Thursday, March 26, 2009

Congress Attacks the Symptoms

As of today, there are at least five bills making their way through the US House and Senate that address the violence in Mexico (see my last post). And four of those bills have been introduced since March 11. Congress is paying attention.

But are they solving the problem? Not really. It turns out that these bills are great politics but half-hearted policy. The bills look like quick, resolute action to solve a problem that is increasingly threatening Americans. But every bill accounts for only the symptoms of the root cause -- criminalized drugs in the US. 

To clarify this point, let's do a quick review of the bills:

1. H. Res. 258: primarily a position statement. It says that the US government supports President Calderón's struggle against the cartels in Mexico, will continue to provide resources and training to Mexico and its security forces, is committed to securing the border, and is committed to fighting drug crime. It's mostly principle; not a lot of 'there' there. But to be fair, it is a resolution, which tend to be more symbolic.

2. HR 495: provides $15 million over two years to step up efforts to stop illegal firearm smuggling to Mexican gangs.

3. HR 1437: provides $10 million over 5 years to fund a "Southern Border Security Task Force" to protect border communities in the US from drug related violence as well as to fight drug smuggling.

4. HR 1448: provides $150 million annually for additional border security and firearm tracking. 

5. S. Res. 72: identical Senate resolution to H. Res. 258.

Congress is scrambling to throw funds at "fighting" and "protecting"; these are great words for appeasing constituents. But the US has been fighting a "war on drugs" for years without successfully curtailing illicit drug use. At best, these bills will account for symptoms of a black market for drugs.

Less they look forward to years of increasing funds to sustain border task forces, the US people need to urge their Congressional representatives to legalize drugs -- beginning with marijuana.

There are hundreds of millions of dollars of government spending in the five bills above. Yet ironically, if drugs were decriminalized, then the net gain for the government in tax revenue would be billions of dollars annually. 

The most effective action in Congress would contain measures to reduce the demand for illicit drugs. Don't hold your breath.

I want to thank Sue Ann for sending me all of the great information on these Congressional bills. 

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