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Will legalization of drugs stop the crime, corruption, and violence in Central America? A: No.

...Cartels make a lot of their money outside of drugs, through extortion, human trafficking, kidnapping, prostitution, and other criminal activities, many of which are violent. Just because the drugs component of their business might become legal doesn't mean they would drop everything else.

In any case, the correlation between drug trafficking and violence is not as straightforward as most people think. Murder rates in Central America are highest in urban areas, where street crime and gangs pray on local residents and businesses, not along the trafficking routes, which are often controlled by a single cartel or its local partner. Even before the recent drug trafficking surge, homicide rates in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were several times higher than in the rest of Latin America. In these communities, violence is about much more than just drugs. It's about a lack of the rule of law, ubiquitous weapons and private security forces, lack of jobs or opportunities for much of the poor, and a legacy of brutal civil wars in the 1980s. Legalizing drugs alone would probably not do much to change the violence that has plagued these communities for decades.

Drugs are a major problem in Central America, but they are worsened by a much bigger problem, one that can't be solved by legalizing marijuana, cocaine, or opium: the lack of public security. From the out-gunned police on the streets to the weak judges in the courts to the corrupt politicians, communities and countries struggle to maintain basic control over their own security. Ultimately, drug legalization -- like the drug war it's meant to solve -- would succeed only if public security is fixed and would fail if it isn't.

My research group has studied this phenomenon extensively, and written volumes on it. I couldn't have said it much better myself.
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43 comments
 
But it would keep thousands of people who should not be in jail, from being imprisoned in the US
 
+Ari David I am not disputing that. I am talking about the violence from the cartels in Central America. Let's not be so narrow-minded and egocentric about this problem. It is a global issue, and not about high school kids getting busted for pot.
 
They should legalize drugs, but not for the reasons given.
 
no i dont think they should as thing will only get worse not better
 
+vic stokes: Based upon what evidence? The problem is the way we fight drugs. We spend WAY too much on our "illegalization campaign." If we spent that same amount on treatment instead, the problem would get better not worse.

The issue here is one of efficiency. We should fight drugs in the most efficient manner possible, and locking addicts up is NOT the most efficient manner possible.
 
We see advantages in countries that treat drugs as health and not legal issues. They reap benefits from not expending crazy amounts to go to any length to prosecute people, as well as not just throwing away the lives of their population over drugs.

On the other hand, no, it won't solve the deep structural issues in the supply countries.
 
+James Carroll How do you suppose that will stop the cartels from beheading women in Mexico? Are they suddenly going to take up tap dancing if drugs are legal?
 
its a hard decisions to make really james no one really knows what will happen till it happens
 
First they have to take away the demand, but thing is the demand in Central America itself is nothing compared to the more developed parts of the world. I guess in that light legalization wouldn't help very much in the countries of Central America.
 
Forget Central America. We broke that for good in the Reagan Era with all that Contra nonsense. Read about Portugal & the Neatherland's crime stats after drug decriminalization.
 
+vic stokes Ditto on +James Carroll's comment. Legalization was implemented in Portugal in 2001.

The result?

"Portugal decriminalized possession of all drugs in 2001. The outcome, after nearly a decade, according to a study published in the November issue of the British Journal of Criminology: less teen drug use, fewer HIV infections, fewer AIDS cases and more drugs seized by law enforcement. Adult drug use rates did slightly increase — but this increase was not greater than that seen in nearby countries that did not change their drug policies. The use of drugs by injection declined."

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2010/11/23/portugals-drug-experience-new-study-confirms-decriminalization-was-a-success/#ixzz1nnZxypzP
 
+Andrea Kuszewski A big problem that wasn't addressed here is how easy guns get to Mexico from the U.S. I'm not saying to prohibit Americans from the current interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, but there is clearly a problem where you have a nation where guns are illegal, and a neighbor who allows them to flow freely over the border with very little insight. The U.S. isn't totally to blame, but I don't think we can wash our hands of the culpability when we are the ones who are arming the cartels.
 
