EL PASO — President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in 1969 with a stepped up campaign targeting the production, distribution and consumption of illegal drugs. Forty years later many consider that war a complete failure.
The University of Texas at El Paso hosted a global public policy forum on the U.S. war on drugs that drew experts from both sides of the border. “Government needs to have a joint policy, and that is why this conference is important,” said José Reyes Ferriz, the mayor of Ciudad Juárez. “This is a joint problem and is addressed as a joint issue, but we don’t have a cohesive policy right now.”
Those who attended the conference agreed that something needed to be done to eliminate the problem of drug abuse and drug generated violence, which is devastating Ciudad Juárez. Speakers on the panel, entitled “History, Successes and Failures,” however pointed to the failure of the current effort. “I think US drug policy has failed,” said Joy Olson, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization promoting democracy. “I do not discount the level of devastation in violence created by drug trafficking.”
Olson said the drug war has a balloon effect. As long as there is demand, there will be a supply of drugs coming in from another location, she said. She compared the drug war to a balloon where if one pushes in one side of the balloon, another side pops up.
“If we focus on different areas and succeed in one place, we succeed in moving the problem somewhere else,” Olson said. “If we succeed, we end up failing somewhere else.”
Terry Nelson, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said that he considers the war on drugs to be the greatest public policy failure of all time. He presented a plan of “legalization, regulation, and control” as a solution to the drug problem, which proposes that government legalize and regulate the flow of drugs in the country in order to gain better control of the problem. “If I’m wrong, what happens? What’s the worse that can happen?” Nelson said. “We don’t keep doing the same wrong thing over and over. It’s not working and is causing a lot of damage.”
The panel criticized some of the government’s plans to combat the drug trade such as Plan Colombia, U.S. legislation that targeted the reduction of drug activities in Colombia. “Plan Colombia cost 5.1 billion dollars and at the end of that, there was a 27 percent increase in cocaine production coming out of rich nations,” Nelson said.
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