The Drug War Makes Border Enforcement More Difficult

Presidential candidates demand more action on illegal immigrants and illegal drugs, but the two goals conflict.


How many wars can we fight?

Our presidential candidates demand "stronger action" against both illegal immigration and illegal drugs. But those goals conflict. The War on Drugs makes border enforcement much harder!

America's 44-year-long Drug War hasn't made a dent in American drug use or the supply of illegal drugs. If it had some positive effect, prices of drugs would have increased, but they haven't. American authorities say drugs are more available than ever.

Drug prohibition, like alcohol prohibition, creates fat profits that invite law-breaking.

Cato's Ted Galen Carpenter says, "Economists estimate that about 90 percent of the retail price of illicit drugs is due to this black market premium." Ninety-percent profits inspire lots of criminal risk-taking.

"Washington's policy empowers the most ruthless traffickers—those willing to use violence, intimidation and exploitation of the vulnerable to gain market share." Continues Carpenter: "When drugs are outlawed, only outlaws will sell drugs."

Since the drug gangs can't settle disputes in court, they settle them with guns. In Latin America, they've killed thousands of people.

"Honduras has been living in an emergency," says Honduran President Juan Hernandez. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs."

Mexico's former president, Vicente Fox, now supports legalization. Leaders of Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica and Bolivia have begun to object to the militaristic anti-drug tactics pushed by the United States.

Yet Hillary Clinton called taxpayer money spent on counter-narcotics efforts in Central America "money well spent."

She's closed-minded and wrong. Our Drug War creates the carnage that drives poor Latin Americans to abandon their villages and move north. That increases resentment against immigrants, as expressed by Donald Trump, who said, "They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime." Some do bring drugs, but most wouldn't bring crime if they could legally do business with us.

Our crazy, failed policy turns our neighbors to the south into a deadly menace.

"Coyotes," who help impoverished refugees escape, often require even the children to become drug mules—to smuggle small amounts of drugs. The children obey, since many fled places where they'd be shot at or tortured by gangs. They know the drug gangs and coyotes are their only hope for reaching a better life.

Drug profits give smugglers the money  to do what poverty-stricken immigrants can't: dig long, high-tech tunnels with lighting and ventilation systems. A border fence doesn't secure the border when immigrants—and criminals—can tunnel underneath it.

U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy recently bragged to reporters about "the fifth super-tunnel we've intercepted."

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent Derek Benner claimed that the interception dealt "a stunning blow to the Mexican cartel who built it."

But that's absurd. Benner admitted they'd done the same thing two years before "in virtually the same scenario." They found five of how many? Hundreds? With a border almost 2,000 miles long, they're unlikely to find them all.

Drug prohibition, by making drug cartels rich, enables them to build a literal underground railroad to the north. The whole process—dig, build, raid, destroy, repeat—is just one more pointless activity that happens when government tries to suppress popular activities such as drug use.

Other countries are wising up. Argentina, Peru, Mexico and Portugal decriminalized small amounts of drugs. Uruguay legalized marijuana entirely, as have Colorado and Washington State.

The Center for Investigative Reporting says 90 percent of the drugs seized on the U.S.-Mexico border are some form of marijuana, meaning almost every time the Border Patrol makes a drug bust, it confiscates  a drug that's legal in Colorado.

This is crazy.

We keep trying to do things the hard way—spending over $1 trillion on the Drug War. If there were a clear benefit, you might say it was worth it. Instead, it yields death, dislocation of populations and enrichment of murderous cartels, without reducing drug abuse. Why do we put up with this?

Government's attempts to prohibit what people want tend to fail. The wars on immigration and drugs are two more wars we won't win.



NEXT: Bernie Sanders' Protectionism & Nativist Economics is Neither New Nor Smart

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  1. “We keep trying to do things the hard way — spending over $1 trillion on the Drug War. If there were a clear benefit, you might say it was worth it.”

    Oh, there’s a benefit alright. Police and prison guard unions would have no reason to launder a cut back to the appropriating legislators if their jobs consisted entirely of apprehending and guarding criminals that were actually dangerous to society.

