Given all the hoopla in the mainstream press over the arrest of famous Mexican drug lord “El Chapo,” some Americans are undoubtedly wondering whether this means that the decades-long U.S. drug war is finally over.
The answer is no. Notwithstanding the arrest of El Chapo, the drug war will, like the Energizer Bunny, will keep going and going and going.
It’s really the perfect racket, one in which drug dealers and drug lords and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency depend on each other for their existence. Without drug laws and the DEA, there would be no drug lords or drug dealers. And without drug lords and drug dealers, who would need the DEA?
This racket has been going on for decades. Most of the time, the DEA (along with state and local drug agents) busts small-time drug dealers, which produces lots of hoopla in the local mainstream press. But periodically, as certain as clockwork, drug agents bust a big drug lord, which then produces lots of hoopla in the national mainstream press. That’s what is now happening with the arrest of El Chapo.
The idea is to show the public that their tax monies really are working — that drug agents, whose salary is paid with taxpayer money, are removing drug lords and drug dealers off the streets and into penitentiaries, which is supposed to mean less drugs for Americans to consume.
But it obviously doesn’t work out that way. Decade after decade, despite lots of busts of drug lords and drug dealers, both small and large, American drug users and drug addicts have been able to get their hands on their drug of choice.
There is a simple reason for this phenomenon: the law of supply and demand. When drugs are made illegal, that doesn’t mean that drug users and drug addicts simply stop ingesting them. It means that instead of reputable pharmacies and drug manufacturers selling drugs, a new type of supplier enters the market — the drug lord or the drug dealer.
Why do drug lords and drug dealers enter the market? For money. That’s why a lot of people do things. When the government makes drugs illegal, prices and profits soar to astronomical levels. This creates an opportunity to become rich very quickly.
Sure, there’s a chance of getting caught but as we have seen, there is an endless supply of people who are willing to take that chance, given the amount of money they can make with just one score. That’s why a lot of regular people end up entering the drug business. The artificially high prices and profits produced by the government’s drug laws lead them into temptation.
That’s in fact what happened to El Chapo. In a person-to-person interview conducted by Sean Penn for Rolling Stone, El Chapo said that he started growing marijuana and poppies at age 15 in order to survive. Ever since the drug war began decades ago, countless other people have done the same. And the easy, big money induces them to stay in the business.
Will the supply of drugs cease with the arrest of El Chapo? Of course not. He’ll simply be replaced by one or many drug lords and drug dealers. That’s the way the racket works. U.S. officials will make a big deal out of El Chapo’s arrest and possible extradition to the United States, but they know that nothing will change. New suppliers will replace El Chapo, new drug agents will replace retiring agents, and the drug war will go on and on and on.
Some people might remember the famous drug lord Pablo Escobar. It was the same with him. He was a big, rich, famous drug lord in the 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, a current Netflix series entitled Narcos, which received a Golden Globes nomination for Best Drama, is about Escobar. When he was killed in a drug raid, there was the same hoopla in the national mainstream press as there is today about El Chapo.
It didn’t make any difference. Escobar was replaced by new drug lords and drug dealers. Today, drug agents who were involved in killing Escobar are retiring with fat taxpayer-funded pensions and being replaced with new drug agents who will be looking for their first opportunity to take out some famous drug lord or drug dealer.
Is there a solution to this racket? Yes, but it’s not one that drug lords, drug dealers, the DEA, and other drug agents like. That’s because the solution would put all of them out of business. That solution is drug legalization, the situation that existed in the United States for more than a century.
That would restore the manufacturing of drugs to reputable companies, thereby putting drug lords and drug dealers out of business immediately. And without drug lords and drug dealers, that means that the DEA and other drug agents would no longer be needed. It would also mean that the entire drug-war establishment, including criminal-defense lawyers, judges, and court clerks, would be left twiddling their thumbs.
Do you see why drug lords, drug dealers, DEA agents, and members of the drug-war establishment are so opposed to ending the war on drugs? Do you see why it’s perfect racket?
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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