Obama Says Legalization Not the Answer

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In the ongoing war on drugs, we tend to think of the front lines being, if not in our own cities and towns, at least on the border with Mexico. But the real war – the one with soldiers, guerillas and fire fights, is often waged far from US territory. The South American drug producing countries fight bloody battles that make our kerfuffles look tame in comparison. So when, at a meeting of the Organization of American States, the subject of legalization comes up, they have as much, if not more in the pot than we do.

The same arguments for legalization that are brought up in the US apply in South America – arguments about tapping into the huge sums of money, lowering the level of violence and raising employment levels. The problem, in this model is who would their customers be? Without a legal market to go along with the legal production, the back half of the equation – smuggling and illegal dealing – remains the same.

President Obama weighed in with a kind of “having it both ways” statement about legalization: “I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places. I personally, and my administration's position, is that legalization is not the answer.”

While the US does support efforts at drug eradication in South America by sending material and financial resources, the countries involved don’t seem be able to stamp out the infection. The money alone is enough to keep legitimate governments constantly fighting to stay alive. There’s just too much money to be made supplying drugs to the US.

And that’s the real problem here. South American countries are, in effect, fighting a proxy war for us. Our citizens buy the drugs and fund the violence. Without the huge demand from the US, there wouldn’t be a war on drugs in their home country. The US, meanwhile, points to supplier countries as the bad guys – without them, there wouldn’t be nearly as much to buy… and so it goes, round and round.

One important point is that if a treaty emerges that legalizes drugs, the US would be bound by it, regardless of the will of Congress and laws in place. Once the Senate approves a treaty, it takes precedence over domestic law.

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