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Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance, addressed the current state of the War on Drugs Tuesday at Roosevelt University.


Marijuana for everyone: Those in favor of legalization ponder its effect on organized crime

by Tiffany Walden
Feb 09, 2012


Spiderman isn’t the only one who loves Mary Jane, apparently.


The superhero is in competition with 42 percent of the American population who reported their relationship with the plant’s infamous pseudonym to the Drug Policy Alliance.

So why is marijuana still prohibited when 50 percent of America favors making it legal and open drug regulation has the potential to decrease organized crime activity as it did with alcohol in the 1920s?

“In Monterrey and Mexico City, you have the high-end business community saying ‘this is crazy. We can’t deal with these levels of violence anymore,’” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization promoting alternatives to the current drug policy in America. “Mexico is like Chicago during the days of prohibition and Al Capone times 50.”

This January the Mexican government updated its drug-related violence numbers to 47,515 killings since late 2006, the New York Times reported. Capone’s alcohol wars resulted in more than 300 deaths throughout the late 1920s, according to reports at the time of his death.

Nadelmann argued that President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs initiative is a failure, causing the increase in drug-related violence all over the world. He spoke at Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy and Students for Sensible Drug Policy program Tuesday.
Nadelmann presented a “right of access” legalization model to spur discussion. In a drug-ideal world, every person would have the legal right to use a small amount of drugs and obtain these drugs from a single authorized source. This legally regulated source would produce all the drugs and be held accountable for the quality of each drug.

“Organized crime would lose 90 to 95 percent of its profits because everybody would just prefer to go to this other source rather than the black market,” said Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance. “People would know exactly what they would get.”

Folks in favor of legalization agree that large drug cartels thrive financially because of prohibition and its creation of a high-demand underground product, leading to more competition between rival organizations.

“People who don’t have access to a system to address their grievances with each other result to violence,” said Morgan Fox, communications manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, a group focused on the decriminalization of marijuana use.

“Legal businesses deal with the problems in court,” he said.

Jim Gierach, a former Cook County drug prosecutor, said that a Mexican drug cartel recently planted 6,000 marijuana plants within two miles of his suburban home.

“Because there is so much money in the business now, you have people competing for that valuable corner,” said Gierach, a current board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Kids drop out of school, join a gang, buy a gun, and fight over who’s going to control that area.”

On the other side of the fence, some anti-legalists see an indirect connection to drug use and crime. The National Center for Victims of Crime stated that more than half of all arrestees test positive for illegal drugs. The center is a nonprofit organization advocating for victims’ rights.

“Many addicts commit crimes to get money to buy drugs,” a statement on the center’s website.

The 2004 Department of Justice survey of inmates shows that 32 percent of state prisoners and 26 percent of federal prisoners said that they were under the influence of drugs while committing their current offense.

Gierach said that ending drug prohibition would eliminate the profit motive that is the main driver of the illegal drug industry’s success. Even with the money gone, he said that drug cartels wouldn’t completely go away.

“Eliminate the source of money that buys the guns,” he said.