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Drugs and Schadenfreude

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Novelist Sergio Troncoso, in the El Paso, Texas website, NewspaperTree.com, called attention to how Michael Phelps’ inhaling from a bong, Whoopi Goldberg admitting smoking weed (in Phelps defense), and Jon Stewart of the Daily Show joking about joints are symptomatic of the hypocrisy.

A large portion of the public tolerates the recreational use of marijuana. The United States has one of the highest percentages of pot smokers in the world. Meanwhile, we pretend ignorance about how the product gets to market. That is somebody else’s problem, not ours. Troncoso says we are “reveling in schadenfreude on Mexico,” getting pleasure coming from their predicament.

Mexico’s violent war between drug cartels is like a civil war. It is waged against each other (for market share) and on federal troops and local authorities when the gangsters don’t succeed in corrupting them. The U.S. market is the franchise those cartels fight over to supply.

Yet recently, a peep was heard from the El Paso city council urging policy-makers to look into the demand side of the drug trade. The illicit use of narcotics, cannabis and chemical confections drive the violence because of the extraordinary mark-ups users pay.

On Jan. 6, the El Paso city council passed a resolution labeled a call to reason. State Representative Beto O’Rourke, serving on a committee, tacked on an amendment to the proposed measure by simply calling for "an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics."

 Mayor John Cook vetoed the measure, and eventually city council deadlocked on a 4 to 4 vote to override.

O'Rourke told me in an e-mail the “traditional strategy is not working, and we bear witness to that.” He said, “I am really concerned that very few at (the) national level want to look at the demand side of the equation — we are funding these cartels through our demand for drugs. We need to own up to our contribution to the problem and decide what our solution will be. That's all we were asking.”

Perhaps El Paso is a bellwether of change, reflecting how others are questioning the hypocrisy underlying U.S. drug-abuse policy. In a separate development, Latin American heavyweights are registering on the side of the El Paso dissidents.

The Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy released its report Feb. 11 in Rio de Janeiro calling for “a paradigm shift” in drug policy. The group was originally formed by  former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico).

They reason we are further than ever from eradicating illicit drug use. Violence and organized crime in the narcotics, cannabis and mind-altering chemicals trade grow worse. These are the key indicators of the failed campaign. That old approach needs to be rectified.

After 30 years of the drug abuse war, are we prepared to reconsider use and addiction from a public health perspective, where addicts and users are treated and the profit taken out of street sales?

The onus will ultimately lie with whether the United States has the capacity to change. That is worthy of discussion and debate. Unless we lift the taboos and out the failed entrenched interests that propose more of the failed approach, not only is it wasteful and dangerous, it is also hazardous to democracy because of how cartels and drug money corrupt democracy. 

I found it interesting that just like Troncoso in El Paso, among the 17 members on the Latin American commission looking into democracy and drugs were the eminent novelists Paulo Coelho and Mario Vargas Llosa.

The reason might have something to do with what writer Flannery O’Connor once said: “I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It’s a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.”

(Houston-based José de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. He may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected].)

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