Why must the U.S. stay engaged with Mexico in the war on drugs?

The usage of recreational drugs among American youth poses one of the biggest challenges for the country’s future. The United States, by virtue of sharing a lengthy border with neighboring Mexico, is susceptible to illegal trafficking of drugs within its jurisdiction. Moreover, over the last thirty years or so, the influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico has made the task of curbing drug trade close to impossible. But, however challenging the War on Drugs prove to be, the law enforcement authorities cannot give up on their mission, for unfettered drug trafficking across the border would have serious negative consequences in the long run. The following passages will present the reasons why the U.S.A. Must stay engaged with Mexico in the War on Drugs.

When the Ronald Reagan Administration initiated its famous War on Drugs program in the 1980s with the catchy slogan “Just Say No”, the focus of the program was not exclusively Mexico. At that time, different pockets of Latin America posed threats of varying degrees, including Columbia and Brazil. But due to its proximity to the United States, and the increase in demand for cocaine and marijuana, Mexico has emerged as the greatest threat in recent decades. Compounding the problem of drug trafficking is the internal political chaos in Mexico. The Mexican governments of past and present have tried various methods and tactics for bringing the drug cartels under control, but to no avail. It is a reflection of the government’s inability to reign in the drug cartels that policy makers in Mexico are resorting to radical alternatives. For example, some policy makers are pushing their case “to decriminalize possession of small quantities of drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, LSD, methamphetamines, heroin, and opium if these are for personal use” (Serrano, 2009). The rationale behind this proposal is that legalizing individual drug consumption will undermine incentives for drug cartels to continue their trade. Such proposals betray Mexican government’s feeling of desperation. There is little evidence to suggest that if and when such proposals turn into enacted laws drug trade and consumption will decline. In the United States, a contrarian trend has been followed with respect to narcotics laws, which has made sentences handed to those found guilty highly disproportional to the extent of their crime. As Ian Weinstein succinctly points out,

“In the system of narcotics prosecution, prosecutorial power often is unchecked and sentences often are unpredictable, but generally are quite harsh. Narcotics sentences have been decreasing steadily for almost ten years–a troubling instability–and there are wide disparities in sentences among similarly-situated defendants. Too many defendants receive sentences that are out of proportion to the wrongfulness of their conduct and too few will accept the risks that come with trying to enforce their rights in the face of often overwhelming prosecutorial power. Meanwhile, the vast increase in prosecutorial power to control narcotics sentences is at the core of the problems with federal narcotics sentencing”. (Weinstein, 2003)

Yet, despite this dis-proportionality in sentencing, there is empirical evidence that suggests a reduction in illegal drug trading activity within the United States. Seen in this backdrop, the proposed decriminalization of narcotics trade in Mexico is only likely to exacerbate the problem. Given the ineffective political system in Mexico and the uncertainty surrounding possible legal remedies, it is all the more necessary for the American government to engage with Mexico and come up with robust measures to check drug trafficking. Although the drugs originate from across the southern border with Mexico, their destination market is largely the United States. For example, the wholesale cocaine distribution system in the United States is run by mafia dons living underground in Mexico. Furthermore, “Traffickers operating from Mexico now control wholesale cocaine distribution throughout the western and mid-western United States. Mexico-based trafficking groups in cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle control the distribution of several tons of cocaine”. (www.policyalmanac.org, 2004) If the U.S. Government does not take prompt action to control this ever widening distribution network, then the problem will escalate to endemic proportions in a few years.

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