Saturday, January 28, 2012

Narcotics Control and Connecticut

In June 2011 Connecticut became the 14th state to pass a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of Marijuana. It is no longer a criminal offense that will land individuals in jail and leave a stain on criminal records. Legal reform like this marks the changing attitudes towards drug consumption in the United States, and encourages more pragmatic approach for the future of drug control in this country, but I encourage you, as consumers, to look beyond our borders and consider the effects of our decisions.

The passage of laws like SB 1014, fewer individuals from our communities will end up with criminal records that prevent them from seeking employment. I encourage cities like New Haven to implement proposals like Good Samaritan Drug Policy (recently passed in New York), but we cannot turn a blind eye to the reality of the American drug market.

According to Professor Mark Kleiman at UCLA, 80% of drugs consumed within the United States are consumed by 20% of the population of drug users. He estimates that about 1 in 10 users actually becomes addicted to Marijuana, whereas 1 in 3 become addicted to Tobacco. This is important information for law makers to take into account when they develop drug laws, and while I support these efforts to keep more people out of jail for minimal offenses, I do believe that discussions like these are all together too isolationist to give consumers the full picture of what is going on in the narcotics market.

I can tell you, as someone who has lost family members and close friends to the violence of the Drug Wars, there isn’t a clear way out of this for Mexico and Central America. With homicide rates reaching 40 per 100,000 people in Mexico, and in some of the most violent parts of El Salvador 80 per 100,000 people, this violence becomes part of the reality that each new generation lives and breathes everyday. Imagine a world where teenagers talk about how many bodies they passed on the streets on the way to their one room, abandoned school house. That is what a day in Cuidad Juarez looks like. Or where people depend on others tweeting about which streets in Veracruz have been shut down by the cartels to plan their daily routes to work.

While the cartels are have expanded their economic holdings, 60% of their profits come from selling just Marijuana in the United States. Mexico is now the second largest exporter of opiates in the world, and the largest exporter of synthetic drugs. Yes, we can pretend that all of the marijuana on campus comes from small farmers in California who sell to the medical marijuana stores in Venice Beach, but I can promise you that this is not true. As it is, California is a border state and a major transaction point for narcotics. Look at the cartels in Tijuana that fought so hard for control of that point of entry.

The conversation surrounding drug enforcement in the United States does need to change. All together too much money is spent on ineffective prevention and enforcement projects that put individuals back into a repeating cycle of damage. But I am also here, asking that you consider where your money is going, and do not just see these reforms as an opportunity to take up the habit.

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