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James Hays

Mrs. Maier

English 1302

November 25, 2008

Final Draft

Stopping the Reefer Madness

Over 1,000 people have been murdered in 2008 in Juarez. It is chalked up to being a

result of collateral damage during a war between rival drug syndicates over control of smuggling

routes. The war has also cost businesses such as nightclubs countless dollars as Americans have

become too afraid to cross the border. Despite a purging of suspected corrupt officers and an

influx of army soldiers, the violence rages on. The entire ordeal can be attributed to failed drug

policy on both sides of the border. Drug related violence in Juarez has spiked to a level that the

Mexican government can no longer effectively control. The simplest, most logical, and cost

effective way for both the United States and Mexico to end the killings and corruption that

cripple the borderland is the legalization and regulation of drugs, particularly marijuana.

It’s a well know fact that vice has always been a part of the atmosphere in Juarez. For

years college students have flocked to the strip for cheap alcohol when they are too young to be

served in the United States. During Prohibition in America, citizens of El Paso would go across

the border in order to drink alcohol legally. In a recent report, the Associated Press stated that

bars in the past have held college and “drink and drown” nights for students to come over and

party at in a relatively safe manner. Now, these clubs have their doors shut or are nearly empty

(Caldwell). The relationship between the cities is long and storied. The start of today’s war has

its roots in the election of Mexican President Filipe Calderon. Upon being elected to office in

2006, Calderon pledged to fight drug cartels in Mexico. The cartels in Mexico have not
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responded favorably to this new crackdown, and violence has surged in Juarez. In all of 2007,

Juarez had around 300 homicides. The El Paso Times reported that by August of 2008, over 700

had been murdered (Borunda). This comes despite marijuana seizures that are measured in

metric tons. Calderon surely means well with his war on drugs, but the bottom line is that it has

been ineffective. His policies must be reformed in order to save as many lives as possible, as well

as taxpayers’ money.

The United States has its own experience with the problems arising from banning popular

drugs. In Renee Rebman’s book, Prohibition, the author describes how on January 16, 1920, the

United States federal government banned the sale and transportation of alcohol throughout the

country. (Rebman 12) What resulted was a surge in organized crime and violence as notorious

moonshiners and bootleggers such as Al Capone rose to power. Chicago became a hotbed for

much of this illicit activity, similar to modern Juarez. The police were corrupted and racketeering

ran rampant. The cost of Prohibition was high, and without tax revenues from alcohol,

government budgets were severely strained. Speakeasies, secret illegal bars, popped up all over

the nation. Famous industrialist John D. Rockefeller noted:

“When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public

opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be

recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result.

Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast

army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored

Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a

level never seen before.”(Okrent 246)

The government discovered that enforcing a ban on such a popular recreational drug was all but

impossible, and in 1933, Prohibition was repealed. (Rebman 138)

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Today’s modern drug war has likewise been a failure. The DEA’s efforts to seize and

eradicate marijuana are an absolute joke. According to statistics gathered by the website Drug

War, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in 2006 that “Marijuana appears to

be readily available to almost all 12th graders; in 2005 86% reported that they think it would be

'very easy' or 'fairly easy' for them to get it -- almost twice the number who reported ever having

used it (45%)” (Drug War Facts) Drug War Facts also notes that “Marijuana was first federally

prohibited in 1937. Today, more than 97 million Americans admit to having tried it.” More than

one third of the nation has tried the drug, yet the government stubbornly refuses to acknowledge

how widespread its use is and regulate it in any sensible way. Instead, they resort to scare tactics

by producing commercials insinuating that people who buy marijuana support terrorists. In a

report by the group NORML, The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, it

was discovered, rather ironically, that a federally funded study found that adolescents who saw

commercials paid for by the government advertising the dangers of marijuana were more likely

to try it. (NORML) Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the world, yet it is safer than

alcohol or tobacco, according to the World Health Organization. (Drug War Facts) The

criminalization of a drug so widely used with such limited consequences in comparison to legal

drugs like alcohol is a travesty. The sheer number of arrests should be enough to infuriate any

logical taxpayer in times of such economic uncertainty when the government is amassing huge

deficits. The very concept of a drug war begs the question; what is the Drug War all about? If the

answer “to keep the public off drugs” is to be believed, it brings the great dilemma of why are we

turning victims into criminals? Why is the government arresting and jailing drug addicts at great

expense in already overflowing prisons rather than getting the addicts help? The entire idea that

forms the basis of the argument for the prohibition of marijuana is devoid of the common sense

that Americans claim to be so proud of.

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The violence in Juarez is an inevitable result of this modern day Prohibition. Just as Al

Capone and Bugs Moran ruled Chicago with armies of thugs armed with better weapons than

police, the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels are wreaking havoc across the border. The similarities are

striking. The police are corrupt, illicit trafficking is pulling in millions for drug lords while the

government wastes money enforcing the unattainable, gang members on both sides are being

executed by the hundreds, and hundreds more innocent civilians are being caught in the crossfire.

