UPDATE: Carly Fiorina of the Demon Sheep fame is at it again, with a new ad featuring Senator Barbara Boxer's head as a giant, California-attacking blimp.
Dear Mr. President,
The news of the murders in Juarez were deeply upsetting. Fighting the corruption and violence of Drug trafficking is an important part of treating America's drug problem. I see firsthand the effects of addiction on the urban poor, the homeless and often mentally ill population that migrate through all parts of the city, from my neighborhood to my downtown bookstore. Drug addictions lead to theft, assault and other crimes. But I have friends who routinely use drugs, as well, some in responsible, non-harmful ways. Certainly it is hard to get past the moral implications of the system they support when they buy drugs- they may pay a dealer, but, somewhere, a drug lord is the one making the profit.
My own life has been affected by drugs in many ways. In Boise, I saw the dangerous affects of methamphetamine on a co-worker and neighbor who started a fire in our building one night. While sober, he was a soft-spoken man, grateful for the second chance offered to him by his job and new apartment. When he was using, however, he became violent and paranoid, so convinced that I had slighted him that he came after me with a gun. I was saved by the protection of my boss and the intervention of our neighbors, but it was the first time I understood the dangers of addiction. My young nephew's father also struggles with addiction, stealing from his employers and choosing heroin over his own children. We haven't seen or heard from him in over a year, and, because of his choices, his son will grow up knowing another father entirely. The number of shoplifters I have caught, in Seattle and in DC, who stole books and movies to sell for drug money demonstrate the desperation addiction causes and the violence this can result in.
So how can I reconcile the "recreational" use of drugs by my friends with the dangers and downsides? I think the easiest way to take power away from the drug cartels is to reform the way Americans consume drugs. I think marijuana needs to be legalized, so that it can be domestically produced, taxed, and regulated. The effects of marijuana are less harmful than tobacco an alcohol abuse, and the greatest harm is caused by its illegality, not its use. I think the argument that it can be a gateway drug actually supports legalization- a marijuana user today has already decided to do so in the face of the law, and so trying other illegal drugs does not require much additional risk. If marijuana were legal, I'd imagine that users would be less likely to take the risk of moving on to illegal drugs. A user today already has a dealer, a connection even by proxy to the world of illegal drugs. Allowing them to go through legal sources would cut down on the prevalence of illegal dealers, limiting sources for other drugs. I don't know any one who chooses not to use pot because it is illegal. Many people, (like myself) choose not to use it for reasons unrelated to the law. Personally I find it pretty disgusting, and that isn't going to change if it becomes legal.
We can't win the "war on drugs" while we fund both sides, just as we can't win the war on terror by perpetuating the oppressive practices that fuel recruiting efforts and anti-American sentiments. We may be better-armed, better-trained and better-funded, but so long as we have to win and the other side just has to stay alive, we'll never be able to stop fighting. (An aside, and perhaps worth an entirely separate letter, but if we can try Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla in Federal court, why can't we try terror suspects? Zambada-Niebla is surely as much an enemy combatant as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, and no one is claiming he should be denied due process.) We must accept that we cannot win within the current paradigm, and changing the system is the only way to make real progress at addressing the terrible effects of the drug trade on our country and the world.