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  • Fifty thousand human beings in Mexico have been slaughtered by narco gangsters vying to supply illegal drugs, mostly to the US market. Fifty thousand, over several decades, and there's no sign that the violence is about to abate.

    Now there's talk of sending killer drones after the cartel drug lords, as if bumping off a few of them is going to stop the flow of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth, or the human trafficking that the cartels are also responsible for. What a crock.

    America's War on Drugs is the only declared war in recent times I can recall to be waged against a collection of substances rather than a government, a terrorist organization, or a liberation movement. Pursuing it officially costs US authorities $40B a year, yet the value of US drug imports keeps escalating.

    A study published by the US Justice Department estimates that in 2007 the cost of illicit drug use totaled more than $193 billion. Factoring out the costs to health and society from drug use and addiction (about $23B) leaves a net $170B directly or indirectly attributable to US laws prohibiting these substances. That, plus the $40B spent on drug war enforcement activities adds up to over $200B a year spent outlawing drugs, equivalent to the gross domestic product of Denmark. That was in 2007. It's probably more now.

    Governments at all levels ponied up virtually all of that $200B. Most of the money came from income taxes or was borrowed by the Treasury. Doing the math, it cost each of the estimated 112M US households about $1,750 for enforcing drug laws. Governments recouped a bit of this money by auctioning off seized assets (not including the drugs themselves), but most of it came from tax revenues.

    Every year, about 10% of my federal and state taxes are devoted to fighting illegal drugs, whether I use or approve of them or not. I really would prefer that they use my money to solve problems instead of making them worse, because it looks like the substances are winning.

    The government says it is winning, but the drug war is patently futile. The feds spend billions to construct a state-of-the-art high-tech fence at the Mexican border, only to spur shipments from Canada. Even if Canada could make that stop, drug runners would still continue to tunnel cargo under the fence and catapult bales of drugs over it, using ancient technologies that cost very little to deploy. The cartels import their wares on container ships complete with phony bills of lading, then transship boxcars full of drugs disguised as tomatoes, peppers and asparagus to cities in our very heartland, where they get efficiently shunted into cartel-run warehouses for offloading and retail distribution. As open as it is, most such activity escapes DEA notice.

    So, ask yourself, what are your drug taxes buying? Have they enhanced your health, security or well-being? How many addicts have they helped to kick their habits? Has snaring, prosecuting and incarcerating users or pushers served you in any way? What would be a more rational way to deal with addictive substances?

    As long as motivations to consume mind-altering drugs exist – economic despair being one of them – someone will provide them. As long as we have a War on Drugs and a Drug Czar in the White House, people will get hurt and killed by criminals supplying drugs, and we'll continue to have the largest prison population in the world, overflowing with victims jailed for harming themselves. I thought America had figured out that doesn't work in the 1920s and 30s, but we must have forgotten. And despite big shifts in attitudes toward marijuana use, the feds continue to go after pot dispensaries that states have approved.

    Should you care to know more about the evils that drug prohibition has created and what the Feds and Federales are up against, read Patrick Radden Keefe's hair-raising article in the NY Times Magazine. Mexico is dying and our government killed it to protect us from ourselves.
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