+Shawn Pierson - If American farmers could grow and market local weed - weed that would be regulated and (gasp!) taxed - the cartels would go bankrupt.
 
Would it stop it? No. Legalization alone wouldn't be enough to change the culture of organized crime that is pervasive in Latin America. Would it help? I think there is evidence to suggest that it would. It's hard to imagine that it would make matters worse.
 
Legalizing drugs may not stop all violence and corruption, but would it increase violence and corruption?

Drug prohibition, in my mind, is a violation of a person's autonomy. What I put in my body is my business. If a person commits a crime while under the influence, how is that crime any worse, or any different than the same crime committed while sober?

Whether legalization reduces violence or not, it hasn't been shown to increase it either.

Prohibition simply isn't inherently right in the first place.

I'm with the harm reductionists.
 
+vic stokes : you wrote: "its a hard decisions to make really james no one really knows what will happen till it happens"

Nonsense, we know for 2 reasons.... 1. it's been tried before, and it worked there. 2. there are rather simple economic models of supply and demand that show that this will work.
 
+Andrea Kuszewski you wrote: "+James Carroll How do you suppose that will stop the cartels from beheading women in Mexico? Are they suddenly going to take up tap dancing if drugs are legal?"

yes. The amount of criminal activity that can economically be supported is a function of the money available. Dry up the money, and crime goes down. Of course it won't go down to 0, but it will go down substantially.

Just look what happened to the US mafia and other related institutions after the end of prohibition. They didn't go away, but their influence was dramatically reduced.
 
The reference to the Mafia + Prohibition is particularly relevant. We know now that it was alcohol prohibition that launched the Cosa Nostra from a local ethnic gang into a very effective and profitable interstate criminal organization.
The fact that drug prohibition is having the same exact effect - only internationally now - is becoming increasingly clear.
Of course legalization will not make the drug problem go away, but it will make it less profitable. And that is where we are today - where harm reduction is possible and elimination is not.
 
One question here, since I'm at work and can't read the whole thing. Are we talking COMPLETE legalization of drugs? Because from what I know (admittedly not a ton), when you're talking about legalizing drugs, you're not talking about legalizing production and distribution, just consumption. It's probably never going to be legal to make and sell heroin, for instance. The difference is you won't go to prison for using it. I may be wrong here.
 
+Jason Park If you are asking me, personally, I say start with the obvious low-end drugs that probably never should have been outlawed and legal possession and home-grown weed.

From there start to legalize possession of small quantities of almost everything.

Next steps? I have no easy answers, but I can tell you that heroin hydrochloride was originally sold as a headache remedy - and as a "sure cure" for morphine addiction.
 
Anybody who's seen a Godfather and Goodfellas knows how it goes. You've got your nice little extortion, theft and robbery business going... and then enter drugs. It brings in rapid money but also brings in out-of-proportion response form the authorities. And you either end up killing your brother or ratting on your "family". Either way, I really have no point.
 
American corn subsidies are primarily responsible for the rural to urban population shift in Mexico that manifested following the NAFTA deal in 1994, creating the hothouses for rampant crime conditions today. Poverty, population density, political corruption, and drug profits are the main engines. Decriminalization of drug use, plus the legalization of some recreational drugs such as marijuana (for tax purposes,) would cut the profit margins of their criminal gangs. Ah, Capitalism.
 
Interdiction does not work, only education, prevention & rehabilitation. Drug use is it's own best lesson, one you either get or die. There are many vested interests in the US, like law enforcement, the prison industry, and the NRA, not to mention agribusiness, who would prefer that The War On Drugs continue, and that conditions in Mexico never improve. Who's getting paid to build that fence? I guess it comes down to corruption on both sides of the border.
 
+G.Waleed Kavalec The headline reads "Will legalization of drugs stop the crime, corruption, and violence in Central America? A: No." I think it could lessen it there, but more importantly, it would lessen it HERE.
 
+Rodrigo Mesa if THEY legalize it, what reason would the cartels have to shoot at police?
(Yes. Oversimplified, I know. But still.)
 
