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June. 17, 2008 -- Arizona Republic (US)

OpEd: Legalization Would End Drug War In Mexico, World

By Richard Mack, Special for The Arizona Republic

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

A shootout last month in the streets of Tijuana resulting in at least 13 fatalities was a glaring display what happens when society bans intoxicants.

Mexico has experienced a drastic rise in violence over the past few years. President Felipe Calderón has focused Mexico's army on combating the drug cartels but, instead of curbing the gangs and cartels, the violence has escalated. Tijuana's main hospital, treating the injured from that gunbattle, has been locked down and surrounded by federal troops.

Last year, more than 2,000 people were killed in Mexico in drug prohibition-related violence. This year, more than 200 have been killed in Tijuana alone.

But Mexico's drug-war deaths are not just rival traffickers caught by their competitors. In Nuevo Laredo in 2005, new Police Chief Alejandro Dominguez was gunned down hours after being sworn in. In January, Tijuana Deputy Police Chief Margarito Saldana Rivera, his wife and two young daughters, were killed in their home.

The proposed solution to the increased drug-war violence is more money, more soldiers and more guns. The Merida Initiative -- or "Plan Mexico," as many are calling it -- is a $1.4 billion "aid" package for Mexico and Central America (with the lion's share going to Mexico) with the intended purpose of bolstering Mexico's drug war.

Is there a solution to the problem of drug-cartel violence in Mexico (and the U.S.)? Absolutely. Just as the criminal syndicates controlling the flow of booze during Prohibition were cut off from their profits when the distribution of liquor was returned to legitimate businesses, the same can happen with our very few illegal drugs.

Legalization is a viable alternative. It has a historical precedent in the ending of Prohibition but often gets dismissed as the notion of radical pot smokers.

There is an organization comprised of former (and current) criminal-justice professionals raising a voice against the war on drugs. I am a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and I stand proud with the others who've served on the front lines of the drug war.

We've spent our careers going toe to toe with drug dealers and gangs, and we speak out about the travesties of justice and the lack of success wrought by the entrenched drug-policy bureaucracy -- empowered by politicians seeking to appear "tough on crime."

Legalization will not be a cure-all for the problems of drug abuse. What it can do is take away an industry that generates $500 billion a year in cash trade (8 percent of total annual global trade, according to the U.N.) from gangs and international drug cartels. It will free up law enforcement to pursue those who daily commit crimes.

We can no longer afford to be the most imprisoning nation on the planet. We cannot afford to neglect our children's educational resources. Prison is no substitute for school. End the drug war. Take away control of drugs from criminals and their organizations. End the violence that shatters the peace of our communities and is escalating at a tragic pace in Mexico.

The writer, who lives in Safford, was Graham County sheriff for eight years. Before that, he spent 11 years as a sergeant detective and undercover narcotics officer with the Provo police in Utah.

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