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Re-Evaluating The War On Drugs: With Sunday’s Elections in Mexico, Drug Cartels Take Center Stage – Causing us to Take a Closer Look at Our Failed US Policies

Drug cartels and the escalating drug problem will no doubt be on the minds of the people of Mexico as they head to the polls on Sunday.  Recent actions by drug cartels are working to influence the local vote (with AP reporting yesterday of the “scare tactics, and cold hard cash, that drug cartels are using to make sure whoever is elected doesn’t interfere with their lucrative operations”) – leaving us to wonder what will happen in Mexico once the elections take place … and what impact the elections will have here in the U.S. when it comes to our own drug policies.

While we watch and wait to see what happens in Mexico, it’s a good time to look at how US politics have impacted the “War on Drugs” started by President Nixon over 40 years ago – and how politics continue to take center stage in today’s drug war.  Although there has been a great deal of “finger pointing” to date (in political debates as well as in the media) when it comes to how, and why, the war on drugs has failed – one thing remains clear to many people.  In our country’s quest to lead the war on drugs and take a “militaristic view” of drug crimes, the U.S. has actually created an atmosphere similar to the alcohol Prohibition Era of the 1920s.

Just as Prohibition and the criminalization of alcohol didn’t stop alcohol consumption but instead created other problems in terms of alcohol-related crimes and violence, it can be said that our strict drug policies are doing more harm than good.  Drug use is up in the US … and the rise, and terror, of drug cartels shows us that whatever we are doing not only isn’t working – but is having some disastrous results.  While we all know that there was violence associated with the Prohibition era, everyone can certainly agree that nothing can compare with today’s drug war-related violence.  The “Fast and Furious” scandal so prominently in today’s headlines is proof that the drug cartels are capable of deadly violence.  But rather than engaging in partisan bickering over who instituted the “gun walking” policy, Congress might do better to step back and thoughtfully reflect on the underlying US drug policies that have helped fuel the cartels in the first place.

With the repeal of Prohibition and the legalization of alcohol, the violence associated with this era was dramatically reduced.  While the answer to the drug war is not necessarily to legalize or decriminalize all drugs (with President Obama stating back in April that drug legalization is not the answer to cartels), it’s time to re-think how our government is approaching drug crimes.  Drug use and drug abuse should be addressed not as much from a criminal perspective, but viewed as a societal health problem – with solutions not based on a militaristic approach to the issue of drugs.

So far, the war on drugs is estimated to have cost over a trillion dollars – and claimed countless lives.  It’s time to re-think our US drug policies, and look closely at the devastation that the “War on Drugs” has really caused – in Mexico, in the United States … as well as throughout the world.   While the answer may not be to legalize all drugs, it’s clear that something has to change when it comes to US drug policies – before more lives are lost due to the drug-fueled violence of Mexico’s cartels … and before the “War on Drugs” claims even more victims.

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