According to Mexico's public safety secretary, Genaro Garcia Luna, Mexican drug cartels make $64 billion per year from illegal marijuana sales in the United States. Illegal growers in the southwestern United States often report to Mexican drug cartels. Mexico is not the only source for illegal drugs in this country, but it is a prime example of how our prohibition on marijuana is making criminals wealthy. Making criminals wealthy gives them power--power to buy police, federal officials, elected representatives, and elections.
Our prohibition of marijuana and other drugs represents the repetition of a stupid mistake made in our own history--prohibition of alcohol. This prohibition, ordered through an amendment to our Constitution, caused a subsequent repeal due to the recognition of the thriving criminal empires it created. Illegal distribution and sales of alcohol proved extremely lucrative, and some criminal organizations who participated in these activities diversified into illegal gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, and all manner of illegal activity that would allow them to thrive long after the repeal of alcohol prohibition. The same is true of illegal drug sales; the demand is there, and anyone who can supply has the potential to have it made, financially speaking.
In addition to the fostering and support of a criminal element, keeping marijuana and other drugs illegal fills prisons with users, small-time dealers and middlemen, and other people who are underlings to or customers of those with the real money and power. The American taxpayer contributes approximately $10 billion annually to house these prisoners--and two-thirds are in for use, which would not be true if drugs were legal.
Another major cost of drug prohibition is federal enforcement. The annual DEA budget is $2.4 billion, but the cost of enforcement of drug laws at the federal level actually totals over $15 billion every year, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This figure doesn't include local law enforcement activity, but suffice it to say that the total for federal, state, and local enforcement of drug laws far exceeds $15 billion per year. Combine this figure with the figure from the cost of incarceration, and we spend well over $25 billion per year on enforcement of policy that creates and fosters criminal empires. Money out of taxpayers' pockets goes to support laws that allow just the Mexican cartels alone to make over $64 billion annually--never mind other criminal organizations worldwide who make money off of this policy, as well.
The drug war must end if for nothing else, the fiscal irresponsibility of paying to enforce policy that not only helps criminals get very wealthy, but also causes the government to borrow more money from China to cover the cost of enforcing it. Aside from the financial and criminal issues--actually, the criminal issues are related--there is a human cost to the drug war. Users and petty criminals (small distributors and runners) may not be violent, but where there is big money to protect, those who desire to keep their criminal empires thriving will defend that money violently. Law enforcement officers must face this violence directly, and the criminal enterprises use violence to keep those who work for them in line, to settle scores, and to keep other organizations from encroaching on their business. Prisons are full of violent factions, and there's no telling how many people in for drug-related offenses network with and become involved with other criminals doing other crimes. After all, when someone has a prison record, that person finds it difficult to find honest work, and the pay for crime seems worth the risk for a person who finds it difficult to find a living wage in the labor force.
What would be the consequences of legalization of drugs? Sure, we would stop having to pay for enforcement, and the criminal empires would have to find their funding elsewhere or die, but what are the negative impacts? People worry about drug abuse, but do we throw alcoholics in jail? Unless they are arrested for disorderly conduct or drunk driving, we do not; we treat their problem as a "disease", and there are all sorts of programs for recovering alcoholics. As such, abuses of other drugs--because alcohol is, after all, just another mind-altering substance--should be treated as a public health issue, not a criminal issue.
Another negative impact some people say legalization might have is easy access to drugs for minors. However, if drugs are sold the same way alcohol is now, there would be no more access to them than their is to alcohol--and people have actually died from alcohol poisoning. There are no known marijuana overdose deaths. People who buy alcohol for minors are unscrupulous people; they would get kids drugs now if they had access, and those drugs aren't regulated. They could be laced with poisons or could be mixed with other drugs. Drugs purchased in a state store or marijuana dispensary are pure--not laced with cocaine, not dipped in formaldehyde, not poisoned. I'm not advocating drugs for minors, but what I am saying is that if kids do happen to get their hands on these drugs, at least they would be safer than those they could (and do!!) procure illegally. We also have to remember that kids get worse drugs out of the medicine cabinets of their own relatives, and we don't make those drugs illegal.
Perhaps there are negative impacts I have not covered. I'd like to hear any that people think exist. I do know that there is another positive impact, aside from starving criminals of money from illegal drug sales and the ceasing of borrowing money from foreign sources to pay for enforcement. We can tax drugs if they are regulated. Taxing drugs creates revenue; prohibition only creates costs. If we recover these costs in fines and seizure of the funds and possessions of the people we arrest, I'd love to see those figures, as well. To me, it makes sense to support legalization of drugs, because the negative impacts of prohibition are far worse than any negative impacts I can think of legalization causing. If you agree, please write your representatives. Reading this blog or posting on Facebook does nothing to affect policy change. Tell your representatives; run for office; create a petition to support legalization at the state level. Just do something.