In June, a 12 year old girl was gunned down when she was riding in a car with two men targeted

by hit men, just one tragic casualty among 1,000. (Caldwell) According to the New York Times,

The Mexican government has had to purge corrupt officers in an attempt to gain the upper hand

on the drug dealers. (Lacey) There can be no doubt that the current government policy is not

working, just as Prohibition in the United States failed.

If the governments of both the United States and Mexico continue to continue with their

illogical policies, the outlook is grim. The death toll will continue to spiral out of control, and

hundreds, even thousands more innocent civilians will be killed in the ongoing bloodshed.

Carjacking and ransoms will continue unabated. Safety will be virtually non-existent in Juarez.

At some point, there has to be concern that the violence will spill over the river and into El Paso.

The words of the El Paso Police stating that El Paso is safe are little more than a veiled attempt

to reassure apprehensive citizens, but the truth is quite clear: the hit men of the drug cartels

cannot be reasoned or bargained with, and they do not care who is caught in the crossfire. If it

becomes necessary for them to cross the border to take out a target, they will not hesitate to do


Another problem the El Paso Times has reported on is the staggering and still rising costs

of the drug war. Several victims have been treated in American hospitals at a cost of over one

million dollars to El Paso taxpayers. (Johnson) Not only is it costing the taxpayers large sums of
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money, it is also indirectly taxing the local businesses as Americans stay away from the Mexican

side of the border and Mexican nationals continue to limit the amount of time they spend outside

on the streets. Obviously, the economic implications of decreased tourism in a city already

devastated by extreme poverty could prove to be catastrophic. Also, the government will

continue to waste millions, and even billions of dollars on policies that clearly aren’t working.

According to NORML, the DEA had a budget of $1.6 billion in 2004, more than double the

budget it received a decade before. Are the American people supposed to accept that their tax

dollars are funding an agency that cannot do its job any better with twice as much money? The

criminal justice system will also continue to waste money arresting and prosecuting non-violent


The ideal remedy for the situation is the legalization and regulation of marijuana in a

similar manner to alcohol and tobacco. The most obvious reason that this is the right choice is

the fact that it worked for the United States before in the past with regard to alcohol Prohibition.

Prohibition is actually a great model for how the government could transition into an age of legal

marijuana. The government could quit spending money and start raising it by taxing marijuana,

after all, every dollar in Uncle Sam’s pocket is a dollar that doesn’t end up in the hands of violent

drug lords. This new money could be put to work offering rehabilitation services to those who

want it, and there would be plenty of money left over for other public service projects. Not only

would the government raise funds through taxes, they would save massive sums of money by not

seizing and destroying marijuana and not arresting and prosecuting users.

Legalization also makes sense for other reasons; first, it removes the criminal and black

market element for marijuana. When doing business through a legitimate front both the

businessman and the buyer can avoid the criminal underworld. As mentioned above, the

government would legally gain taxing power over marijuana, money that now disappears into the
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pockets of drug dealers. Third, those who are addicted wouldn’t have to pay large sums of money

on inflated drug prices, and could seek help if they wanted it. Fourth, the government could also

regulate the quality of the drugs, eliminating potentially dangerous cutting agents. The

government could also regulate and recommend dosages. Fifth, it takes the luster and appeal

away from trying marijuana, a major reason kids try it to begin with. Sixth, it would be the end

of government hypocrisy compared to legal drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, and even caffeine.

And seventh, it would give Americans the freedom they hold so dear to make their own decisions

about what they do to their bodies. It would also force the drug kingpins to become legitimate

businessmen, and they would therefore have to pay taxes. Also, since their product would be

legal, there would be no competition over smuggling routes and the underlying cause of the drug

war would be averted. One can imagine the huge sums of money that could be raised with all

these new tax dollars. What would El Paso look like in twenty years if the city could raise such

massive sums of cash? It would also open up new revenue streams for the economy, both for

growing marijuana for its uses as a drug and harvesting hemp for use as a cheap fiber for

clothing and other goods such as rope. Hemp is a very versatile plant that can be used for many

applications, including making paper. In his popular book promoting reform of marijuana law,

“The Emperor Wears No Clothes”, Jack Herer writes:

“In 1916, USDA Bulletin No. 404 reported that one acre of cannabis hemp, in annual

rotation over a 20-year period, would produce as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres of trees

being cut down over the same 20-year period. This process would use only 1/4 to 1/7 as

much polluting sulfur-based acid chemicals to break down the glue-like lignin that binds

the fibers of the pulp, or none at all using soda ash. The problem of dioxin contamination

of rivers is avoided in the hemp paper making process, which does not need to use

chlorine bleach (as the wood pulp paper making process requires) but instead safely
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substitutes hydrogen peroxide in the bleaching process. ... If the new (1916) hemp pulp

paper process were legal today, it would soon replace about 70% of all wood pulp paper,

including computer printout paper, corrugated boxes and paper bags.” (Herer Chapter 1)

According to the hemp advocacy group Altahemp, hemp was actually cultivated by both

Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. The Declaration of Independence is written on paper

made from hemp. Ben Franklin owned a paper mill that produced paper purely from hemp, and

up until 1883, over 75% of the world’s paper was made from hemp. (Altahemp) In a world with

rapidly declining resources, it is a cheap and obvious source for many products. Clearly, the

marijuana plant has many uses beyond recreational drug uses that are not being tapped into; uses

that could help to grow the economy and create new jobs.