    Plus, how else would you effectively profit from civil forfeiture? Violent crimes like murder, robbery, rape generally don’t involve assets that are assumed to be financial fruits of a poison tree. You bag a guy for murder and really, what’s in it for you? Much better to send a SWAT team to someone’s house over a dime bag so you can seize said house and fund a killer Xmas party for the department.

  2. …spending over $1 trillion on the Drug War.

    The War on Drug Users is too important to have to bribe people to fight. Drug enforcement agents, treatment facility owners and corrections officers should be drafted into its army for minimal if any pay.

    1. but imagine an economy where the employees of drug war stuff couldn’t feed their families, or buy, well anything. that would be a keynesocalypse!

      1. Filtering out those few greedy individuals only in it for the money, so what we have left is those engaging in the struggle purely for the good of all mankind. That’s the only chance to end the war with victory.

    2. I would rather we run them all through a giant woodchipper. Then distribute the resulting organic mulch to various charities.

      1. various charities

        MADD and PDFA to start with.

  3. Ninety-percent profits inspire lots of criminal risk-taking.

    Talking about smugglers or the govt?

    1. I’d bet the profits and more like 400% or higher.The drugs are very cheap at the source.Oh.let’s not leave out the corrution in LEO’S in South America and in the governments. There also must be corruption in the U.S. Leo’s at the boarder. Then there’s Philly and Chicogo cops,ect.

  4. Don’t kid yourselves. The reason poor Mexicans flee Mexico is because its a corrupt society run by oligarchs for the benefit of oligarchs. And it isn’t drugs that created that. It is US banks who have enabled the Mexican government to spend too much – while also getting about 10 different bank bailouts over the last 30 or so years whenever the peso goes into a crisis – so that the dollar could become a reserve currency. Remember Brady bonds?

    All this simply allowed the Carlos Slims of the world to get their billions in ‘privatization’ deals (all part of the bailouts) and the creation of tortilla monopolies and sclerotic Euro-style labor regulations. The drug cartels are simply able to take advantage of that corruption. Poor Mexicans aren’t – so they leave.

    1. Colombia is a different story but not that different. There the drug war is simply part of the 60 year long guerilla war that Castro helped start in 1948 when he was just a student. And that US multinationals have enabled because they have resisted all post-colonial land reform throughout Latin America.

      American billionaires have helped create the corruption throughout that region. They benefit from it. And they benefit from landless peasants then streaming everywhere else in order to subvert laws elsewhere too.

    2. Re: JFree,

      Don’t kid yourselves. The reason poor Mexicans flee Mexico is because its a corrupt society run by oligarchs for the benefit of oligarchs.

      Societies cannot be “corrupt”. You’re confusing institutions with “society”. Besides this, it is not like Mexico’s institutions are the only ones that are corrupt, or have you even peeked at the American institutions lately?

      The result of corrupt institutions is simply slower growth than you could see if markets were less hindered, but people have been migrating from Mexico to the United States since the 19th Century.

      The drug cartels are simply able to take advantage of that corruption.

      The drug cartels are the direct result of the war on drugs. Have you seen any egg cartels? Or toilet seat cartels? No?

      1. Or the Bud v Coors war,lol

      2. The reason there are no egg cartels or toilet seat cartels is because none of those depend on control of vast swathes of land. Crop production does. Control of land is precisely what those civil wars are being fought over – and ownership of land is precisely where landowners and governments will ALWAYS scratch each others back to screw someone else. The ‘drug cartel’ is simply one of the crops whose price increased in the 1960’s so it became a financing alternative to the other pre-existing cash-crop plantations/cartels. The violence of the cash-crop plantation (hacienda and neolatifundismo) owners is not new to drugs. It long predates independence and it persists because effective land reform has always been blocked. The drug wars are simply the modern version of the banana wars and the coffee wars and all the other wars (hell – add cotton wars and slavery here in the US) that revolve around land.

        And yeah I guess it is strictly speaking an ‘institution’ not a society.

