On Aug. 9, President Obama flew to Guadalajara, Mexico for a two-day summit with Mexican President Felipe CalderÃ³n and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Predictably, a topic of discussion was the drug violence in Mexico that has claimed more than 12,000 lives since CalderÃ³n took office in December of 2006.
The United States has become so concerned by the violence in Mexico that it has pledged $450 million to aid the effort this year, with a total of $6 billion spent by the United States between 2000 and 2006. Moreover, a recent U.S. military study identified Mexico, along with Pakistan, as a country at risk of “a rapid and sudden collapse.”
And yet, in spite of the billions spent by the United States to help Mexico fight the drug cartels since 2000, the underlying problem remains largely unchanged and undiscussed. The money driving the violence, drug wars and killings in Mexico doesn’t come from the country’s domestic demand for illicit drugs; rather, Mexico’s violence is a direct result of the 114 million Americans who have used illegal drugs at some point in their lives.
The most culpable are members of Generation Y. According to a recent study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, individuals ages 18 to 25 are the age demographic most likely to have used illegal drugs within the past month and year. Over one third of Americans between the ages of 18 to 25 are thought to have used drugs within the past 12 months, including 21 percent who have used illicit drugs other than marijuana. These percentages are drastically smaller for individuals under 18 and over 25.
For a generation that has concerned itself with the welfare of our nation and humanity through programs like Teach For America and the Peace Corps, we tend to ignore the perils of our own actions. Sure, smoking a single joint isn’t likely to affect your long-term health or impact your future career (unless you plan on working for the CIA), but the purchase and use of the drug doesn’t occur in a static environment. There are consequences.
While it is true that not all of the money involved in the criminal drug trade in the United States makes it way back to Mexico, a large portion of it does, and the portion that doesn’t still helps keep the drug culture in this country thriving. Furthermore, a thriving drug market in America makes it possible for terrorists to make a profit off the drug trade and continue to wage war against U.S. armed forces in countries like Afghanistan.
Legalization is certainly an option. Since 47.5 percent of all drug arrests are marijuana-related, it is not far-fetched to argue that legalizing that one drug could substantially decrease the size and impact of the illegal drug market in the United States.
Drug cartels would continue to buy and sell hard drugs, but marijuana could be regulated on an open market just like tobacco. As a result, profits would drop, violence would decrease and lives would be saved.
That’s an optimistic take on the situation, though. There is no guarantee that the legalization of marijuana would stop it from being illegally imported and sold at a lower price in order to undercut the legal market. Legalizing marijuana could also lead users to dabble in other drugs.
There are no easy answers. While many may hope that marijuana is legalized in the near future, the fact remains that it is an illegal drug today. Its popularity among young Americans continues to contribute to the drug violence in Mexico and across the globe. It is long past time for Americans, specifically members of our generation, to acknowledge the hard truths about the damage this country’s drug culture is doing to communities in Mexico and across the globe. Until the underlying problem is fixed, there is no such thing as a harmless joint.
John Thornburgh is a senior in the College. He can be reached at thornburghthehoya.com. Worldwise appears every other Friday.
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