Saturday, August 22, 2009

a hole in the dike

Message boards all over Mexico are lit up with the news: Drugs are legal in Mexico.

As is often the case with 98% of the information on the Internet: it is simply not true. No. Worse than that. It is a lie. And people should know better.

What is true is that, as of Friday, the possession of limited amounts of five drugs will no longer be a criminal offense.

The correct announcement is: "Mexico decriminalizes possession of small amounts of five drugs. Nothing changes."

And the response should be: big deal.

The only country in the western hemisphere with enough police and snitches to deal with the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs is Cuba. Free societies have trouble paying for enough police to deal with assaults and burglaries -- let alone tracking down dopeheads.

Mexico is no exception.

The police have never had resources to track down Mexico's two largest class of recreational drug users: 1) tourists and 2) middle class Mexican "teenagers."

The authorities generally do not care what tourists do to themselves. If they want to rot their systems with meth and coke, most police could care less. That was true in the past under the old law and it will be true in the future under the new law.

Mexico does care about its growing domestic user market, though. Too many young people (and people who cannot escape the gravitational pull of remaining an eternal teenager) have become users in Mexico. The government wants to stop the problem.

Unfortunately, this law is not going to make any difference.

The limits are not meant to be generous:

  • 5 grams of marijuana — the equivalent of about four joints, I am told

  • 1/2 gram of cocaine -- the equivalent of about 4 "lines," I am told

  • 50 milligrams of heroin -- no idea what that equates to

  • 40 milligrams of methamphetamine -- I doubt a meth-head could calculate it

  • 0.015 milligrams of LSD -- probably enough to make you wish you had skipped this line

And because this law change is designed to show a nation that its government cares about them, all arrests for possession will be accompanied by a suggestion to seek treatment. Caught a third time? Treatment is mandatory. That'll show 'em.

I have talked about the drug wars in several prior posts (drugs -- the summary). There is no need to rehash the principles.

The killing is not going to end until full legalization takes place. Anything illegal creates a falsely-priced market. The government effectively adds a cost to the product, making it expensive enough for criminals to kill their rivals and bribe authorities.

Legalization will drop the price, destroy the monopoly, and people will stop dying over who owns what territory.

Will more people use drugs? Maybe. No one knows. And I realize that scares middle-class American families. But middle-class children will not become addicted to drugs because they are legal no more than teen-aged boys will drive sanely if a speed limit is imposed.

But there will be a trade off. Will fewer people die and will some legitimacy be restored to governments? I can almost guarantee it.

But changing the possession laws does nada for any of those steps. Even the Noble Experimet of alcohol prohibition never attempted to deal with possession of alcohol. People often forget that.

It was the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption that was illegal. The same theory behind drug prohibition.

Rather than waste our time even discussing this insignificant change in Mexican law, we should be pressing the Obama and Harper administrations to grab this opportunity and simply repeal all federal laws relating to illegal drugs. The states and provinces could then take their own courses.

The time could not be better than now.


Anonymous said...

Bullseye Steve. I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, to propose this progressive and common sense solution would be political suicide that no politician will ever commit. It is only when the masses see the light and change their attitude regarding legalization will the correct course of action be initiated by our politcal leaders.

norm said...

Well said.

Babs said...

Amen. But the talk show hosts and TV nutheads in the US will seize on this to show that Mexico is immoral. I guarantee it, sadly.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I agree with your legalization position.

We can talk about your justifications later.

A Nony Moose

john said...

I think your evaluation of how drug prohibition generates crime is right on the money. I agree that repealing all laws against manufacture, transportation and selling drugs would seriously reduce the violence. But I'm not hopeful this will happen.

Steve Cotton said...

Francisco -- Thanks. Of course, after venting my spleen, I know little will happen. Both parties have been competing with one another for decades to be harder on drugs than the competition. But that does not mean that it should not happen.

Norm -- Gracias.

Babs -- I know what you mean. I looked at the blog of a fellow who is a rather well-known progressive Democrat. He did, in fact, write about this issue. "Mexico is filled with treasures. Unfortunately, there are then the Mexicans." He did a hatchet job on the law change calling the Mexican government hypocritical. Of course, he has already sold his soul to the protectionist lobby. But we are going to hear similar attacks from left and right. Just as we will hear calls for greater liberalization from both the right and the left. I suspect I could write National Review's editorial as I sit here.

Steve Cotton said...

A Nony Moose -- And we will. We will. I suppose you will want to edit my editorial pieces.

John -- The pity is that unless something changes rather soon, we will be condemning entire communities to whirlpools of violence. An entire generation is being raised raised on tales of cartel "heroes" as the heirs of Pancho Villa. The last thing Mexico needs is to celebrate the centennial of the revolution with a new revolution.

Michael Dickson said...

One and all: go to this website:

And join up with a monthly contribution, as little as five bucks, and that can be done automatically from a credit card, whatever. This helps the movement grow, and it is growing.

And L.E.A.P. will send you (even in Mexico) a nifty little badge lapel pin. I wear mine proudly.

Anonymous said...

Don't expect Obama to try to deal with it. He has told Mexico he is too busy to even think about immigration reform, much less any other Mexican/USA issues. He is not a multi-tasker.

Steve Cotton said...

Felipe -- Networks help. Thanks. I have the site on my FaceBook.

Anonymous II -- You may be correct. It appears that Washington is having some difficulty keeping the balls in the air. But a guy can hope, can't he?

1st Mate said...

