Ambrosia Soto, mayor of Pungarabato, a small town west of Mexico City, was murdered last Saturday, reportedly for refusing to pay a local drug gang protection money from the town’s budget. Domingo Lopez Gonzalez, mayor of San Juan Chamula, a town in the southern state of Chiapa, was murdered last Saturday as well, gunned down along with four others in what appears to be another drug-related shooting. They are but two of 75 mayors murdered in Mexico in the past decade, and merely the latest additions to a body count that tallied 165,000 between 2007 and 2014. Estimates of the fraction of these murders that are drug related are difficult to make, but best guesses are one-third to one-half.

In America, over the same eight-year span, total murders (with all weapons) tallied just over 121,000. America, by the way, has triple Mexico’s population. As with Mexico, estimates of the drug-related fraction are difficult to pin down, but estimates vary from 5% to 50%. The low figure doesn’t pass the smell test – does anyone really believe that just one murder in 20 in this country has to do with the drug trade – so, for talking purposes, lets go with one murder in four in America, and one in three in Mexico. That’s 85,000 murders in just America and Mexico over 8 years, and that’s just a fraction of the half million murdered across the Americas thanks to the drug war.

Last night I caught the second half of the movie Sicario, a tale about an FBI agent recruited for a drug interdiction mission on the southern border by some shady government group. At one point in the movie, as the FBI agent’s idealism is slowly being shattered by the reality of what they’re doing, the leader of the government group tells her:

Until someone finds a way to stop 20 percent of America putting this shit up their nose, order is the best we can hope for.

His numbers may be somewhat exaggerated – the actual numbers are more like 1 American in 10 having used an illicit substance in the past month, but he spoke the the unvarnished reality of drug use in America today. Drug prohibitions started about a century ago, and the War on Drugs commenced 45 years ago. The only thing that has changed in the past half century is the potency of what has been made illegal – it remains that anyone, with only the slightest level of risk, can acquire any drug he wants. And, make no mistake, millions of Americans want. Despite prohibition, despite educational campaigns, despite widespread societal condemnation. Demand, born in human nature, is remarkably resistant to both prohibition and inculcation.

Prohibitionists, however, continue to hold onto their delusion. Arguments against legalization inevitably devolve to straw men about rampant expansions of drug use, societal costs and burdens, and basic moralizing that, because drug use is wrong, it must be prohibited. Their moral high ground continues to rack up bodies, both here and abroad.

The death toll from drug abuse itself is substantial, and, in the case of opioids, increasing. Prohibitions have done – what, exactly? – to help those dead people? Is it more likely an addict will seek help if doing so puts him at risk of incarceration? Is it more likely that people will choose to keep their addictions hidden when those addictions are attached to criminal activity? Is it more likely that a user will get a bad dose of drugs when they are manufactured by some illegal lab in some third world desert? We can help people a lot more if we simply legalize their vices and focus on treatment.

Prohibitionists think that legalization will lead to greater drug abuse and a greater burden on society. It’s the “why should I have to pay for junkies” argument, and one that totally ignores the enormous societal cost of prohibition. America spends billions every year on the drug war, and has spent over a trillion dollars since the start of the drug war. News flash, prohibitionists – you’re already paying for junkies. The lessons from Portugal’s decriminalization regarding usage rates should put the prohibitionists’ fears of rampant drug use at ease. Should, that is, but won’t, because their “moral high ground” has no room for reconsideration of this terrible and murderous policy.

I can understand that some don’t want to “condone” via legalization the harm that people do to themselves by abusing drugs. I can understand how some won’t be able to gut-check accept that permitting does not equate to condoning, even though many of us accept the legality of cigarettes but condemn smoking. I can even understand how some have a callous “well, they did it to themselves, f*** ’em” attitude towards those who overdose. What I cannot understand is ignoring the murders of people like Messrs. Soto and Gonzalez in order to maintain some fallacious moral preening regarding drug use.

The drug war, born out of puritanism, has proven to be a grossly immoral endeavor, with tens of thousands of lives lost for the sake of callous moral bombast and high-hattedness. It’s past time moralizers stopped telling others what they can and cannot eat, drink, smoke or otherwise put into their bodies. Perhaps, had we ended this idiotic War on (some) Drugs, Mr. Soto and Mr. Gonzalez might be alive today.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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