Stop Subsidizing Mexican Drug Gangs

The horrifying drug-war violence south of our border with Mexico continues to worsen: beheadings, killings that now number several thousand at least, honest officials in fear for their lives. It's time to put an end to U.S. policies that subsidize these murderous drug gangs.

According to U.S. and Mexican officials, some 60 percent of the profits that fuel these thugs come from just one drug, marijuana. While much is smuggled over the border, an increasing amount is produced in the U.S. by foreign gangs operating on American soil -- often in remote corners of national parks and wilderness areas.

Every year, we read more headlines about clandestine marijuana farms being uncovered on these precious, environmentally sensitive public lands. These rogue farms not only pose a threat to hikers and the environment, they cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars each year in eradication and clean-up efforts.

This appalling situation, which now carries a real risk of destabilizing Mexico, is not just happenstance. It is the direct result of U.S. policies.

Like it or not, marijuana is a massive industry. Some 100 million Americans admit to government survey-takers that they've used it, with nearly 15 million acknowledging use in the past month.

That's a huge market -- more Americans than will buy a new car or truck this year, or that bought one last year. Estimates based on U.S. government figures have pegged marijuana as the number one cash crop in America, with a value exceeding corn and wheat combined.

Our current policies are based on the fantasy that we can somehow make this massive industry go away. That's about as likely as the Tooth Fairy paying off the national debt.

We haven't stopped marijuana use -- indeed, federal statistics show a roughly 4,000 percent rise since the first national ban took effect in 1937 -- but we have handed a virtual monopoly on production and distribution to criminals, including those brutal Mexican gangs.

There is a better way. After all, there's a reason these gangs aren't smuggling wine grapes.

We've seen this movie before. During the 13 dark years of alcohol Prohibition, ruthless gangsters like Al Capone and “Bugs” Moran had a monopoly on the lucrative booze market. So lucrative, in fact, that these scoundrels would routinely gun each other down rather than let a competitor share their territory. Sound familiar?

Today, the bloodbath is taking place in cities like Tijuana and Juarez, Mexico, but it's beginning to spill across our border. Prohibition simply doesn’t work – not in the 1930s and not now.

The chief of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Mexico and Central America Section recently told the New York Times that marijuana is the “king crop” for Mexican cartels. He added that the plant “consistently sustains its marketability and profitability.”

The situation is so intolerable that three former presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil have recently joined the chorus calling for a shift in U.S. marijuana policy.

There is no reason to believe that our nation’s current marijuana policies are reducing the use and availability of marijuana. Indeed, in the Netherlands -- where, since the mid 1970s, adults have been permitted to possess and purchase small amounts of marijuana from regulated businesses -- the rate of marijuana use is less than half of ours, according to a recent World Health Organization study. More importantly, the percentage of teens trying marijuana by age 15 in the Netherlands is roughly one-third the U.S. rate.

By taking marijuana out of the criminal underground and regulating and taxing it as we do beer, wine and liquor, we can cut the lifeline that makes these Mexican drug gangs so large and powerful. And at the same time we'll have a level of control over marijuana production and distribution that is impossible under prohibition.

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