Last week, a scary new report came out from the Associated Press on the drug cartels presence in the continental United States:
Mexican drug cartels whose operatives once rarely ventured beyond the U.S. border are dispatching some of their most trusted agents to live and work deep inside the United States — an emboldened presence that experts believe is meant to tighten their grip on the world’s most lucrative narcotics market and maximize profits.
If left unchecked, authorities say, the cartels’ move into the American interior could render the syndicates harder than ever to dislodge and pave the way for them to expand into other criminal enterprises such as prostitution, kidnapping-and-extortion rackets and money laundering.
Cartel activity in the U.S. is certainly not new. Starting in the 1990s, the ruthless syndicates became the nation’s No. 1 supplier of illegal drugs, using unaffiliated middlemen to smuggle cocaine, marijuana and heroin beyond the border or even to grow pot here.
But a wide-ranging Associated Press review of federal court cases and government drug-enforcement data, plus interviews with many top law enforcement officials, indicate the groups have begun deploying agents from their inner circles to the U.S. Cartel operatives are suspected of running drug-distribution networks in at least nine non-border states, often in middle-class suburbs in the Midwest, South and Northeast.
“It’s probably the most serious threat the United States has faced from organized crime,” said Jack Riley, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chicago office.
The cartel threat looms so large that one of Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpins — a man who has never set foot in Chicago — was recently named the city’s Public Enemy No. 1, the same notorious label once assigned to Al Capone.
The Chicago Crime Commission, a non-government agency that tracks crime trends in the region, said it considers Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman even more menacing than Capone because Guzman leads the deadly Sinaloa cartel, which supplies most of the narcotics sold in Chicago and in many cities across the U.S.
Years ago, Mexico faced the same problem — of then-nascent cartels expanding their power — “and didn’t nip the problem in the bud,” said Jack Killorin, head of an anti-trafficking program in Atlanta for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “And see where they are now.”
They “didn’t nip the problem in the bud,” says Jack Killorin. Gee, I wonder why. It couldn’t possibly have to do with a massive war on drugs that is being pushed by Mexico’s large northern neighbor, could it?
Meanwhile, I find Jack Riley’s comment that this may be the “most serious threat’ we’ve ever faced from organized crime to be somewhat laughable. Oh, surely, it is a true statement, and not one based in utter absurdity. No, the reason I find it laughable is because this threat is caused by his very own agency.
If we’re going to discuss how to stop the cartels, we must first ask why the cartels are doing what they are doing. Why are the cartels doing so much to smuggle illegal narcotics into the United States? The answer to that is simple: drug trafficking is a highly lucrative endeavor. It’s all about profits. But then we must ask another question: why is drug trafficking so lucrative? And why does it involve so much violence?
That answer is also pretty simple: because drugs are illegal, the supply of them is artificially constrained. And what happens when supply is low and demand is high? High prices, of course. And what happens if, because your product is illegal, you can’t turn to the courts and the police to defend your property if someone steals it?
Crime and violence. Naturally.
This is a basic fact that libertarians understand, but which government bureaucrats, politicians, and law enforcement professionals cannot seem to grasp—deliberately, in some cases. That’s why I highly doubt Riley and Killorin will go for the best answer to deal with the drug cartels: drug legalization. Let Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Bristol-Meyers Squibb compete to produce and sell marijuana and cocaine, legally, in drug stores across the nation. Let the trade be brought into the legal sphere, under the protection of courts, enforced by contracts, with peaceful, legal alternatives to violence made available.
There is no reason not to. As Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has noted, the war on drugs is far, far more immoral than drug use itself. Drug prohibition has no justification. Thus, it’s actually really simple to just legalize drugs, and pull the rug out from underneath the cartels. We’ve already seen two states legalize marijuana last year, a bill to legalize marijuana just passed out of committee in Oregon, and who knows what the future holds based on these trends.
Want to stop the cartels? Hit them where it hurts: their pocketbooks. Legalize drugs—all drugs—and let’s end this farce.