Friday, November 26, 2010

Did California Err In Not Legalizing Pot?


    Yes they did, if you ask an observer from overseas.

Watching America

El Pais, Spain
The Ups and Downs of Marijuana

By Mario Vargas Llosa
Translated By Jonathan Fitzerald
7 November 2010

Edited by Hoishan Chan

Spain - El Pais - Original Article (Spanish)
Californians made a mistake when they voted against its legalization. The government should treat drugs the same as alcohol and tobacco — giving freedom to the individual and punishing others for the harm done.
On Nov. 2, voters from the state of California rejected the legalization of the cultivation and consumption of marijuana by 53 percent to 47 percent, which was, in my opinion, a wrong decision. Legalization would have represented an important step in the search for an effective solution to the problem of crime linked to drug trafficking, which, according to recent official reports, has caused the chilling total of 10,035 deaths so far this year in Mexico.
A solution must include the decriminalization of drugs, an idea which up until relatively recent times was unacceptable to the majority of a public convinced that repression by police of producers, dealers and users was the only legitimate method for putting an end to such a plague. Over time, reality has revealed that this idea is erroneous. Studies point out that despite the astronomic sums of money invested and the gigantic mobilization of troops to combat it, the drug market has continued to grow, extending throughout the world and creating mafia cartels of immense economic and military power. As witnessed in Mexico since President Calderón has decided to confront the mafia cartels with the army at the frontline, the drug kingpins and their gangs of mercenaries are able to fight on equal terms, thanks to their power in states which they have infiltrated by way of terror and corruption.
The millions of Californians that voted for the legalization of marijuana is a promising sign that there are more and more of us who believe that the time for change has come regarding drugs and the redirecting of efforts, from simply repression to prevention, treatment and information, with the aim of putting an end to the unbridled crime driven by the ban and the havoc that the drug cartels are inflicting upon democratic institutions, above all in Third World countries. The cartels are able to pay better salaries than the government can, neutralizing and gaining the favor of members of parliament, policemen, government ministers and government employees by financing political campaigns and acquiring media outlets to defend their interests. In this way they provide jobs and support to countless professionals hired in industry, commerce and legal enterprises in which they launder substantial profits. That dependence upon the drug industry by so many people creates a tolerant or indifferent state of mind contrary to what it implies — the deterioration and collapse of lawfulness. That is a path which leads, sooner or later, to the suicide of democracy.
Of course, the legalization of drugs will not be easy, and, at first, as its detractors point out, it will undoubtedly lead to increased consumption, especially among youth. Therefore, decriminalization can only exist if it is accompanied by intense informative campaigns about the risks and harm drug consumption involves — similar to campaigns that have served to reduce the consumption of tobacco in most of the world and from parallel efforts to detoxify and treat victims of drug addiction.
But the most positive and immediate effect will be the elimination of the crimes which thrive thanks to the prohibition of drugs. As it was with the gangsters who rose to great power and saturated New York, Chicago and other American cities with blood and death during the years of alcohol prohibition, a legal market will do away with the mighty cartels. It will deprive them of their substantial profits and in effect destroy them. As the drug problem is principally economic, its solution must also be so.
Legalization will bring enormous resources to the states in the form of taxes, which, if used for educating the youth and for informing the general public about the harmful effects to one’s health that drug consumption poses, may have infinitely more beneficial and long lasting results than a policy of repression, which, beyond causing excessive violence and a day-to-day life full of insecurity, has not done the slightest in the way of stifling drug addiction in any society. In an article published in The New York Times on Oct. 28, the columnist Nicholas D. Kristof cited an investigation chaired by Harvard professor Jeffrey A. Miron in which it is estimated that the legalization of marijuana alone, across the entire U.S., would bring around $8 billion annually to state funds, while at the same time saving it an equivalent amount invested in repression. That enormous injection of funds poured into education, primarily in the schools of low-income neighborhoods, out of which come the vast majority of drug addicts, would in a small number of years drastically reduce drug trafficking within the social sector which accounts for the highest number of violent crimes, juvenile crime and family breakdowns.
Kristof also cites the conclusion of a study carried out by former policemen, judges and U.S. district attorneys, which stated that the prohibition of marijuana is the main culprit behind the proliferation of violent gangs and cartels that control the distribution and sale of the drug on the black market and reap “immense benefits” in the process. For many youths living in Hispanic and black ghettos, already struck hard by unemployment caused by the financial crisis, the possibility of earning quick money through crime gains an irresistible allure.
Opponents to these pragmatic arguments in favor of decriminalization tend to respond with a moral argument. Should we then give in, they argue, to crime in all the cases in which the police are not able to catch the criminal and then recognize it as lawful? Should this be the response, for example, in the face of pedophilia, domestic violence and gender violence, phenomena that, instead of decreasing, are on the rise everywhere? Are we to throw down our hands and give up, endorsing them since eliminating them has not been possible?
Oil and water should not be mixed. A democracy cannot condone crime without denying itself and turning into an uncivil nation. A nation has the obligation of informing its citizens about the risks involved with smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs, of course, and to severely sanction and penalize anyone who, through smoking, drinking or using drugs, causes harm to others. But it does not seem very logical nor coherent that if this is the policy followed by all governments with regards to tobacco and alcohol, that it not be the same one followed in the case of drugs, including soft drugs like marijuana and hashish, despite it being proven that the harmful effects of the latter to one’s health are no greater than, and may actually be less than, the excesses of tobacco and alcohol produce.
I have not the slightest fondness for drugs, hard or soft, and I, with all honesty, find both drug users and alcoholics to be quite unpleasant, aside from annoying and wearisome. But I also deeply dislike people who pick their nose in front of me or use toothpicks or eat fruit with seeds and skins, but it would not occur to me to request a law prohibiting them from doing so and sending them to jail if they did. Therefore I don’t see why the government should have to prohibit an adult, owner of his/her own reason, from deciding to do harm to him/herself by, for example, smoking joints, snorting coke or stuffing themselves with ecstasy pills if they like it or if it relieves their frustration or feelings of apathy. Individual freedom cannot mean the right to be able to do only good and healthy things, but also things that are not, provided of course that these things do not bring harm to others. That policy, which is applied to tobacco and alcohol, should also govern the consumption of drugs. It is extremely dangerous that the body politic begins to decide what is good and healthy, and what is bad and harmful, because those decisions mean an intrusion on individual freedom, a fundamental principal of a democratic society. On that path we could senselessly end up with the disappearance of individual sovereignty and a form of veiled dictatorship. And dictatorships, as we already know, are much more lethal for citizens than the worst drugs.


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