Friday, January 09, 2009

El Paso city council says Juarez violence argues for national conversation about pot legalization

No American city has a closer front-row seat to the bloodshed in the Mexican drug cartel wars than El Paso, which sits across the Rio Grande from the Mexican city of Juarez, where more than 1,600 people died in drug-related violence last year. So it comes as little surprise that the birthplace of marijuana prohibition in America wants to start a national conversation on whether to legalize pot as a mean to de-fund the gangsters who've all but taken over their sister city across the river.

The El Paso city council thinks legalization would downsize cartel profits and reduce the edge in resources and personnel they enjoy over Mexican and US law enforcement, reported KDBC-TV:
On Tuesday afternoon El Paso Mayor John Cook vetoed a resolution unanimously passed by city council that would have asked the U.S. government to begin a serious debate on legalizing narcotics.

Earlier in the day city council passed a resolution, rationalizing that the best way to stop the drug wars in Juarez may be to legalize the drugs here in the United States. It was part of a larger resolution outlining several steps for the United States and Mexico to take in order to cut down on the number of murders between rival drug cartels. Last year more than 1,600 people were murdered in Juarez.

"We know that this drug war and this prohibition on drugs is enriching criminals to traffic in narcotics to these communities, which costs the narcotics teams in the U.S. and Mexico billions of dollars," said Councilman Beto O'Rourke, who added the "legalize drug debate" amendment to the already established resolution.

City council members realize it may be extreme to legalize drugs like heroin, but others like marijuana could make sense. Currently, marijuana accounts for 70 percent of the drugs coming across the border. "Any business will tell you, you take a 70 percent hit to your pocket book, you're going out of business," said Councilman Steve Ortega.

Cook says he understands where the council members are coming from, but he's afraid El Paso would become a national laughing stock if he went to Washington and asked people like Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to look into legalizing drugs.
Scott Morgan at Stop the Drug War poses a simple question in light of the Mayor's veto: If the Drug War is so great, how come you con't want to talk about it?

If I were the Mayor, I wouldn't worry that anybody might laugh given what's happening in Juarez. When they start, he can respond by handing them photo after photo of murdered cops, journalists, narcos and bystanders until they wipe the dumb-ass grin off their faces and begin to take the subject as seriously as it deserves. Or else let them pay El Paso's growing hospital bill from drug-related violence in Juarez.

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

Rev. Charles says:

I don't know how El Paso city government works, but it seems a resolution passed unanimously should be veto proof.
I may have reported this earlier in this blog, but the subject makes it worth repeating. Before the Nov. elections, I was discussing a referendum for sale of liquor on the ballot in Tulia with a person I would characterize as decidedly right of center on the religious spectrum. I told him we would probably cancel each other's votes on the referendum. He said, "You might be surprised how I will vote on that." He went on to say he would probably vote for legalizing "drugs" if given the opportunity. (He did not say which drugs.) I report this simply to say that maybe the mayor of El Paso and lawmakers in DC should get out in the grass roots before they automatically assume that the citizenry would oppose a study of drug policy, and that an informed citizenry would oppose a drastic change in a failed drug policy.
By the way, it is now legal to sell liquor for off premises consumption in Tulia. I voted for it, but I don't buy it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Word has it, Charles, resolution proponents are going to try to override the veto on Tuesday, though the Mayor's trying to talk them out of it.

Soronel Haetir said...

First, even if the veto override is carried, I don't see how the council could force the mayor to do anything more than a half-assed job of advocacy. Better to send someone else who actually believes the message.

Second, is the 70% based on profits or volume? My understanding is that MJ is much bulkier so I could easily see a case where a high volume product is not the major cash source. That seems like a comparison between toilet paper and hamburger. Both are profitable, but one takes much more room that the other.

Finally, heroin, given that the major reason that addicts are currently a problem is that they have to do illegal things to maintain their habit I don't see it being any more of a problem than MJ. The user doesn't seem likely to be out in public causing problems, unlike meth or cocaine users. Opiates have been used for millenia.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Soronel, I'd suggest the whole resolution debate is symbolic. The Mayor won't be their only current opponent whose support they'd need for legalization to ever happen.

Also, regarding your question whether the 70% figure is volume or sales, I don't know the source for that number, but fwiw the market for marijuana is much larger in terms of number of consumers than for heroin, cocaine or other hard drugs. According to the 2008 UN World Drug Report, 12.2% of Americans age 15-64 smoked pot compared to 3% who used cocaine, 1.6% who used amphetamines, and .6% who used opiates. (See pp. 273-278)

No doubt revenues from other drugs and from human trafficking make up a significant portion of 21st century cartel budgets, and nobody knows the numbers for sure, but my educated guess would be that pot still generates both the most physical and sales volume overall, and it's certainly where you find the largest per capita number of American consumers.

Anonymous said...

Heresy! Heresy! A public figure has dared speak heresy! How dare he and those he spoke for ever make even the most tepid suggestion against drug war orthodoxy?! They must be excommunicated! They are anathema!

