Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Drugs and Violence II

As Boz writes in the comments to my post on Drug use and violence in Central America
Illegal drug use in the US, particularly cocaine, is way down. In fact, it's near what's likely to be a natural floor. It would be hard and take excessive resources to get it much lower than what it is today.
This, of course, is a problem for everyone who says demand reduction is the answer. We've done demand reduction in the past two decades and done it quite successfully. Successful demand reduction in the US has had minimal and possibly even a negative correlation on the crime and violence linked to drugs in South and Central America. It's not a conclusion many analysts like to discuss, but it's what the data show.
So, drug use is down in the US.

The murder rate in Guatemala has also decreased two years in a row and is at its lowest level since 2004.

Murders are down in Guatemala. (Colombia too, right?)

On the one hand, it's an odd point in time to call for decriminalization as drug use in the US is down and violence, at least in terms of homicide rates, is down in Guatemala as well.

On the other hand, perhaps it's just a recognition on the part of the Guatemalan government that it's done everything possible to reduce violence and the only way forward is decriminalization. That doesn't sound right given Otto Perez Molina was just a few weeks into his first term in office when he threw out the suggestion.

I would probably support decriminalizing marijuana, but I just think that Perez is using the issue to distract from the country's historic and future (most likely) inability to reform domestic institutions. Greg reproduces this paragraph from Ralph Espach at The Atlantic and I will as well because it's really important.
Drugs are a major problem in Central America, but they are worsened by a much bigger problem, one that can't be solved by legalizing marijuana, cocaine, or opium: the lack of public security. From the out-gunned police on the streets to the weak judges in the courts to the corrupt politicians, communities and countries struggle to maintain basic control over their own security. Ultimately, drug legalization -- like the drug war it's meant to solve -- would succeed only if public security is fixed and would fail if it isn't. That means better-trained and -equipped police, new campaign finance rules, faster and more independent courts, and even improved prisons. It means addressing not just the problems in the police and courts but the widespread poverty, malnourished children, and poor education systems. It means creating transparency in the public sector, curbing corruption, and breaking the long-standing links between organized crime and politics. Without these enormously difficult steps, neither drug legalization nor any drug war are likely to solve Central America's problems.
I want to be an optimist but something tells me that it would be easier to decriminalize marijuana and other drugs that it will be to accomplish what I italicized above especially if CACIF and Guatemala's businessmen continue to see the state as a business.


  1. Drug use is way down? The US govt itself says it is up since 2002:

  2. According to your link, overall drug use has increased but it is entirely driven by the market in marijuana. Psychotherapeutic and hallucinogenic usage is flat and cocaine usage is down. Given that these are all percentages, that obviously means total usage for the first three are up.

    These numbers are from 2002-2010, but the US embassy statement references a decrease in usage over a three decade period.

    Would Perez Molina's suggestion to decriminalize "drugs" have been more warmly received had he just singled out "marijuana"?

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