaps even to fewer drug addicts, since heavy drug users would find it easier to quit. Excise taxes on the sale of drugs, similar to those on cigarettes and alcohol, could be used to moderate some, if not most, of any increased drug use caused by the lower prices.

Taxing legal production would eliminate the advantage that violent criminals have in the current marketplace. Just as gangsters were largely driven out of the alcohol market after the end of prohibition, violent drug gangs would be driven out of a decriminalized drug market. Since the major costs of the drug war are the costs of the crime associated with drug trafficking, the costs to society would be greatly reduced even if overall drug consumption increased somewhat.

The decriminalization of both drug use and the drug market won't be attained easily, as there is powerful opposition to each of them. The disastrous effects of the American war on drugs are becoming more apparent, however, not only in the U.S. but beyond its borders. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon has suggested "market solutions" as one alternative to the problem. Perhaps the combined efforts of leaders in different countries can succeed in making a big enough push toward finally ending this long, enormously destructive policy experiment.

—Mr. Becker is a professor of economics and sociology at the University of Chicago. He won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1992. Mr. Murphy is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Both are senior fellows of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.


 
 
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Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he supports the legalization of marijuana in California.

In a New York Times article about the fading stigma of the drug in the Golden State, Newsom told the New York Times' Adam Nagourney, "These laws just don't make sense anymore. It's time for politicians to come out of the closet on this."

Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco who challenged Jerry Brown for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010, is the highest-ranking state official to endorse legalization of marijuana.

Under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state passed laws lowering penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, making possession of less than an ounce similar to a routine traffic violation.

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which authorized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. But state voters narrowly rejected a measure in 2010 an initiative to decriminalize the drug.


 
 
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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES, Dec 30 (Reuters) - After a decades-long campaign to legalize marijuana hit a high mark in 2012 with victories in Washington state and Colorado, its energized and deep-pocketed backers are mapping out a strategy for the next round of ballot-box battles.

They have their sights set on possible ballot measures in 2014 or 2016 in states such as California and Oregon, which were among the first in the country to allow marijuana for medical use. Although those states more recently rejected broader legalization, drug-law reform groups remain undeterred.

"Legalization is more or less repeating the history of medical marijuana," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "If you want to know which states are most likely to legalize marijuana, then look at the states that were the first to legalize medical marijuana."


 
 
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Ethan NadelmannExecutive Director, Drug Policy Alliance

Parsing Obama's Words on Legalizing MarijuanaPosted: 12/14/2012 10:15 am

Anytime the president answers a question about marijuana and federal marijuana policy, as he did in a recent interview with ABC's Barbara Walters that airs tonight, it makes sense to parse his words.

Four things stand out in ABC's press release about the president's comments.

The first is that he responded in a serious and substantive tone, which contrasted with the jokingly dismissive ways in which he answered questions about marijuana legalization just a few years ago. The ballot initiative victories in Colorado and Washington gave him no choice this time. Marijuana legalization is now a political reality.

The second was his comment -- highlighted by ABC in its news release -- that recreational users of marijuana in states that have legalized the substance should not be a "top priority" of federal law enforcement officials prosecuting the war on drugs. "We've got bigger fish to fry," he said. That statement is not news. Federal law enforcement officials have never prioritized going after users of marijuana. Obama has said much the same regarding medical consumers of marijuana, but that begs the question of whether consumers will be able to make their purchases from legal or only illegal sources.

The third was when Obama told Walters he does not -- "at this point" -- support widespread legalization of marijuana. The caveat "at this point" sounds a lot like how he responded to questions about legalizing gay marriage - until he finally decided it was time to publicly support it. Obama cited shifting public opinion and essentially made clear that this is not an issue on which he wants to provide leadership so long as public opinion is split and Congress unlikely to do anything constructive.

The fourth, and most substantive, comment was the following: "This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law," Obama said. "I head up the executive branch; we're supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we're going to need to have is a conversation about, How do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it's legal?" What stands out here are the words about the "need to have... a conversation" and the fact that he is framing the conflict between federal and state law as a question to be resolved as opposed to one in which it is simply assumed that federal marijuana prohibition trumps all.

What remains unclear is whom the president sees as the participants in that conversation. Earlier this week Attorney General Holder said, in response to questions after a speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, "I would expect the policy pronouncement that we're going to make will be done relatively soon." All indications suggest that deliberations about the administration's position are being conducted primarily by and among federal law enforcement officials, many of whom appear most comfortable reciting the mantra that "it's all illegal under federal law" as grounds for dismissing any further conversation.

That is why the letter sent last week by Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to drug czar Gil Kerlikowske is especially significant. "What assurance can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face Federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?" he asked, and then stated that "legislative options exist to resolve the differences between federal and state law in this area and end the uncertainty that residents of Colorado and Washington now face."

Voters in Washington and Colorado did more than just make history last month by voting to end their states' marijuana prohibition laws and attempt instead to regulate marijuana as a legal commodity. They performed a national service by catapulting the national conversation about marijuana policy to a new level of urgency and political significance. President Obama is right about the need for a conversation. He needs to ensure that federal officials engage in good faith and with due deference to the fiscal, moral and public safety and health arguments in favor of legally regulating marijuana rather than persisting with a costly and ineffective prohibitionist policy.



 

Follow Ethan Nadelmann on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EthanNadelmann