Intelligence Specialist and Scholars Divided about Decriminalization of Drugs

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El Paso — Dozens of persons are killed every day in Juarez in a war fueled by cartels feuding with rival cartels, feuding within their own cartels, and rebelling against the Mexican government since the installation of President Felipe Calderón according, to the chief of Intelligence for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Anthony Placido, Dr. Craig Reinarman, and Dr. David Courtwright at The U.S. War on Drugs Conference (Octavio Pulido/Borderzine.com)

Anthony Placido, Dr. Craig Reinarman, and Dr. David Courtwright at The U.S. War on Drugs Conference (Octavio Pulido/Borderzine.com)

Anthony Placido called the drug trade a “poison for profit” business, one that would not go away by decriminalizing the use of marijuana and other substances. “These cartels are a class of professional predators. They won’t become white collar workers.”

Placido’s perspective was one of three points of view expressed by panelists at the Global Public Policy forum on the U.S. War on Drugs hosted by the University of Texas at El Paso. The other two panelists presented opposing views favorable to the decriminalization of drugs, mainly of marijuana. The panel, made up of David Courtwright, Craig Reinerman, a professor of Sociology and Legal Studies at the University of California and Placido debated how to apply the U.S. “war on drugs” to help ameliorate the drug war in a city less than a mile away —Juárez, México— the site of one of the deadliest drug-fueled wars in the world.

“The drug trade has been going on for 500 years and will not be going away soon,” said David Courtwright, a professor at the University of North Florida and the current president of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society. But according to Courtwright, the problem lies not only in the use of drugs and trafficking itself, but in the penal aspect of how drug policy is administered, particularly when concerning marijuana. Courtwright said he felt that “reduced sentences and decriminalization of possession (of marijuana)” would be a large factor to stopping the violence. “Marijuana is not any less dangerous than alcohol,” Courtwright said.  “We need to regulate the way in which we handle drugs that can help but also destroy lives.” He also told the panel that drug trafficking is not a business based solely on supply and demand, but instead the “supply of drugs stimulates the demand.”

Sharing similar views, Reinerman, who lives a portion of the year in Amsterdam where marijuana is legalized in certain areas, said that culture shapes drug trafficking more than the law and agreed that problems do rest within policy administration. “Drug policy should not cause more problems than the drugs themselves,” Reinerman said.

He shared statistics with the panel and audience showing user rates for those living in the Dutch province as significantly lower than those who lived in large metropolitan cities such as San Francisco, a city known for high availability of many illegal drugs.
“Availability is not destiny,” Reinerman said.

One thing all of the speakers could agree on was the need to put an end to the violence. “Drug trafficking is not evil in itself. It’s about mind-altering substances that destroy lives,” Placido said. Using the Colombian government as an example he said that there was hope and reason to be optimistic. “This is a serious problem and it needs a serious response,” Placido said.

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