Editorial: Presidents and Popes Alike Should Remember the Lessons of History on Prohibition

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
Things aren't going well in Mexico's drug war. The headlines tell the story:

"Violence May Return to Oaxaca"

"Escalating drug war grips Mexico"

"23 Die in Mexico Violence Outbreak"

"Soldiers versus Narco-Soldiers"

"Steel-plated motel offers refuge in Mexico drug war"

"Mexico violence worrying both sides of border"

Just to print a few. Roughly 2,000 Mexicans died in drug trade violence in 2006, according to press reports. President Calderon is standing firm, the headlines also read:

"Mexico not to abandon war against drug gangs"

"Mexico's Calderon vows no backtracking in drug war"

Standing firm as his nation sinks in prohibition's quicksand. The president's escalation of the fight against the drug trade began almost immediately on his taking office, but the drug war killings escalated soon after. It is by no means the first time drug enforcement has sparked increased drug trade violence. And by no means, of course, is it the first time Mexico has suffered from such violence.

One particularly tragic and infamous drug war killing was that of Juan Jesús Cardinal Posados Ocampo, archbishop of Guadalajara, 14 years ago yesterday at the hands of a team of drug cartel thugs in the city's airport. Ocampo was lionized as a martyr, though recent theories suggest the killers may have mistaken him for a rival drug lord of their boss. Bad either way.

Perhaps Pope Benedict XVI was friends with Ocampo -- that doesn't seem unlikely -- and perhaps he had Ocampo in mind when, on a visit to a Franciscan-run drug treatment center in Brazil this month, he warned drug traffickers in Latin America they would face divine justice for "the grave harm they are inflicting on countless young people and on adults from every level of society."

Clearly there are many drug traffickers who merit such judgment. But to focus solely on their role in the system -- as most politicians have done -- is to simplify the issue to the point of dysfunction. Do the political leaders who enact prohibition laws also merit divine judgment for their actions? After all, it is their laws that sustain the black market and cause violence by sending the billions people spend on drugs every year into the criminal underground. And it is their laws that drive addicts to desperate measures by forcing them into that underground with all its uncertainties, its high street prices and the threat of punishment from the law.

Presidents and popes alike should remember the lessons of history and the experience of prohibition -- the danger it brings to their people and the ill temptation to crime it brings to their flocks. Until they do, things will not go well in Mexico's drug war, nor in the drug war anywhere. Because it is the money more than the drugs that degrades and corrupts.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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David Dunn's picture

Popes, Presidents and Drug Wars

Neither popes nor presidents have been particularly fond of universal human values such as Liberty and Justice for All. Neither are they fond of governments that care for human life and happiness and not their destruction.

Drug wars are wars against these values. It's governments that are waging drug wars against these values.

The Pope is trying to suggest moral approval of these drug wars. The Pope's comment about "divine justice" is nothing more than a vicious attack on liberty and justice and the care of human life and happiness.

Popes, presidents and legislators should heed the comments made in the book, Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics, p. 202:

Yet we are confident, given our findings about ONDCP's [Office of National Drug Control Policy] inability to achieve its drug war goals that any alternative other than pure legalization would be more effective at reducing harms associated with both drug use and abuse and the war on drugs.

It's unlikely that popes, presidents and legislators would be fond of legalizing drugs. If just all things hemp were legalized, the availability of "marijuana" for ritual, recreant and medicinal use would undermine the value of the illicit drug market.

Rehab centers could be used for those with addiction problems in lieu of incarceration.

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.

— Thomas Jefferson

Make the most you can of the Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere.

— George Washington

More death

Always comes from escalateing the drug war , little old folks at home sleeping, are the easy one`s sometimes their next door neighbors in their backyards looking to see what all the dark figures with guns are doing hiding and sneeking around their neighbors house, no wonder no one gets involved too help anyone anymore!

calderon: ignorant or impotent?

Is Calderon ignorant of the consequences of what he is doing, or does he recognize them yet feel impotent to do otherwise, for political or geopolitical reasons?

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