Along with Babs, I wonder if those so quick to judge in the States will just add the new reality-based ruling to their list of "Why it's dangerous to go (or let your kids go) to Mexico." Oh, well, that just means more Mexico for us, right?

Steve Cotton said...

1st Mate -- My concern is that Mexico may have spent political capital with no practical impact. That is the shame. What the left and right sensationalists do with this north of the border, they will do. I just wish the politicians could stay on track with this issue. But what am I saying? That woud require some form of leadership.

Tancho said...

what would all the big business and corporate corrupt do should more than half the prison population not be there?
Although just, not popular, not at least now.....sadly.

Arnie said...

You give the US federal government too much credit. States have already taken their own courses. Buying high grade pot at a clinic in California is as easy as buying oxycotin in Mexico. The smart clinics pay taxes too, state and federal.

This is just a short term ruling. Someone down the road will call it a failure and throw a certain political party under the bus. Then the PRI can go back into the narco business and everything will be good again, just like it was before the current free market.

You see Mexico does not have a drug problem. Drugs are a luxury for tourists who can afford to go on vacation and rich Mexicans (and long haul truck drivers for what I am told). Mexico has a drug distribution problem. It is simply a logistics issue. Customers are to the north and old alliances and franchises were lost when Fox took power. The grenades and automatic weapons only came out when the drug trade became a free for all. Only the PRI can bring back a sense of normalcy and control.

Which is why I don't go Sinaloa anymore. I miss the chicken, though.

Steve Cotton said...

Arnie -- You are correct. Some of the states have tinkered with a few of their possession laws and sales for extremely restricted purposes. Not unlike, during prohibition, when doctors were allowed to prescribe medicinal beer with a wink and a nod. The problem is that the federal government defines controlled substances. The big change has to happen there. (Why anyone ever thought the federal government had the constitutional authority to regulate drugs is beyond me.) And you are probably correct (unfortunately) about the PRI. The PRI will come to some accommodation with the cartels and violate every reason that the party has to exist. The leaders of what would become the PRI won the revolution and destroyed the war lords that made Porfiro Diaz's dictatorship work. Now, the PRI runs the risk of bringing back a nastier breed. Thus does Clio laugh at the affairs of men.

Karen said...

Steve, you are sooo right!!! I agree with you but can you just hear the right wing conservatives on this issue, oh my it would keep them talking forever!!!!

Steve Cotton said...

Karen -- We should not ignore that some of the most outspoken and veteran advocates of drug legalization are conservatives: National Review being a perfect example. However, until the politicians of both look-alike parties decide that the current drug policy cannot work, it will simply not matter.

Michael Dickson said...

Look-alike parties?? Steve, has drug legalization taken hold in your house? Is the aroma of the demon weed floating both upstairs and down?

In other words, are you inebriated? Is this why Jiggs cannot stand up without help, secondhand smoke? Is he stoned too?

The Democrats that control their party, which is the extremist wing, and the Republicans that control their party, which also is the extremist wing, are very, very different these days.

They don´t look at all alike to me, and I don´t like the way either of them look. But I sure can tell them apart.

Howard said...

Hi Steve:
I am a little confused. Let me quote you:

"But middle-class children will not become addicted to drugs because they are legal no more than teen-aged boys will drive sanely if a speed limit is imposed."

Am I correct in thinking that you meant (in my UK type English) either:

"But middle-class children will not refrain from drug use if it is illegal any more than teen-age boys will drive sanely if a speed limit is imposed"

or, in the alternate,

"But middle-class children will not become any more addicted to drugs because they are legal than teenage boys would drive sanely if there were no speed limits."

Just a matter of language. Interested in your comments.

Howard said...

Permit me another comment, please.

You said:

"simply repeal all federal laws relating to illegal drugs. The states and provinces could then take their own courses."

"If you want change (as I know you do, and I support you) then sloppy language like this will be a problem. What do you mean by "illegal drugs"? All controlled substances? I suspect not as states do not have the resources to manage comprehensive drug regulation.

As for provinces and states "taking their own courses", that is how you got to segregation (and previously, slavery). Are you serious?

This is such an important issue I would like you to rethink your comments.

Friends, right?

Steve Cotton said...

Felipe -- From my perspective on this issue, both parties look exactly the same. They may use different rationalizations for failing to take action, but the bottom line is that they love telling people what to do -- whether economically or socially or both. Like two ugly sisters, they look enough alike to me that I am not asking either one to the ball. (You should understand that concept. You're the guy who can serial date PAN, the Greens, and the Social Democrats.)

Hpward -- Both of your edits are far superior to my original. Working speeding teenagers into the language of permissiveness was my structural undoing -- a faililng you have properly (and graciously) corrected. Gracias.

As for what to call the drugs we are discussing. It is difficult because drugs the government disapproves of have ended up getting mixed up in the controlled substances classification -- as if the goverment was interested only in the safety of its citizens. I can make a case for the states and the provinces to take control over drug regulation (California, in the guise of marijuana distributrion, is attempting that very thing), but the whole idea would crash upon the drug industry's objections. (The fact that a system like that would be a full employment act for trial attorneys is enough to give me pause.) I am far more interested in that class of drugs that are wrongly called recreational drugs (as if their use was no more stupid than riding a Ferris wheel). The only solution is a list. I need to give it some more thought. There needs to be a better term.

Residente Permanente said...

There are drugs in Mexico?

Steve Cotton said...

Immigrante Rentista -- Was that in your best Captain Renault voice? "I am shocked, shocked to find that dugs are being sold in Mexico!"