The War on Drugs: Why Decriminalization Isn’t Enough

By James Collins

(Warning: Extremely Graphic Content)

There is a huge debate amongst cannabis users in these, the dying days of prohibition, about what scheme should replace the current legal framework. Some want decriminalization, some want full legalization; a few idiots are still on board with locking up drug users.

The latter handful is increasingly shouting into the winds of social change which are blowing quite strongly against them. The fact is that prohibition is coming to an end, so what’s it going to be, legalization or decriminalization?

Mexican drug war costs lives.

The real horror of the War on Drugs.

I want to introduce you to the Mexican Drug War. It’s a very real problem, a war waged over control of drug trafficking routes out of South America and into global markets. We aren’t just talking about cannabis here, although that is a major issue that is slowly diminishing in scope after legalization in two American states for recreational purposes. The manufacture and trafficking of illicit substances is a massive global business, and funds wars in several nations.

In 2010 Hermila Garcia took the job of Police Chief in Warez, Mexico. She replaced a man who was gunned down in broad daylight in the middle of town with his security detail by cartel enforcers. She vowed to take on the cartels, to clean up Warez once and for all. She lasted two months on the job, and like her predecessor, was gunned down in plain view by violent criminals who apparently have absolutely no fear of authorities.

60,000 people have died in the fighting, with scenes like the one depicted above becoming increasingly commonplace. You see, in the producer nations of drugs like cannabis and cocaine the “War on Drugs” isn’t any kind of metaphor; it is a real, full-blown shooting war and the victims come from all walks of life. This is the effect of prohibition, when legal businesses are not allowed to produce and sell the drugs there is such a demand for then some very scary people use those drugs to fund their nefarious activities.

Tragic deaths from the war on drugs

The war on drugs costs lives.

Decriminalization doesn’t address the War on Drugs at the roots. It addresses the end user, the average toker. While the average Joe Bonghitter doesn’t want to live in fear of persecution for their indulgence, the fact of the matter is that they are the least threatened by the War on Drugs in the long chain of people involved in the production, distribution and consumption process. While you would like to exchange a potential small jail term for a fine, at the end of the day a lack of legitimacy to the drug market continues to fuel things like the Mexican Drug War.

Full legalization, regulation and taxes and all the stuff associated with normal, above-board markets, will address this problem. Cartels in Mexico are already turning from cannabis to opium cultivation because of a diminishing consumer demand for black-market cannabis in the face of a legal market. That’s right, a few months into the experiment in Colorado and the demand has already dropped enough that some cannabis farmers in Mexico are changing crops because demand is evaporating. The impact of legalization on the dangerous cartels we hear about was almost instantaneous, just imagine what would happen if legalization were a global policy backed by the United Nations. When we the end user discuss the issue of prohibition and potential legalization, we must look past the end of our own noses. We have to stop considering what happens to us personally and start addressing the issue on a global scale. We have to look at the cost/benefit ratio of different schemes, and in the big picture decriminalization continues to fund the cartels that inflict an unspeakable level of violence and intimidation on the public of several nations.

Are we as drug users going to adopt responsible attitudes with a global perspective on the subject of prohibition? Or will we frame the discussion in terms of the impact on us, the end-user, personally? I don’t want to go to jail for consuming cannabis, or whatever drug of choice is up for discussion, but at the same time I’m not willing to exchange my freedom for an ocean of blood in a half-solution that reduces persecution of users in consumer nations and increases violence and oppression in producer nations.

Mexican drug war

Horrific images show the real victims of the war on drugs in Mexico.

We can’t talk about drug laws without discussing the more visceral and terrifying aspects of the issue and those happen to include piles of headless corpses lying in the streets of Warez. Let’s not run away from the ugly truths and recognize that we the user are the least negatively impacted by prohibition. The people who are living in fear under the rule of violent maniacs in places like Mexico have it far worse than we do, however lousy our prices and supply might be.

Decriminalization doesn’t mean “open and free”. It means that producers and traffickers are still working outside of the law, and it means they will continue to conduct their business in the fashion they do now, often brutally and without consideration for public safety. Decriminalization just reduces penalties for possession, turning a criminal offense into something like a traffic ticket, while maintaining the illegality of the substances we wish to access. Legalization means that production, shipping and sales are all above-board, all conducted in the light of day, and the money doesn’t go into the hands of the kinds of people who will leave a pile of bodies in the town square to teach everyone a lesson. Instead it allows decent people to make a regular living cultivating and selling the drugs that people so enjoy consuming.

I know which scheme I back; do you know where you stand?




James Collins is a Canadian blogger, author and activist.

Tokin' on the rocks.

Canadian blogger James Collins.

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  1. A very brave peice of writing that captures the truly horrific consequences of prohibition in a manner which is both sensitive and hard hitting. I am pretty sure where I stand in terms of my opinion, my hope with this is that somebody who is in favour of prohibitionist arguments may see this, take a step back and reflect upon the consequences of this failed policy.

  2. Our NDP leader Tom Mulcair has made it abundantly clear he only support decrim. His son is a police officer so I find that his conflict of interest. Meanwhile Justin Trudeau has come out saying he does not support decrim he supports legalization. Come on, Canada! Make us the nation we can be proud of. 2015 vote Horrible Harper out!

    • Tom Mulclair has had every opportunity to assert the NDP as a liberal alternative to the Liberal Party, and in recent times in an attempt to seduce CPC voters has begun to lean right. The NDP will be lucky to see an opposition role in a coming government, and personally I think that with the death of Layton we’re going to see Trudeau take back all those votes they lost to the NDP. I think in the coming decades we’ll see Green begin to assert their proper place where the NDP used to be and that party will fade out of existence on the federal playing field.

  3. Even if you believe the propaganda surrounding drugs, seeing this will surely change their mind seeing the damage that prohibition is causing to thousands of people, people who were trying to do good things for their town/city. This article doesn’t mention the child slaves that gangs keep to grow the cannabis.

  4. Truly horrific images and stirring piece. Decriminalisation is not enough and I find it difficult to understand why people, including some very intelligent and knowledgeable on the subject like Prof. David Nutt, think decriminalisation is an option. It means they are complicit with all the crime surrounding drug production and sale which includes murder, human trafficking and terrorism. But the drugs themselves are fine. Well legalise then? And until the prohibition of all substances is ended and they are properly controlled and regulated will we see an end to such criminal activity. Those that still support prohibition have literal blood on their hands and they should be brought to justice for supporting murder, human trafficking, terrorism, etc.

  5. Most of these images are taken from the net and have nothing to do with drugs or cartels. But I suppose it makes ur point. But really if they stop gettin demand for one thing like u said they move onto another and the cartels and violence will continue. These kind of countries are corrupt thats why this continues. Nothing to do withdrugs.

  6. Extremely graphic content (actually made it difficult to read the article!) and very hard to see how anyone thinks this is better than people having safe access to drugs. Legalisation does not mean all drugs are promoted as heavily as alcohol (which is far too prevalent in our society) – it means distribution is taken away from criminal gangs. Whether these gangs will carry on is another matter.

  7. I live in the UK and i get harassed most weeks because i choose to smoke weed ( not with tobacco like they would like me too!!) i am a full time carer for my husband, with 2 children to look after and cannabis has helped me get of strong anti depressants and pain killers that i was left taking by the doctors that are meant to be helping!! They made me lifeless, wheres cannabis does the same job for me without the bad effects!! Roll on legalization in the UK!!!

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