A Retiring Drug Warrior and a Captured Kingpin Illustrate the Folly of Prohibition

The actors change, but the story stays the same.



Last week Sean Penn complained that the main point of his Rolling Stone article about Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a.k.a. El Chapo, had been lost in the hullabaloo surrounding the Mexican drug lord's dramatic but ultimately inconsequential capture. Penn said he had meant to start a conversation about the war on drugs, which he described in Rolling Stone as a disastrous failure. In my latest Forbes column, I use El Chapo's arrest and the impending retirement of a leading American drug warrior to explain the inevitability of that failure:

Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, who plans to retire next month after more than four decades in the military, recently stepped down as head of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, a post he held for three years. In an interview with Military Times on his way out, Kelly repeated a complaint he had voiced while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in 2014: Marijuana legalization in the United States made it harder for him to wage the war on drugs.

"The actual legalization does cause us problems because—the hypocrisy," Kelly told Military Times. "Where you stand is where you sit. So if you're a Latin American, and we're harping on them to do more to stop the flow of drugs, they say: 'Wait a minute. As we look north, the real problem is the demand. So why don't you do more to stop the demand for drugs….Why would we do more when you seem to be legalizing this stuff?'"

Kelly is right to perceive hypocrisy—or at least, grave moral inconsistency—in our current drug policies. He is also right to suggest there is something outrageous about the U.S. government's insistence that other countries bear the burden of stopping Americans from consuming intoxicants it has decided to ban. But the general's mission-oriented perspective does not allow for the possibility that the war he has been asked to wage is bound to fail because it is fundamentally at odds with human nature and the laws of economics.

Read the whole thing.