In 1913, El Paso became one of the first cities to ban marijuana. Other communities soon followed suit, and by 1937 the drug was banned by the federal government. The drive to prohibit marijuana was not motivated by efforts to reduce dependence, improve health outcomes or alleviate criminal activity in the general population. Its prohibition has a much more dubious provenance in the fears and prejudices that accompanied growing Mexican migration at the beginning of the 20th century.
That march towards marijuana prohibition has helped create a lucrative marijuana economy. Mexican drug cartels smuggle many things into the US, but marijuana is the most profitable portion of the cartel’s portfolio. Marijuana has the larger customer base with the most stable demand and steady prices. And, the Mexican cartels own the value of the marijuana from farm to market.
Nearly 100 years after El Paso enacted its initial ban on marijuana, the city bears daily witness to the violence that the marijuana economy inflicts on Juarez, our neighbor on the U.S./Mexico border. Since 2008, more than 9,000 people have been murdered in Juarez. The violence stems at least in part from a declared war between the two largest cartels for control of the El Paso/Juarez trade corridor.
In a ground-breaking 2010 Associated Press report, Martha Mendoza found that the U.S. has spent over $1 trillion on the drug war since it was first declared in the Nixon administration. And our return on that investment? In 2010, 35 percent of high school seniors reported that they had used marijuana, a number that has been fairly consistent since 1975. In fact, more high school sophomores tried marijuana last year than tobacco.
At some point, sooner rather than later, we must admit that our current course has not worked. It has made things worse for those who are most vulnerable (children and addicts), has led to bloated enforcement budgets at every level of government, has invited contempt for law and justice, has destroyed thousands of lives, and has left us billions of dollars poorer as a result.
At some point, we must challenge our elected leaders to enact laws that reflect reality and not an unattainable ideology. We must come to a reckoning, much the same way we did 80 years ago, and repeal a prohibition that does more harm than good. If Washington won’t do anything different, if Mexico City won’t do anything different, then it is up to us — the citizens of the border who understand the futility and tragedy of this current policy first hand — to lead the way.
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2011 San Antonio Express-News
Authors: Beto O’Rourke and Susie Byrd