WASHINGTON – Mexico’s historic murder rate is largely attributable to the Obama administration scaling back the war on drugs in favor of public health strategies, a former official with the Office of National Drug Policy said Wednesday.
Mexico recorded more than 2,000 homicides in May, marking the deadliest month for the country since it started tracking killings in 1997. The violence that has ravaged America’s southern neighbor for the better part of the past decade can be directly tied to the lucrative drug trade and volatile turf wars over black-tar heroin exchanges.
President Obama shifted American drug policy in 2016 when he said that marijuana should be treated as a public health issue, which would allow the U.S. to cut down on mass incarceration. This extended to the war on drugs as a whole. Shortly before leaving office, Obama signed a bill unloading $1 billion to address the opioid and heroin crisis with public health resources. The initiative included extensive research projects on drug misuse and overdoses, drug treatment offerings, prescription monitoring and safe disposal of unneeded drugs.
David W. Murray, former associate deputy director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and a fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Substance Abuse Policy Research, said Wednesday that the previous administration’s attitude on drugs has made it impossible for the U.S. government to control supply, and has enabled Mexican cartels to realize skyrocketing profits. Mexican heroin production ballooned between 2012 and 2015, from about 20 metric tons annually to 70 metric tons.
According to Murray, Obama’s policies deliberately undermined funding for international efforts like Plan Colombia, a program signed into law by the Clinton administration in 2000 in an effort to combat drug cartels. The plan successfully drove down Colombian distribution of cocaine to the U.S. by about 75 percent between 2001 and 2012, from 700 metric tons to 165 metric tons annually. Plan Colombia was discontinued in 2015, and according to Murray, Colombian cocaine production is “surging back at an extraordinary” level. He said that Colombia has surpassed 2001 volume, producing about 710 metric tons annually and flooding Mexican cartels with product.
“U.S. leadership said, ‘We’re no longer fighting the drug war. We’re now moving toward a different public health model,’” Murray said at the Hudson Institute. “The public health model is a good model, but you’ve got to supplement it with the supply and availability attack or you will lose control of this issue.”
Recreational marijuana sales are now legal in eight states despite still being an illegal controlled substance under federal law. Advocates repeatedly argue that legalization drives away the illicit drug trade, but Murray argued that it’s done the exact opposite. He claimed that Colombians, Cubans and Chinese are currently running grow operations in Colorado, and Mexican cartels are actively distributing illicit marijuana from the state.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a letter to congressional leaders in May noted an uptick in “Cuban, Asian, Caucasian and Eurasian” criminal organizations delivering interstate shipments from legal states. He asked that lawmakers discontinue the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which bars the Justice Department from spending appropriated funds to prosecute medical marijuana users and proprietors in legal states.
Murray said the end result of legalization is an increase in illicit activity, worse products and worse public health.
“(Those arguments for prohibition have) proven to be a fantasy. Nowhere historically or geographically has that ever worked,” he said. “Colorado marijuana is so potent and so desirable that it’s being smuggled out of Colorado, which is far easier than smuggling from Mexico, where there’s a border and interdiction. Colorado has become an international distribution center, where marijuana is going outside the United States to markets elsewhere.”