Hitting the cartels where it hurts
Legalization of marijuana would end drug profiteering and violence
By Gov. Gary Johnson
(Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is a Republican candidate for president)
August 5, 2011
Imagine you are a drug lord in Mexico, making unfathomable profits sending
your illegal product to the United States. What is the headline you fear the
most? "U.S. to build bigger fence"? "U.S. to send troops to the border"?
"U.S. to deploy tanks in El Paso"? No. None of those would give you much
pause. They would simply raise the level of difficulty and perhaps cause you
to escalate the violence that already has turned the border region into a
war zone. But would they stop you or ultimately hurt your bottom line?
But what if that drug lord opened his newspaper and read this: "U.S. to
legalize and regulate marijuana"? That would ruin his day, and ruin it in a
way that could not be fixed with more and bigger guns, higher prices or more
As a Republican presidential candidate, especially one who served as
governor of a border state, I hear a lot from people - all across the
country - about the crisis along our border with Mexico. People are often
surprised when they hear me say that the "border problem" is generally
misconstrued and widely blamed on the wrong things.
Make no mistake. There is a war going on along our southern border. An
estimated 28,000 people have lost their lives to border violence over the
past six years, and there is no end in sight. It is, without question, a
more serious threat to U.S. interests than anything we are facing in Iraq,
Afghanistan or Libya.
But having lived most of my life in New Mexico, done business there for
decades and served two terms as governor, I will say with great confidence
that just about everything we are doing to deal with "border issues" is
First, inflamed by politicians who have chosen to use illegal immigration as
the ultimate wedge issue, far too many people see a connection between a
lack of so-called border security and border violence. Let us be clear: The
border war is not an immigration problem - illegal or otherwise - and even
if it were, fences and troops would not solve it. If anything, the crackdown
measures of recent years, while doing little or nothing to address illegal
immigration, have had the unintended consequence of upping the ante for the
cartels trying to move drugs across that same border, resulting in greater
crime and violence.
Immigration is a different issue - and one that must be addressed not with
fences, but with a system for legal entry and temporary work visas that
works. Real border security is knowing who is coming here and why.
Border violence, on the other hand, is a prohibition problem. Just as we did
for Al Capone and his murderous colleagues 90 years ago, our drug laws have
created the battlefield on which tens of thousands are dying. By doggedly
hanging onto marijuana laws that make criminals out of our children while
our leaders proudly consume wine at state dinners, we have created an
illegal marketplace with such mind-boggling profits that no enforcement
measures will ever overcome the motivation, resources and determination of
There are ample reasons why millions of Americans, the Global Commission on
Drug Policy and, just recently, former Mexican President Vincente Fox are
calling for legalization of marijuana as an alternative to the failed and
ridiculously costly "war on drugs." Twenty-eight thousand deaths along the
border are certainly among those reasons.
Will legalizing marijuana put the criminal cartels out of business? No. But
it will immediately deny them their largest profit center and dramatically
reduce not only the role of the United States in their business plans, but
also the motivation for waging war along our southern border.
Our federal government has spent 40 years and a trillion dollars on a failed
war on drugs. The real and societal costs of treating drug abuse as a crime
problem rather than what it is - a health problem - are inestimable. Add to
that reality the tragedy our laws are fueling along the border, and it
clearly is time to end this prohibition, just as we ended the last one.