War on Drugs Causes Drug Mules…

by Barry M-C on August 18, 2013

drugmulesThis story has all the ingredients for a great story: two young, attractive young women arrested in South America with huge quantities of cocaine in their luggage as they try to fly back to Europe’s party capital.  For the tabloids, the girls’ forlorn faces gazing out makes great copy; and their arrest is apparently an obvious “victory” in the War on Drugs and “proof” that we should continue to prosecute it.

Yet, the same picture also shows more of the collateral damage caused by the ill-conceived and long-lost War on Drugs; whether these two girls were willing or unwilling participants, it is the Drug War itself that is driving youngsters like this to become “drug mules”, helping smuggle drugs across frontiers for organised crime syndicates.  Indeed, if drugs were legal (and taxes and regulations were not overly burdensome or too high (as is the case of cigarettes which, for these reasons, are still smuggled) then there would not be any real need for so-called “drug mules” to smuggle drugs across frontiers.

In fact, so-called “organised crime” would either become “legit”, competing in the market alongside everyone else selling goods and services, or would be unable to compete with legal importers of drugs.

Furthermore, drug suppliers would no longer be incentivised to “cut” drugs with out substances like talcum powder, as users would be able to go court over the mis-selling/mis-labeling of goods, making the actual drugs safer to use; there’d be much less violence associated with drugs as dispute resolution could be handled by the courts rather than with bullets and beatings; and the judicial and prison systems here and abroad would be that much less corrupted by drugs money. There’d be fewer crimes against the person and property by addicts to fund their use; and the same penalties for drink driving could be extended for those driving, operating machinery, etc, under the influence of drugs, especially where that causes or risks harm to others. The police could also focus on tackling crimes against person and property where there are actual victims rather than arresting individuals for what they choose to do to themselves.

So, lots of pluses but there are some negatives.

Of course, legalisation will not be a panacea; some people will still wreck their lives with drugs (they do now), like they do with drink or smoking or gambling or hoarding of rubbish or parachuting or horse-riding or any number of sports and past-times that are potentially dangerous and even fatal.  And their families will continue to suffer, as they do now and as do families coping with a loved one hurt in a sports accident and so on.  But legalisation is likely to see the overall level of damage to users and their families and the wider society much reduced from the levels we experience under drug prohibition; some 60,000 people have died in Mexico in drugs-related crime – and is one of the reasons so many Latin American leaders are calling for legalisation… because the War on Drugs has failed catastrophically.

In Mexico, ramping-up the War on Drugs had the opposite effect to that intended, it led to an intensification of the violence and criminality surrounding the drug trade. Indeed, one of the elite army units that was sent in decided to set-up as a cartel, using its military training to give it an edge in carving-out turf.  With around 60,000 people dead in the last 6 or 7 years as a direct consequence of Mexico’s “tougher” approach to the War on Drugs, it’s clear that a policy rethink is on the cards.  This is an insane level of violence, mainly directed at controlling the lucrative trade routes into the US because, comparatively, Mexico is a much lower level user of drugs than its northern neighbour.  Prosecutors, politicians, police and judges are routinely assassinated – along with their families; decapitated heads are left in sacks in school playgrounds; bodies are routinely left hanging on motorway bridges.

Given that Mexico has so spectacularly failed to win the War on Drugs, despite the massive casualties and despite the massive resources committed and the massive abridgements of civil liberties, it is unclear that Britain could do any better and still remain a freeish country under the rule of law.

For these two young girls staring at a trial and possible lengthy prison sentence – whether they were willing “mules” or coerced into smuggling – the failed War on Drugs has clearly claimed two more victims (along with their families).  And that’s because most politicians the world over do not have the moral courage to admit failure when it comes to the War on Drugs.  It’s not a question of “surrender”; it is a question of facing up to reality and choosing an alternative public policy, one that will reduce the amount of harm done to individuals and society: legalisation.

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