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Column: Addicted To The Wrong Plan

Heights Columns

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Last week, President Obama met with the presidents of various Latin American and Caribbean countries at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. The dialogue at the summit centered on the war on drugs and, in particular, what a failure it’s been.

President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala said that the war could not be won using current strategies and called for a scientific analysis of the “war” to be undertaken. Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, suggested that he wouldn’t be opposed to decriminalization. A few weeks ago, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico said that he wanted a national debate on the issue. It seemed like everyone in the room agreed that dramatically liberalizing drug-enforcement policies in the very near future might be a good idea.

Until Obama spoke, that is. No, he said, that actually sounds like a pretty terrible idea, as he reiterated his “personal belief and his administration’s policy” that decriminalization is not the answer. As consolation, however, he promised instead that the U.S. would continue its efforts to slow the southbound flow of guns and money as well as the northbound flow of narcotics. This is all very curious, given that it was Obama who in 2004 said during a debate at Northwestern University, “The war on drugs has been an utter failure. We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws. We need to rethink how we’re operating the drug war.”

Indeed. Obama has apparently found his old views to be too politically toxic to maintain, however, especially in light of an impending election. For the benefit and health of U.S. citizens, he said, his administration would continue to fight the war on drugs the way it always has, i.e., poorly and inefficiently.

In what seemed like a perfunctory effort to appease the other leaders at the summit, Obama conceded that the issue of the Latin American drug supply couldn’t be discussed without bringing up the issue of U.S. demand. But that issue isn’t being addressed, at least not in a remotely efficient way. According to Reuters, the National Drug Control Budget for 2013 allocated 40 percent “for programs aimed at curbing demand and treating addicts,” and the other 60 percent “for enforcing anti-drug laws, throttling the flow of drugs across the long border with Mexico and financing the eradication of drug crops in Latin America and Asia.”

So a majority of the budget is actually aimed at throwing people in prison, which is incredibly expensive, and at stamping out supply, which never actually diminishes. Cool beans.

But, our president reassured everyone, “the American people understand that the toll of narco-trafficking on the societies of Central America, Caribbean, and parts of South America are brutal.” Sure, but that doesn’t mean they actually care, as evidenced by the fact that they don’t. Drugs users are like consumers of any other good—they don’t think about the societal and environmental costs of their purchases. If suppliers have a strong enough demand, they will see to it that it’s met. That fact alone should be enough to get anyone, including Obama, to realize the futility of the war on drugs.

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