Obviously, there are those who oppose the legalization of marijuana. Some consider it a

moral evil, but one has to consider the fact that we live in a free society where church and state

are separate, and that logically, no one should be able to tell a person what they can and cannot

do as long as they aren’t infringing on anyone else’s rights. It is a question of choice: if someone

does not like marijuana or approve of it, he does not have to use it, just as he does not have to use

alcohol or tobacco. This however, does not give him the right to regulate what someone else does

with their own time and body. The most commonly used assertion is that marijuana is a “gateway

drug” thatits use leads to the abuse of harder drugs such as heroin or cocaine. This is simply

untrue. A study by the American Journal of Psychiatry found:

"Our key findings were that 1) there are no unique factors distinguishing the gateway

sequence… 2) the gateway sequence and the reverse sequence have the same prognostic

accuracy; and 3) a sizable proportion of substance users begin regular consumption with an illicit

drug. These results, considered in the aggregate, indicate that the gateway sequence is not an

invariant pathway and, when manifest, is not related to specific risk factors and does not have
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prognostic utility. The results of this study as well as other studies demonstrate that abusable

drugs occupy neither a specific place in a hierarchy nor a discrete position in a temporal

sequence. These latter presumptions of the gateway hypothesis constitute what… referred to as

the 'fallacy of misplaced connectedness,' namely, asserting 'assumptions about categories that do

not correspond with the empirical world.'" (Tartar 2139)

The claim that marijuana use leads to harder and heavier drugs has also been debunked by the

World Health Organization, The Journal of the American Medical Association, and the National

Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, to name just a short few. These organizations are

impartial and have nothing to gain in their published findings. The gateway theory simply

doesn’t hold water, and it ignores other factors in assessing the risk of drug abuse in marijuana

users as the Drug Policy Research Center has asserted. (Morral 76)

Marijuana is a substance that is ingrained in American culture and history. The idea that

the government can stop its use by banning it is simply foolish and ignorant, just as it was for

alcohol. Because of this carelessness and moral policing, innocent people are dying and tax

money is being thrown away. The quickest and most logical way for the government to end the

bloodshed and help balance its own budget deficits is to quit ignoring the “elephant in the room”

and begin the reform of marijuana laws. If not, then the people of Mexico will continue to suffer,

even though they sit on a goldmine, if they could just be allowed to tap into it. The future isn’t all

bleak though, the New York Times reports that in early October, President Calderon introduced

legislation that would decriminalize small amounts of various drugs, and instead put the users

into rehab programs. (Malkin) Whether it passes, and whether people on both sides of the border

will take back their freedoms from the government, remains to be seen. At some point however,

the government must take action to curtail the violence across the border.
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Works Cited

Borunda, Daniel “700 Slain So Far in Juarez”

El Paso Times 6 August 2008

Caldwell, Alicia. “Americans Are Too Afraid to Visit Bloody Juarez”

Associated Press 15 October 2008

“Hemp Info.” Alta Hemp. 2007

17 Nov, 2008 <>
Herer, Jack. The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Quick American Archives; 11th edition 2000
Johnson, Erica. “Juarez violence victims cost Thomason $1 million” The El Paso Times
25 July 2008

Lacey, Marc. “In Mexico Drug War, Sorting Good Guys from Bad” The New York Times

1 November 2008

Malkin, Elisabeth and Lacey, Marc. “Mexican President Proposes Decriminalizing Some Drugs”

New York Times 2 October 2008

McVay, Douglass “Marijuana” Drug War 17 Nov. 2008


Morral, Andrew, McCaffrey, Daniel, and Paddock, Susan. “Reassessing the Marijuana Gateway

Effect.” Drug Policy Research Center, RAND, Arlington, Virginia. 2002

NORML “White House Slams DEA, Drug Czar's Office for Poor Performance”

February 6, 2003 17 Nov. 2008


Okrent, Daniel Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center,

New York: Viking Press, 2003

Rebman, Renee. Prohibition. San Diego, CA: Lucent 1999

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Tarter, Ralph E., PhD, Vanyukov, Michael, PhD, Kirisci, Levent, PhD, Reynolds, Maureen, PhD,
Clark, Duncan B., MD, PhD, "Predictors of Marijuana Use in Adolescents Before and After Licit
Drug Use: Examination of the Gateway Hypothesis," American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 63,
No. 12, December 2006, p. 2139.