It is wrecking
the government of Mexico. It is financing the Taliban in Afghanistan.
It is throwing 11,000 Britons into jail. It is corrupting democracy
throughout Latin America. It is devastating the ghettoes of America
and propagating Aids in urban Europe. Its turnover is some £200bn
a year, on which it pays not a penny of tax. Thousands round the
world die of it and millions are impoverished. It is the biggest
man-made blight on the face of the earth.
No, it is not
drugs. They are as old as humanity. Drugs will always be a challenge
to individual and communal discipline, alongside alcohol and nicotine.
The curse is different: the declaration by states that some drugs
are illegal and that those who supply and use them are criminals.
This is the root of the evil.
products – poppy and coca – that are in massive global
demand, governments merely hand huge untaxed profits to those outside
the law and propagate anarchy. Repressive regimes, such as some
Muslim ones, have managed to curb domestic alcohol consumption,
but no one has been able to stop the global market in heroin and
cocaine. It is too big and too lucrative, rivalling arms and oil
on the international monetary exchanges. Forty years of "the
war on drugs" have defeated all-comers, except political hypocrites.
governments have turned a blind eye and decided to ride with the
menace, since the chief price of their failure is paid by the poor.
In Britain Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Gordon Brown felt tackling
the drugs economy was not worth antagonising rightwing newspapers.
Like most rich westerners they relied on regarding drugs as a menace
among the poor but a youthful indiscretion among their own offspring.
The full horror
of drug criminality is now coming home to roost far from the streets
of New York and London. In countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan
and Iran, drugs are so endemic that criminalising them merely fuels
a colossal corruption. It is rendering futile Nato’s Afghan war
effort, which requires the retraining of an army and police too
addicted either to cure or to sack. Poppies are the chief source
of cash for farmers whose hearts and minds Nato needs to win, yet
whose poppy crop (ultimately for Nato nations) finances the Taliban.
It is crazy.
The worst impact
of criminalisation is on Latin America. Here the slow emergence
of democratic governments – from Bolivia through Peru and Columbia
to Mexico – is being jeopardised by America’s "counter-narcotics"
diplomacy through the US
Drug Enforcement Agency. Rather than try to stem its own voracious
appetite for drugs, rich America shifts guilt on to poor supplier
countries. Never was the law of economics – demand always evokes
supply – so traduced as in Washington’s drugs policy. America
spends $40bn a year on narcotics policy, imprisoning a staggering
1.5m of its citizens under it.
routed through Mexico have made that country the drugs equivalent
of a Gulf oil state. An estimated 500,000 people are employed in
the trade, all at risk of their lives, with 45,000 soldiers deployed
against them. Border provinces are largely in the hands of drug
barons and their private armies. In
the past four years 28,000 Mexicans have died in drug wars,
a slaughter that would outrage the world if caused by any other
industry (such as oil). Mexico’s experience puts in the shade the
gangsterism of America’s last failed experiment in prohibition,
the prewar alcohol ban.
As a result,
it is South
American governments and not the sophisticated west that are
now pleading for reform. A year ago an Argentinian court gave American
and British politicians a lesson in libertarianism by declaring
that "adults should be free to make lifestyle decisions without
the intervention of the state". Mexico declared drugs users
"patients not criminals". Ecuador
released 1,500 hapless women imprisoned as drug mules –
while the British government locks them for years in Holloway.