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December 20, 2004

Violence in Colombia, Edmonton (Canada), Philadelphia, Utah

From the large and terrible to the small and sad, drug prohibition is costing lives through violence around the globe.

First, a piece by Steven Dudley in today's Miami Herald, distributed by Knight Ridder and hence appearing in other papers as well, reports on a war within the feared "Norte del Valle Cartel," touched off by US extraditions of cartel leaders, which has left over a thousand dead. These thousand are not all big time drug lords -- a cartel has one or a few of those, not a thousand -- and many were doubtless innocent bystanders. Taxi drivers, for example, are among the dead left piled up by the side of the road, according to Dudley's article.

Dudley also does a good job of pointing out how the carnage is all ultimately in vain: "Yet the price of cocaine on U.S. streets continues to drop -- a sign of increasing availability," he writes, and "The only question is: How long will it take for a new [cartel] to emerge?" he quotes Wilson Reyes, a consultant for a Valle del Cauca provincial peace initiative.

In Edmonton, Canada, the Edmonton Sun in an article titled It's All About Drugs reports on the city's 27th and 28th murders this year, a record in the city. Police and criminologists attribute the spike in violence to fierce competition amonst gangs for control of lucrative drug selling turf.

Here in the US, the Philadelphia Daily News reported on the tragic murder of Milton "Shreets" Brown, a 16-year old who decided to leave drug selling behind. But his former associates wouldn't let him, and others were caught in the crossfire too.

And in Utah, KSL-TV, the NBC affiliate based in Salt Lake City, reported on a fight over drugs in the suburb of Lehi had led to a homicide. The victim was the 43-year-old Kenneth Ward.

These kinds of stories frustrate me, because all of these murders occurred only because drugs are illegal. The Norte del Valle Cartel would not exist if drugs were produced and distributed by legitimate business. Drug gangs in Edmonton would not fight over turf if they were replaced by pharmacies or what kinds of stores were licensed to sell the drugs instead. Milton Brown would never have gotten mixed up in drug selling on the criminal market if the drugs were being sold in some legal frameword -- and to those who say that Brown and the people who killed him would have just been doing some other kind of crime, I ask you, where would the money have come from to finance the lifestyle? And while we don't have enough details about the killing of Kenneth Ward to draw conclusions firmly, obviously it is the high cost of drugs, and the time people need to spend in dangerous circumstances to buy them, that makes them something people would be likely to fight over. How many people have been affected, how has the quality of life and the functioning of the economy been damaged, by all of the needless violence? The answer is so obvious -- legalization -- and therefore all the more frustrating.

The Miami Herald accepts letters to the editor via its contact form -- choose "letter to the editor" in the drop down menu. The Edmonton Sun accepts letters via e-mail to [email protected]. I was not able to find letter to the editor information on the Philadelphia Daily News web site, but if any of you can find it please post. The KSL News Room accepts feedback via the web.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at December 20, 2004 03:07 PM

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Posted by: digamma at December 21, 2004 10:57 AM

Dave - great post! But you mention "legalization". I think that word scares people and doesn't help our cause. I prefer "regulation for adult consumption". Or the long form "regulation of controlled substances for consumption by adults". I think the word "drugs" scares people, too.

Posted by: Steviemo in MN at December 21, 2004 11:34 AM

Steviemo wrote:

Dave - great post! But you mention "legalization". I think that word scares people and doesn't help our cause. I prefer "regulation for adult consumption". Or the long form "regulation of controlled substances for consumption by adults". I think the word "drugs" scares people, too.

This is an ongoing and unending debate within our movement. Certainly there are many others who feel the same way. My take on it is that we are stuck with the word legalization. If we don't succeed in explaining to people what we mean when we say legalization -- e.g. regulation, etc., as Steviemo put it, which is what most of us mean -- then I don't believe we will win. I see it this way because legalization simply is the word that is most commonly used to express that idea. Terms like regulation are our words, not the general public's.

Also, words like regulation, or even prohibition, the word I like to use, just don't draw people's attention as well. Superior terminology or rhetoric won't win people over if they never hear us say it or don't pay attention when they do. Perhaps Jack Cole will weigh in on his experiences with LEAP's "Police Say Legalize Drugs" t-shirts vs. their experiment with a "Police Say End Drug Prohibition" t-shirt. And how many people do web searches on "drug legalization" vs. "drug prohibition" or "drug regulation"? Probably a lot more. They won't find our web site if we don't use the word legalization.

These are some of my reasons for using the L-word. I do agree it is important where possible to explain what we mean by it, and I also agree there are circumstances -- for example lectures where the audience is already there -- in which it is better to primarily use other terms.

- Dave

Posted by: David Borden at December 21, 2004 01:45 PM

Good points, Dave. Choice of words would depend on you audience at any given time. If you're ever invited on Hardball, I think I like the R-word better than the L-word. Thanks.

Posted by: Steviemo in MN at December 22, 2004 12:27 PM

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