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Columns

Fast ’12: In the drug war, keep your eyes on the real killer

By
Opinions Editor
Friday, April 22, 2011

Sofia Ortiz-Hinojosa ’11 recently opined in The Herald that the breakdown of the rule of law in Mexico at the hands of vicious drug cartels can be blamed unequivocally on common cannabis users like the ones who appeared Wednesday on the Main Green (“4/20 and the drug war,” April 18). While a subsequent letter to The Herald by Pablo Rojas ’11 points out that Ortiz-Hinojosa’s indictment of marijuana on College Hill as the financial grounding for “murderous smugglers” is factually baseless (“Letter: Pot on campus not from Mexico,” April 19), her assertion that users — not prohibitionist governments — are the ones with blood on their hands remains unchallenged.

It is readily apparent that Ortiz-Hinojosa does not understand that governments that ban drugs hand a monopoly on their sale to people who are already willing to break the law. In addition, prohibition takes away the courts as a means for drug vendors to settle disputes peacefully. In lieu of a legal framework in which to operate, they terrorize the Mexican citizenry in their needlessly bloody quest for market dominance.

Furthermore, it is naive to assume that one can compel all drug users in the U.S. to quit simply through emotional appeal. As Rojas points out, Ortiz-Hinojosa’s argument is more relevant to crack and heroin use, and many people who use crack and heroin do so not out of some sociopathic disregard for the plight of the Mexican people, but because they are physically addicted and unable to stop. Indeed, this is how cartels make money — they get set up in an economic sector with high entry barriers due to prohibition, sell into a market populated by addicts who will reliably come back for more, then use the resulting profits to buy enough guns that the Mexican security apparatus can no longer stop them.

While a free-market implementation of the heroin trade — or that of any other drug — would still take advantage of people’s addictions, it would do so without threatening the integrity of any state and without jeopardizing the lives of those who choose not to use drugs. Thus, it becomes a system governed by personal responsibility in which the outcomes individuals face are connected with the choices they make, rather than the avarice of drug lords or the grandstanding of American politicians.

Ortiz-Hinojosa is therefore effectively arguing that all Americans should obey bad laws — ones that infringe on fundamental rights to privacy, free enterprise and self-determination — so that the violence and the deaths ultimately arising from those laws just might end. Let me be unequivocal myself — our freedoms are too important to be held hostage this way.

In a free society like ours, individuals should have the liberty to use whatever substances they see fit in their own homes, pursuant of their rights to privacy and property. After all, in 2003, the Supreme Court established in the case Lawrence v. Texas that the government has no right to ban private sexual conduct between consenting adults. Given that sex and drug use both have associated risks, why should drug use be treated differently?

While Ortiz-Hinojosa feels entitled to a sense of outrage at the sight of someone publicly using marijuana, it instills in me a gratitude to live in a place where someone can commit an act of public civil disobedience against the unjust prohibition of drugs without facing legal repercussions. If more people expressed disdain for the modern prohibition — either in the public discourse or through civil disobedience — the result would not be the bloodbath that Ortiz-Hinojosa describes, but a greater impetus for the end of the drug war, a goal to which she pays mere lip service.

Ortiz-Hinojosa brushes off the idea of holding our government culpable for the Mexican drug war, but until the people stop vilifying drug users and demand that the government stop wasting taxpayer money on a failed scheme, the situation in Mexico will continue to deteriorate. Prohibitionists often attempt to blame the negative ramifications of the drug war — a redundancy in terms — on the users, rather than on the fundamental paradox of handing an entire sector of the economy to organized crime.

Indeed, support for the drug war is frequently based on the popular portrayal of drug users as being somehow threatening to society at large. Ortiz-Hinojosa, by denouncing drug users and those who advocate for their personal freedom as being part of some sort of “counterculture,” serves to perpetuate this issue rather than alleviate it.

 

 

Hunter Fast ’12 firmly believes the government can be — but is not always — good.

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