This is exactly the same kind of unwarranted parochialism as exemplified in one of Nixon's DrugWarriors, the first head of the DEA, one Robert Ingersoll, who said:

"Not only are we here to protect the public from vicious criminals in the street but also to protect the public from harmful ideas."

And just who do these public servants think they are, by trying to throttle debate on the subject? How do they get to determine what is acceptable for the public to discuss and what isn't?

That kind of unthinking, blind arrogance is part of the reason why this country gets into so many messes, here and at home. It's part of the reason why we have this disastrous DrugWar. And it's an arrogance that should not be tolerated on the part of the very public whose discourse the DrugWarriors like to put a choke-hold on.

Anonymous said...

This is not a war. Wars are fought by the military, not the police.

Anonymous said...

"Finally, heroin, given that the major reason that addicts are currently a problem is that they have to do illegal things to maintain their habit I don't see it being any more of a problem than MJ. The user doesn't seem likely to be out in public causing problems, unlike meth or cocaine users. Opiates have been used for millenia."

Haetir------Since addicts have to do illegal things to maintain their habit, what aisle in the grocery store do you think heroin, weed, crack and meth will be stocked? Do you think it will be readily available for shoplifting or will a gun be necessary?

Anonymous said...

From the end of a NY Times article from way back in 1988.

The Unspeakable Is Debated: Should Drugs Be Legalized?

But cocaine presents a far more troubling set of problems to proponents of legalization. Cocaine addicts tend to use the use the drug in binges, and as their use increases, their desire for more grows exponentially, said Dr. Frank H. Gawin, director of stimulant abuse, treatment and research at Yale University. Laboratory experiments show that, given unlimited access to the drug, animals will continue taking ever greater amounts until they die.

Therefore, Dr. Gawin said, it would difficult to image how doctors could administer limited, maintenance doses of the drug. More likely it would have to be sold commercially at a lower cost than criminal drug traffickers now offer.

The expense and danger of buying illegal cocaine have probably limited the amount of cocaine most people use, Dr. Gawin said. Cheaper and more easily obtainable cocaine likely would lead to heavier use and an increase in incidents of depression, paranoia, violent psychotic behavior, he said.

Dr. Gawin pointed to a study of cocaine use in the Bahamas in the early 1980's, when over a one-year period the price of cocaine dropped by more than 80 percent. Cocaine-related admissions to the only psychiatric clinic in Nassau went from zero in 1982 to 300 in 1984.

''I would be terrified to live in a cocaine-legalized society,'' Dr. Gawin said.

Nonetheless, there are some scholars who believe that eventually society could adapt to cheap and legal cocaine.

''We have to believe that in the long run, people will respond in a rational way to the availability of substances with a potential for destructiveness,'' said Dr. Lester Grinspoon, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. ''There always will be casualties with alcohol. There always will be death.''

Anonymous said...

Let's pretend for a minute. Legislation is passed and marijuana is now legal. Under this theory 70% of the marijuana that use to come across the border doesn't anymore. Do you really think that now 70% of some other drugs like cocoain and heroin won't take the place of the marijuana? And the violence will continue but marijuana will now be legal. How is the problem solved? Over enforcement is the real culprit. Drugs are going to be used even if they're legal drugs or prescription drugs being funnelled from the licit into the illicit market. The only way to solve this problem is to reduce the amount of enforcement at the user level and use something besides the courts to solve an addiction besides a conviction. The large scale traffickers generally don't live in the U.S. anyway because they know about the legal penalties they face. Require real time proof not at a sentencing hearing that the person you convict is a bona fide trafficker then sentence them accordingly. Finally take all of the trafficker's money and use it for treatment. Don't give it to law enforcement and this out of control enforcement mess will recede to where it should be. Right at about the same seriousness as Prostitution or Gambling.

FleaStiff said...

Narco terrorists in Mexico act without badges to keep drug prices high and competition low. Narco terrorists in the USA act with badges to keep drug prices high and competition low.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 507,

The reason why other drugs won't take the place of marijuana is the demand simply isn't there for harder drugs the same way it is there for marijuana. It's the properties of the drugs, the relative safety and effects that create the demand for pot while creating much less demand for heroin. Legalizing marijuana won't make heroin any safer and won't result in people suddenly crossing into harder drugs. Cartels will lose a huge chunk of profits.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in the southwest all my life ,tx., n.m., and mostly az. I have been across the border many,many times.. I have seen first hand the violence that takes place because pot is illegal. Make pot legal and you remove most if not all of the violence. Most people would pay a tax on pot that could pay for medical ins. Poeple would be amazed if they really knew how much money leaves our country every day. We are fighting a "war" that will not be won... It has become unsafe for us to enter and enjoy our desert because of the runners.. they take up more arms to protect there product.Our country is going about this all wrong. Waisting our dollars.. when you try a solution over and over ,, and it do'es not work , then you need to look for a differnt solution.. control, education,and even taxes are a much better tool. If you don't believe this you are only fooling yourself.. I have lived and seen this first hand...

Anonymous said...

Good job El Paso. It's about time!!!! Stand up, It is time for a change....