I say legalize production not consumption. Let it flow freely to the US. After all they consume most of it, provide weapons to cartels and help them with their money laundry.
 
+G.Waleed Kavalec It's the other way around. If there is a market some one will sell it. That's why drugs will always exist. The war in Mexico is not about who gets the most consumers here. It's about who controls the flow to the US.
Before this idiotic, poorly planed (if at all) war began with calderon, executions were not that common. Actually during a long period we had a lot of peace. This because the government had a deal with cartels and things were distributed. Now it's chaos and the government lost control.
All people want is to restore this balance. What happens in the US about legalizing drugs or not is a complete different issue. But don't be naive your president, Obama, is financed by the cartels and you need to go as far as the new york times to see the report of where the money for his campaign came from.
 
+Andrés Arrieta I think you have it backwards. The idea is to legalize consumption so that you don't waste money sending drug addicts through your penal system. That is a money sink that will never pay for itself. Look at Portugal and how well they're doing. You spend that money sending them through rehab and treat them as people with illnesses, not as criminals. It's money that is much better spent, as you are no longer throwing money at a problem but investing in the futures of your citizens/constituents.

And then you gradually work towards a system where base drugs are legal to produce/sell, like weed. This puts products that normally only existed in organized crime in a legitimate market, taxed and regulated by the government. Like you said, if there's a market, someone will sell to it. But it goes even further than that. If there's both a legal and illegal way to buy the same product, a vast majority of the consumers will choose the legal method.

Cartels will find investing in the production of weed as a losing battle and will move on to other things. The problem for them is that there aren't that many "other things" that they aren't already involved in. They would be moving into more and more specialized drugs, into smaller and smaller markets. This means they make less and less money. This is a good thing.

Obviously, a lot of our conversation here would be pure theorycrafting. You never know exactly how any situation would turn out. But that's how I see it.
 
+Jason Park Yes I know the objective is to legalize consumption in the US. But in Mexico I think it would be better to legalize production rather than consumption. Not that it shouldn't. I agree in many things except rehab. Government should not pay for it. There is enough information about it's effects and the government should not be held liable.
 
Say what you want about drugs coming from Central America: We're buying them. The Cartel members would still be hawking putas, pulque y piñatas if it weren't for stupid U.S. drug policies. As for rehab, it's a public health issue, like disease control and traffic safety, and falls well within the purview of government responsibility.

That's it: I'm out.
 
the drug issue becomes a resource eating red herring -- it is not about drugs, but money and power of course (isn't it always).
 
+Michael Hopkins no one here is for drugs.
Many of us simply recognize that the so-called "war on drugs" is doing more harm than the drugs would have. The post-legalization analysis of Portugal bears this out.
 
+Michael Hopkins : you wrote "No, legal or illegal. They are harmful to the body."

True... drugs are harmful to the body and to society. So what if there was a more efficient way to fight drugs? If we spent all the money we spend locking people up for possession, and all the money we spend putting extra cops on the street fighting this instead of fighting real crime, and instead spent all that money on education and on rehab? What if we did that? Honestly. What do you think would happen? Do you not believe that we could "fight" drugs better?

The issue isn't about whether we like drugs or not, the issue is about how BEST to fight them. It is a matter of efficiency.
 
70% of unemployed individuals in Mexico have a degree. Economic opportunity and social equity are the long term solution.
 
economic opportunity is almost always tied to stability, crime, and corruption. Solve those things, and economic opportunity comes.
 
+Michael Hopkins that phrase "am I supposed to argue with you?" is just an idiomatic statement of agreement.
What you said in your post is 97% true.
 
"+Gary Johnson trys to inject cannabis legalization into the presidential debates": http://goo.gl/8Zv2A ; also to end drug prohibition / wars; they're not going to talk about it otherwise;
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He could use your social media support... he doesn't have a lot of money, thus large media outlets are not airing his campaign; spread the word & vote for Gary!
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"Web quiz tells you which presidential candidate best fits your world view; NPR": http://goo.gl/QvXRZ ; or go directly: www.isidewith.com/  Courtesy of: +Gary Johnson ;
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