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Consumption Junction: Stop Using Drugs… or Decriminalize Them
Photo: Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.
Today’s contributor is Hector Luis Alamo, Jr. Hector is a freelance writer and community activist of Honduran-Puerto Rican descent living in Chicago. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his departmental concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. In 2007 he co-founded an online blog, YoungObservers, and has remained its main contributor. Since 2010 he’s been the Opinions editor for the Chicago Flame, and he also contributes periodically for Examiner.com as its Chicago City Buzz Examiner. He is currently working on his first book.
In a recent argument I had over Facebook, a friend of mine made the futile attempt to post that the current wave of Latino immigration is unprecedented due to what he sees as two, distinct phenomena: drugs and violence. He argued that Latinos are unlike any immigrant group before them, because they bring a significant increase in drug crimes and violence.
I tried to correct him, reminding him that his indictment of Latinos is similar to the allegation aimed at Irish immigrants during the 19th century, when they were characterized as womanizing drunkards who were inclined to brawl in the streets. Italian immigrants were tied to organized crime during the early 20th century, just as Jews were tied to socialism around the same time. Even today Muslims, Arabs, and their look-alikes are targeted as possible terrorists. Every immigrant group in history has not been without the negative stereotypes associated with them by nativists.
Most Americas hear about the violent clashes instigated by drug cartels along the U.S.-Mexico border and deem drug-related violence as primarily a Mexican problem. Even some Latinos might reluctantly admit to identifying drug violence as an issue solely concerning Mexico and one or two South American countries.
But a recent article published by the New York Times highlighted the scantly-reported explosion of violence and drug crimes throughout Central America. The spread of drug-related violence in Central America as a result of crackdown efforts in Mexico and Colombia have made drug-related violence a Pan-American issue – specifically, a Latino issue. Drug-related violence is for the Latino world what religiopolitical extremism is for the Islamic world, and both epidemics have their origins in the United States: American interventionism and hegemony not only fuel hostilities in the Middle East, it also fuels drug-related violence in Latin America.
If you trace the shipment of drugs through Latin America, their target is clear: the United States. The Central Intelligence Agency lists the United States as the “world’s largest consumer of cocaine (shipped from Colombia through Mexico and the Caribbean), Colombian heroin, and Mexican heroin and marijuana,” as well as a “major consumer” of “Mexican methamphetamine.” Now, a possible counterargument may be that our consumption is caused by Latin American production, but rarely do individuals go into the business of producing and selling something that isn’t already in demand (except for the iPad). American demand for illicit drugs is what’s keeping the Latin American drug trafficking trade thriving. Cutting the demand will effectively make drug trafficking less profitable, thus, decreasing drug production.
As Latinos we must do what we can to help our compatriots by eliminating the demand for drugs in the United States. This can be accomplished through a combination of two efforts: reforming the drug laws in the United States and teaching American children the dangers of drug use.
By reforming drugs laws, I mean scrapping the prohibitions against drug sales and drug use.
Americans already consume plenty of foods and drugs that are both extremely unhealthy and blatantly addictive – alcohol and tobacco being the obvious ones, but prescription drugs and unhealthy foods being others.
As somewhat of a libertarian, I oppose most forms of government paternalism: specifically, government telling fully cognizant adults what they can and can’t do to themselves. I, like any reasonable person, realize the dangers of drug and alcohol use – having a drug-addicted family member myself – and therefore, I advocate moderation, if not outright abstinence from any drug use. But allowing adults to use (and abuse) alcohol and tobacco, while prohibiting them from using marijuana and cocaine, seems awfully inconsistent. Either criminalize all drugs and alcohol (and we already know where that will lead us), or decriminalize them all.
America’s drug laws should mirror its alcohol laws: 1) they should be heavily taxed, and 2) a person should be allowed to buy and use as much as he wants, so long as his usage does not harm someone else. Some people might argue that drug addiction does intangible harm to a family; but then again, the same can be said of an alcoholic father with liver disease or a smoking mother with lung cancer. All drugs are harmful, but they should not be criminalized; we should teach our children the dangers of drug use and allow our adults to decide what’s best for themselves.
As it stands today, America’s drug laws are ravaging entire nations across the Western Hemisphere. Decriminalization has created a thriving black market for illicit drugs through
Central and South America. The profitability of producing, transporting, and selling illegal drugs has many people – who are already living in Latin America’s worst slums – eager to kill or die for the chance at a better life for themselves and their families. Decriminalization has also nearly made drug education obsolete: children don’t really need to know the dangers of something that is already prohibited by law. But as evidenced by the rate of drug consumption in the United States, making drugs illegal is not the best way to keep people from using them.
Laws are not the only reason a person might never use drugs, just as laws are not the only reason a person might always wear a seatbelt or obey traffic signs; in fact, laws are rarely the primary reason why a person does anything. A person will adhere to the laws that are in accordance to his own judgment – that is, a person might obey the speed limit or avoid drugs if he values his health.
To say that the troubles in Latin America are Latin American-made would be to demonstrate a careless lack of understanding of how drug trafficking works. Just as we have outsourced most American jobs to other countries, we’ve also outsourced the production of our illicit drugs to Central and South America. We Americans need to either stop buying what the drug cartels are making and selling, or we make it and sell it ourselves.