I’ve written previously about how I don’t think we’re yet at the breaking point for prohibition. There’s too many vested interests and too much political cowardice.  This week, in many ways, it’s business as usual- Kerlikowske mocked politicians who only voice opposition to the war on drugs while they’re not in power, the Economist highlighted the volte-face that both Cameron and Clegg have taken to become Drug War Champions since assuming power, and Obama decided to hold a Facebook town hall on 4/20 (is he a legalization cocktease, or what?) Meanwhile in Texas, a Congressman is looking to up the ante, proposing that the US classify drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) as terrorist organizations. This would definitely open up a number of sources of funding for justice and security organizations to access to fund the war on drugs, and probably a whole world of legislation to allow surveillance and prosecution. There’s a thoughtful analysis on a site called Blogging by Boz (and reposted by Sylvia Longworth) which considers the issue.

Boz is in cautiously in favour, with an understanding that ‘terrorism’ can be defined as ‘the use of violence to achieve political or economic goals’. This is a new view to me- I’ve always thought of terrorism within a purely political framework, not economic. I can see that the brutally violent murders in Mexico (decapitations, hangings etc) are designed to inspire terror, in order to further economic ambitions…but if you count that as terrorist, does that mean that criminal gangs within the US who, for example, harrass and intimidate victims from testifying against them, are also terrorists? Surely that’s equivalent?

Danny at Transform wrote a piece recently about the ‘securitization’ of  drug policy suggesting that by framing the debate in these terms, “progressive reform in itself becomes a ‘threat’ – a ‘threat’ to a long standing mission and some very well resourced agencies, charged with fighting the drug war.”

However, criticism of the drugs war this week has been coming from a number of different quarters.

An article in the Guardian called out development agencies that  “skirt their role in helping to change the environment in which the drug economy flourishes”.  A paper in the latest edition of the International Journal of Drug Policy argues that:

“increasing drug law enforcement is unlikely to reduce drug market violence. Instead, the existing evidence base suggests that gun violence and high homicide rates may be an inevitable consequence of drug prohibition and that disrupting drug markets can paradoxically increase violence.”

On a similar theme, an article in Foreign Policy by Jonathan Caulkins and colleagues about crop eradication in Afghanistan suggests that “to the extent that counternarcotics efforts succeed, they are more likely to increase than to reduce the revenues and power of the Taliban.”

As the weekly bulletins from Drug War Chronicle show, the situation is continuously dire in Mexico, with over 35,000 victims to date, and another mass grave of 59 corpses discovered. Nick Clegg was over there, making sure that Britain was doing its bit to sustain the status quo, praising Calderon for his courage against the cartels. However across the country, thousands of people took to the streets calling for a truce with the cartels. Al Giordano provides detailed coverage, with pictures and videos from protesters. Time’s article points to the fact that with Calderon standing down next year, there is a serious question within Mexico “as to whether the government should allow cartels to dominate specific trafficking routes, thus avoiding the bloody turf wars.”  Apparently, “this notion is so commonly discussed, it has its own terminology: “repartir plazas,” roughly meaning “to award turfs.”

The protests were also covered in an article in the Huffington Post, by the Drug Policy Alliance calling on Americans to take inspiration from Mexico’s protesters to stand against America’s 40 year old war on drugs.

Will it amount to anything?  It would seem that if any region is going to stand up against prohibition, then South/Central America would be the obvious choice. The war on drugs is destabilizing the entire region, and for those countries, like Brazil, that want to be serious contenders on the global political stage, it’s got to be a long-term strategic concern. But if Bolivia can’t even amend the UN legislation to the extent that coca-chewing is legalized, what hope is there for radical reform? Could the region adopt the ‘repartir plazas’ approach called for in Mexico,  where drug production is tolerated below the Mexican border, and drug consumption is prohibited above it? Or is the region still too dependent on US aid/too vulnerable to US military incursions to take the risk ? Pete at Drug War Rant suggests we consider a kind of intelligent enforcement, using a carrot and stick approach to discourage violence in the drug trade. Are these half measures, an adequate or plausible substitute for legalization?  Something to consider over the weekend.