US Rejects Drug Legalization, Insists on Escalating Violence

The recent uptick in drug-related violence in Mexico has been met with the predictable sledgehammer-like martial responses and pledges of harsh crackdowns by Washington. President Obama said the “United States is and will remain a partner in this fight” against drug gangs, and “we are committed to continuing our unprecedented cooperation in confronting these criminal organizations.” At least one part of that unprecedented confrontation is the Merida Initiative, which pushes military-style responses to the drug war. We’ve seen this play out in the latest response to the casino arson that killed over 50 people, with Mexico sending in 3,000 heavily armed federal officers.

Mike Riggs at Reason has been on this like no one else. He recently blogged about the counterproductive measures that have been taken, which have in part resulted in 25,000-40,000 people killed since 2006.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón called the Zeta cartel members who started the fire “true terrorists who have gone beyond all limits.” Yet having already destroyed nearly $13 billion in cartel “assets,” which in a saner world we would call “exports” and not destroy; and captured and/or killed two-thirds of Mexico’s most-wanted list, it seems like there’s not much else Calderon and his handlers in the U.S. can do: Keep burning them drugs, keep arresting them baddies, and pray–in the words of Obama-nominated DEA Chief Michele Leonhart–that the “caged animals” keep “attacking one another.”

He then points to a remarkable statement by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, that the Americans “should look for market alternatives that annul the stratospheric profits of the criminals” instead of simply escalating the war on drugs so that another 40,000 people can be killed (and black market profits can rise ever higher). Calderon elsewhere hinted at support for drug legalization as a way to mitigate the violence, saying he is “completely open to this debate. Not just on consumption, but also on movement and production.” One problem: the regional hegemon who prefers a military solution to everything will not consider such a sensible alternative policy solution. Riggs:

…as the Herald notes, “Resistance is firmly entrenched in the U.S. government and analysts say Mexico is very unlikely to liberalize its drug laws without Washington’s approval.” Perhaps anticipating that Calderón would go soft, a high level State Department functionary insisted last month that the anti-cartel Merida Initiative would continue regardless of who Mexicans elected president in 2012. Hopefully Calderón grows a conscience and a spine between now and then.

Update: See Ted Galen Carpenter on the misguided suggestion that Mexico receive a Colombia treatment from the US, apparently because of its…successes. Also, Glenn Greenwald’s piece for the Cato Institute on how improved a legalized system could get is always a good go-to.