By Clark Ruper
Updated by Joseph Simnett
There is something of a nostalgic yearning for the Obama years. After four years of the rollercoaster that was President Trump, and now the dull, gaffe-prone administration of Biden at the wheel, many crave the “normalcy” of pre-2016, for all its flaws.
But it’s worth remembering that under the “cool and slick” exterior of Obama’s presentation and rhetoric, nasty policies did not simply disappear between the Republicans that came before and after him.
In 2014, the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico, reportedly abducted by police and then given over to a drug cartel, spawned a nation-wide protest movement and drew international attention to the country yet again. The parents of the abducted children lived together in a school dormitory as they searched for their kids, and pressured the government for answers while protestors set government buildings on fire.
It was a horrible travesty among a long line of casualties of The Drug War. It came just after the murder of journalist Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, who dared to speak out against the cartels on Twitter. These outrageous stories have become so common that they are practically expected at this point, which comes as no surprise given the drug cartels have become so powerful that they control large swathes of the country.
Mexico has been in the midst of a civil war for years, and it is quite literally the fault of the American government and their disastrously failed Drug War that they have forced on the rest of the world. History and basic economics show us that prohibition leads to black markets, cartels, and violence at a level that the government is powerless to stop.
That is, unless they would actually do something about it beyond spouting empty rhetoric. I was particularly infuriated by Barack Obama supposedly denouncing these crimes, calling for justice and pledging to help, blah blah blah. We have heard it so often before. It rings completely hollow and the worst part is that he knew better and yet refused to take meaningful action.
As a short aside, I am just about to finish watching season three of The Wire. I have no idea why it has taken me this long, because it offers an amazing view into not just the failure of the Drug War, but also of politicians, police, schools, and all the other “good guys.”
There are so many great lines and scenes that illustrate the futility of the Drug War and how it creates perverse incentives, institutions, and mindsets that lead to further violence. One of the few legitimately good guys in the show, police major Howard Colvin, really nails it:
“I mean, you call something a war and pretty soon everybody gonna be running around acting like warriors. They gonna be running around on a damn crusade, storming corners, slapping on cuffs, racking up body counts. And when you at war, you need a f*****g enemy. And pretty soon, damn near everybody on every corner is your f*****g enemy. And soon the neighborhood that you’re supposed to be policing, that’s just occupied territory…The worse thing about this so called Drug War, to my mind, it just ruined this job.”
And that is just about it. President Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” and that is exactly what we have had ever since. A war. But it is not a war on drugs, it is a war on people. A war on the people of Baltimore, my hometown of Detroit, on Mexico, on every country the United States has forced this war upon. It is a war on people who have been trapped in cycles of institutional violence and poverty while our politicians look on with their heads in the sand.
There is no better example of this than Barack Obama, who said during his first presidential campaign that The Wire was one of the best shows ever made. There is no way a sane person could watch this show and come to any other conclusion than the immediate end or at least de-escalation of the Drug War.
And how could one forget Obama’s long history using the drug.
But despite a few pittances given to the issue of marijuana when it came to states rights, Obama did nothing on this critical issue. In many ways, he escalated problems by cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries. A June 2013 report issued by Americans for Safe Access found that the DEA had carried out some 270 medical marijuana raids under Obama — twelve more than had been conducted in the previous twelve years combined.
Instead of leading on this issue, Obama was a staunch defender of the status quo.
The blood of the Mexican students and inner city youth in America is on the hands of our politicians who allow this war to continue. Obama did not start this war, but he had a chance to end it and make good on at least part of the idealistic optimism that characterized his campaign.
Obama served his last two years under a GOP-controlled congress. This was something of a blessing in disguise, as any meaningful drug policy reform would have had to be bipartisan in order to gain widespread support.
Fortunately, the GOP had leaders like Rand Paul, who proposed legislation which would reduce drug penalties while taking other steps towards ending the War on Drugs.
Unfortunately, there has been very little progress when it comes to federal marijuana legalization, and most victories have been at the state level.
It’s unlikely politicians will end the Drug War overnight, but issues like mandatory sentencing, shrinking the DEA, formally acknowledging states rights to legalize marijuana and other drugs, and similar measures would be good places to start. They will not end the civil war in Mexico overnight, but we need to show the cartels that this war will end, and that they will not get rich off of America’s Drug War forever.
It does not matter how much political capital they have to burn to get it done. The Drug War is the single most harmful domestic and international policy of the US government. Fixing it now is a moral imperative.
And as we come to Biden’s mixed policy history with drugs, I may say this: The time is now. Mr. President, for the sake of your own beliefs and integrity and for the future of Mexico and the impoverished youth of America, to end the Drug War.
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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.