Question: In recent months, three sitting Latin American presidents have suggested that it is time to consider a debate about legalizing drugs, with Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina most recently promising to raise the issue with other Central American leaders in a coming meeting. Would legalizing drugs have a significant effect on the crippling violence that has wracked Mexico and Central America in recent years, as some analysts suggest, or would the gangs and cartels merely focus on other illegal activities? Is there likely to be a more substantive policy discussion of drug legalization in the coming years? How would the United States react to such a debate?
SANHO TREE: Legalizing drugs would have a significant impact on criminal profits in the long run.While many traffickers have recently diversified their revenue streams, drugs have been their preferred source of income because it’s simple and efficient. Otherwise, they would have switched to more profitable crimes long ago. In recent years, extreme prohibition-related violence has destroyed the social contract and emboldened other types of criminals. It’s important to remember that this carnage has been over the right to traffic what are essentially minimally processed agricultural commodities that are easy to produce and should cost pennies per dose. Instead, the risks of the drug war have given these criminals an indirect ‘price support’ or ‘crop subsidy’ because of prohibition economics. We will never reduce the supply of drugs by making them astronomically more valuable.
As the violence caused by drug prohibition threatens governments throughout the region, the demand for ending prohibition will intensify. Previously, it had been only retired politicians and officials who spoke openly of their views. Now, sitting heads of state are joining the discussion.U.S. officials will be the last to join because they see this as a ‘third rail’ issue. As the prime minister of Luxembourg said of another issue, ‘We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.’ For the first time, however, U.S. opinion for legalizing marijuana has surpassed 50 percent. Such culture war issues are deeply rooted in generational politics, but new generations are fast taking over.”
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