Back in May, the Associated Press published the first piece in a groundbreaking series concluding that, after 40 years and more than $1 trillion spent, America’s war on drugs “has failed to meet any of its goals.” Today, as part of the same series, the AP looks specifically at U.S. enforcement strategy toward drug cartels in Mexico, and concludes that even record-level arrests and seizures have failed absolutely to curb the power of the violent gangs that control vast swaths of northern Mexico and make billions by selling drugs, particularly marijuana, to the illicit U.S. market.
Boiled down, it’s a damning indictment of prohibition – and more importantly, the assumption that if we just arrest enough people, and seize enough drugs, then these bloodthirsty, increasingly powerful cartels will somehow just go away.
Citing just one example, a major DEA operation that arrested 761 members of the Sinaloa drug cartel and seized 23 tons of narcotics, the AP quotes acting Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart, as declaring: "Today we have dealt the Sinaloa drug cartel a crushing blow."
But just how crushing was it? An Associated Press investigation casts doubt on whether the crackdown caused any significant setback for the cartel. It still ranks near the top of Mexico's drug gangs, and most of those arrested were underlings who had little connection to the cartel and were swiftly replaced. The cartel leader remains free, along with his top commanders.
The findings confirm what many critics of the drug war have said for years: The government is quick to boast about large arrests or drug seizures, but many of its most-publicized efforts result in little, if any, slowdown in the drug trade.
When confronted by the AP with the fact that the current U.S. enforcement strategy is futile, DEA Deputy Director David Gaddas insisted such tactics work, reportedly arguing, “it’s disruptive for cartels to lose their drivers, their accountants, and their money launderers.”
Yes, but aren't the drugs they seize a fraction of those on the street, and the criminals arrested replaced or released?
Gaddas dropped his head into his hands for a moment, thinking.
"You know, we're doing God's work," he replied.
I never realized that was who told the DEA how to go about its business.
All kidding aside, that’s an unbelievably lame excuse. Hardly a week goes by now without a mainstream media report of the increasing carnage in Mexico, the discovery of yet another elaborate tunnel they cartels have used to smuggle marijuana into the United States, or the political and social tension that Mexican instability and violence are causing along our southern border. If you read the entire AP article, it cites one frustrating example after another.
And the DEA sits there and claims – despite mountains of evidence to the contrary – that its strategy is working.
Thankfully, a major news organization like the AP has now – finally – read the writing on the wall and spelled it out with meticulous detail: current U.S. drug policy does not work. It does not reduce crime, does not reduce use, does not reduce availability, does not weaken major drug traffickers.
So what should we do instead? How else can we strike a blow against these murderous cartel thugs?
Well, according to former Mexico presidents, leading Mexican intellectuals, a sitting U.S. federal judge, a former U.S. border governor, and many others, the single most effective thing the U.S. could do would be to remove marijuana from the criminal market, and tax and regulate it like alcohol. Deny the cartels their most lucrative product, and make border cops spend their time on more worthwhile activities than arresting Willie Nelson.