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What will happen with drug violence when drug prohibition ends?

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Chihuahua Channel 44’s coverage of violence in Juarez.

Sixteen years ago, when in the El Paso area, I visited with a friend who lives in Juaraz, Mexico. I found a garage on the El Paso side to park my car, because my rental car agreement did not cover driving in Mexico.  

I walked across the border over the short footbridge, and had an enjoyable and violence-free several hours with my friend, including having vegetarian food at a top-shelf restaurant, briefly accompanying him the next morning in his daily work life, and, on my own, strolling the streets and shops close to the border crossing before my return.  

My return to the United States the next morning over the footbridge was quick and uneventful past the border checkpoint, other than a surprised question from the Customs agent about how my bottle of water could have been the only thing I had purchased during my less than a day in Mexico.  

Times have changed dramatically in Juaraz since then. Juarez is among the several areas of Mexico —- but certainly not the only one —- that has been transformed into a constant gun battle ground, catching innocent victims in the shooting violence and kidnappings.  

I had a chance recently to catch up with my friend from Juarez, who was visiting the Washington, D.C., area. I will keep his identity confidential due to his remaining in Juarez with the city’s ongoing violence, even though he did not tell m anything that is not already news on the street. 

My friend, a member of the business establishment, has the financial and personal wherewithal to relocate to a less violent part of Mexico. He has made the decision to stay in Juarez, where his family, business, and many friends remain. This has been his home for years, and he wishes to continue with as normal a life as he can there.  

His daily life does not seem to have changed too much, other than to make some concerted efforts to avoid getting caught in violence, including driving a longer but safer route to get to his office from home. His crossing time into the United States has not been slowed down much, but this is at the expense of obtaining a passage card to enter the U.S. that requires an extensive background check. 

I have only been to two places in Mexico, which are Juarez in 1994 and Tijuana in 1977. Both have gotten overridden by drug-related violence, with Tijuana worse off in this transition. My friend emphasized that there are other parts of Mexico that are further from the U.S. border that also are caught up heavily in drug violence, but that get less attention in the United States by being farther from the United States.  

How can all this drug-running violence be reversed —- not just in Mexico but worldwide? The violence would not exist without the huge demand for illegal drugs. Fewer people would be demanding drugs —- both of the legal and illegal varieties -— if they did not feel in so much psychological, spiritual, and physical pain, distress, and disconnect.  

Decades of experience has shown that drug prohibition and harsh drug sentences does not stop a huge demand for illegal drugs. What would happen if all nations legalized drugs? That would open up drugs to being produced legally domestically and imported legally. That would reverse the drug violence, so much so that illegal drug dealers and illegal drug manufacturers probably want their product kept illegal in order to avoid more widespread competition and reduced prices that result from making a product legal with more competition. 

Many decry the concept of legalizing drugs, for fear of the social ills of purchasing harmful drugs over the counter. Another available approach is to make most currently-illegal drugs available in a more regulated way. I am interested in learning more specific ideas for that approach; we already have seen the medical marijuana model in California and elsewhere that requires a doctor’s written recommendation before it may be obtained. On the more chilling side, still seared into my memory is the image of my taking the wrong pedestrian turn to the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown in 2001, and cringing at a crazed-looking man stabbing heroin into his palm at an open-air shooting gallery, which I figure was either regulated for distributing needles, or somehow else tolerated by police for shooting up.  

Drug legalization would cause a slew of people in the criminal justice system —- including judges, prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, law enforcement, probation and parole officers, and jailers — to go looking for work elsewhere, or to look for other types of customers. That is fine by me, and I certainly hope that nobody earning a living in the criminal justice system is resisting drug reform due to their own salary concerns. I’ll drink to that.