On March 11 I wrote an op-ed piece on the utter futility and counterproductiveness of the war on drugs in both the United States and Mexico, and followed it up with a radio interview. (For important context, I recommend reading that piece before continuing with this one.)
Naturally, I was taken to task by supporters of President Donald Trump, not because they support the feckless mendacity that the war on drugs represents, but rather because they thought I was overreacting to the noises from the Justice Department about revivifying an aging drug war that no sane person wants to fight.
In sum, in my political zeal I was not letting the new administration go through its inevitable growing pains, and was prematurely judging potentially bad policy before it was actually put into practice.
After all, Trump never talked about drug policy in any meaningful way during his campaign. Surely his administration would listen to the best evidence within the scientific community on drug policy issues.
Fair enough. But we’re now well into the first year of dystopia. Was I wrong?
Lest there be any doubt, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (a man who said he liked the KKK until he discovered they used marijuana) issued a two-page memorandum on Friday, outlining just what his department intends to do about the nonexistent crime wave and marauding drug gangs, which of course includes bringing back mandatory minimum sentencing for certain classes of drugs (viz. those used mostly by blacks and minorities), among many other draconian measures, using phrases straight from the vade mecum of the Nixon administration, such as “public safety” and “respect for our legal system.”
Apparently our prisons are not full enough, and too few lives have been ruined in the pursuit of political capital.
One thing can be said about the Trump administration that everyone can agree on (as amply demonstrated by Trump’s impetuous and disastrous firing of FBI director James Comey): subtlety and nuance are not in the playbook.
Sessions apparently stopped reading three decades ago, and dog whistle racism aside, thinks that this tough-on-drugs formula is a political winner. Of course it was, in the 1970s and 1980s.
But he should catch up on his reading list by cribbing some more recent polling data. Two-thirds of Americans disfavor incarceration of heroin and cocaine users, and 63% of Republican millennials favor marijuana legalization.
Of course it isn’t impossible that white septuagenarians – one of whom shows distinct signs of pre-senile dementia – could lead this multicultural pluralistic civilization into its deserved place in the sun instead of into a sunless sea, but that seems unlikely.
Meanwhile, south of the border, another man with an even lower approval rating than Donald Trump (I guess that’s possible), and the ostensible head of perhaps the most corrupt political party in modern history, who is also not especially known for his cognitive abilities, Enrique Peña Ñieto, doesn’t seem to know what to do about the once again increasing drug war violence in Mexico.
He was rightfully critical of his predecessor’s mother-of-all-bad-ideas idea of putting the screws to the cartels in 2006, only to find himself in the trap of Sisyphus, doing the same thing over and over again with no results.
As the Mexican military raids poppy fields in the mountains southern Mexico, the bodies continue to pile up (23,000 drug war-related deaths in 2016), prompting the International Institute of Strategic Studies to conclude that Mexico is only behind Syria as the world’s deadliest conflict zone.
Peña Ñieto ostensibly feels he has to do something about the endemic insecurity in parts of the country, so he does what he knows: military intervention and the arrests of cartel leaders, despite the fact that this has never worked.
He has failed to realize – or realizes but for political reasons cannot admit – that sometimes doing nothing is doing something. The only one in Mexico talking sense about what to do about the cartels is former president Vicente Fox.
I’ll leave readers with two questions, one answered, one not so much. First, how do we put an end to this madness? That one is easy, and it’s right before our very eyes in the Global Commission on Drug Policy Report of 2014.
Second, when will we put an end to this madness? When public leaders pull their heads from their rectums and lead by selling to their respective incredulous body politic the efficacy of a paradigm-shifting policy reversal.
Likely? Hardly. So I remain left sadly wondering.
Glen Olives Thompson is a professor of North American Law at La Salle University in Chihuahua, a specialist in law and public policy and a frequent contributor to Mexico News Daily. Some of his other non-academic work can be viewed at glenolives.com.