On His Way Out the Door, Mexico's President Says Maybe That War on Drugs Was Not Such a Good Idea


In a recent interview with The Economist, outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderón, whose crackdown on drug cartels was followed by a surge in prohibition-related violence that has claimed 50,000 or so lives so far, said shutting down the illegal drug trade is "impossible." Unless Americans are ready to stop using drugs, he added, they have a moral obligation to consider "market mechanisms" that would cut the cartels out of the business:

Either the United States and its society, its government and its Congress decide to drastically reduce their consumption of drugs, or if they are not going to reduce it they at least have the moral responsibility to reduce the flow of money towards Mexico, which goes into the hands of criminals. They have to explore even market mechanisms to see if that can allow the flow of money to reduce.

If they want to take all the drugs they want, as far as I'm concerned let them take them. I don't agree with it but it's their decision, as consumers and as a society. What I do not accept is that they continue passing their money to the hands of killers.

Calderon made similar remarks last year. But this time around, combined with last month's marijuana legalization votes in Colorado and Washington, his allusion to repealing drug prohibition seems to have made more of an impression on the Dallas Morning News, which last week editorialized in favor of "a third-way drug policy":

Momentum seems to be building around the idea of decriminalizing consumption to remove mega-profits from illicit trade….

This newspaper supports certain medical uses of marijuana, but reserves judgment on whether broader decriminalization is the right approach….

This much is certain: The war against drugs isn't working—here or abroad. Congress and the White House owe it to Americans and our drug-fighting allies to devise more realistic marijuana policies.

I am glad to see another big-city paper (especially one published in the town where I live) question the war on drugs. But the "third way" favored by this editorial is morally incoherent and cannot accomplish its ostensible goal. If consuming drugs should not be crime, neither should facilitating consumption. And "decriminalizing consumption" cannot "remove mega-profits from illicit trade"; only decriminalizing the supply can do that. Finally, as critics of marijuana legalization are quick to point out, cannabis is only part of the black market. Although legalizing production and sale of marijuana will take a bite out of the cartels' revenue, prohibition will continue to enrich murderous thugs as long as drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine remain illegal.

Last week Mike Riggs noted that our outgoing secretary of state, unlike Mexico's outgoing president, sees no merit in legalization as a response to prohibition-related violence. Whereas last year she said we can't legalize the drug business because "there is just too much money in it" (which some might count as an argument in favor of repealing prohibition), on Thursday she said the problem is that criminals will always find something else to do. "They'll do kidnapping," she said. "They'll do extortion." So as long as kidnapping and extortion are viable ways for them to make money, why not give them other revenue streams as well?

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]