    3. The drug war is the number one corrupting influnce in these countries.Not only do the cartels have billions of dollars,but the guns and will to use them.I’f you think otherr wise your a fool or a drug warrior..BTY,the socialist policies in these countries and their leaders have caused many problems,they need free markets and they need investment ,even from the billionairs you hate.

      1. I’ve lived in many of those countries. The corruption has existed since before independence and is a major reason the entire region has such a long history of poor self-governance. Drugs are simply a modern financing system for the civil wars there.

        I’m no drug warrior but I can assure you that if the militarized drug war simply ‘ends’; then that will merely mean that Latin America will have a continent-wide change of governments. Away from cash-crops and anything you might call ‘free market’ (which you probably have no fucking clue about in Latin America) and towards caudillo-types like Chavez. And that will be the case for as long as land ownership in those countries is so concentrated. You freaking American social-cause libertarians and anarcho-capitalists are completely goddamn clueless. Maybe you should read Hernando de Soto Polar

  5. If 90% of the profit is due to black market, why is it cheaper to buy pot on the street in Colorado than in the legal retail outlets?

    1. Easy,no permits, taxes and business costs ( rent,utilities,employees and their taxes,supplies for cleaning and on and on.)

      1. I doubt those expenses come to 90%.

        1. Excluding the tax!

  6. Fact: governments cause most problems , including “the drug problem” and the immigration “problem”.

    Fact: there are no political solutions for _any_ problem caused by a government ; never have been, never will be- not “right wing”, not “left wing” , not even “Ron Paul”, or “libertarian” solutions. Only more, even worse problems will result from any of its/their “solutions”.

    Fact: As long as you believe that political solutions really do exist, dear reader, you will remain firmly trapped inside “the Matrix”; i.e. exactly where the Obama’s, Trumps, Sanders , Pauls, etc. want you to be:-)

    Fact: the author of this article is just another in an endless stream of “inside the matrix” writers going their utmost to keep you firmly buried/entrenched inside that ” matrix”, by encouraging/flattering yours and others here endless fantasies of dreamed of political “solutions” to yours, or the country’s, or the world’s, problems, when in fact, there are none, can be none, and never have been any 🙂 .

    Regards, onebornfree.

  7. I was in Colombia in the latter part of the 90’s and gringos could buy grams of close-to-pure marching power for a couple bucks. I can only imagine what the wholesale price would be for large amounts.

  8. I all for legalizing drugs but if you think that will get rid of the Cartels your a fool. They are already diversified into several other criminal activities since crime pays fr more than anything legal since you can keep all the profits and pay really low wages.

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  10. “Whose interests are served by the drug war? The U.S. government enforces a drug cartel. The major beneficiaries from drug prohibition are the drug lords, who can maintain a cartel that they would be unable to maintain without current government policy.” – – Milton Friedman

  11. Complain, commenters, complain! So we shouldn’t take positive steps on U.S. immigration and drug policy because it won’t “fix” Mexico and the corruption of South and Central American countries?

    Stossel’s right: it’s nuts.

    1. Nice spin.

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  13. Our War On Drugs has been and continues to be an expensive flop. During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, re a visit of the then President of Mexico, Reagan lectured his visitor re corruption and other problems in his country, Mexico. Thge Mexican president allowed tha

    1. Operator caused this partial post. See complete post below.

  14. The above article brings a few points to mind.

    Re the War On Drugs, a fiasco that has led to the sad diminishing of civil rights in this country. It also appears that bureaucratic empires have been built on this misbegotten operation, which strikes me as an especially sad situation, also as a stinging indictment of government operations here.

    During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the then President of Mexico, during a state visit, was lectured by our president re corruption and drug problems in Mexico and their “spill over” here. The Mexican President allowed that his country had problems, corruption being one. He also noted, correctly, that re drugs, the customers/users were in the U.S.

    Re Hilary Clinton’s comments, mentioned in the article, if I may, the less said about her the better.

  15. If American’s would stop extending economic support to Cartels by buying their drugs, there would be no need for a Drug War.
    “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

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