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Demand & Money - Why the Mexican drug cartels aren't losing this war

Mexican cartels run businesses & where there's money to be made, they will go.

I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again, but the Mexican drug war isn't going to be won anytime soon, not while there's black market demand for narcotics over here in the good old U.S. of A. The reasoning isn't complicated and it shouldn't take a RAND foundation study, or a man of Obama's intelligence and charm to understand it... It's the money. I've been there, take it from me. 

Mexican Drug War, dealers, and Money

Since Calderon, Mexico's President, declared an all out drug war on the cartels, Marijuana, Heroin, and crystal meth seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border have gone up by 30%-200% (crystal meth and heroin respectively) according to a recent L.A. Times article. As someone who's actually been on both sides of the drug war, I can tell you that while Calderon's people talk about the cartels trying to replace the state, the only thing drug dealers care about is money. Still, it's true that having complete control over entire states in Mexico let's these organizations operate more easily and control their business-interest more completely. At the end though, the drug war is all about the Benjamins, because there are a whole lot of those - like $40 Billion kind of a lot.

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The reason I feel so confident in my position is this - I used to sell drugs in Los Angeles. I was not at the top of any cartel, but at some point I was selling tens-of-thousands of ecstasy pills a week along with a few pounds of crystal meth, cocaine stamped with those cartel logos (like scorpions, doves, and such), and any other drug my more than 400 clients, and 4-6 dealers, told me they would give me money for. The business brought me about $500,000 a year and though my success was short lived, having gotten arrested after my motorcycle accident, I got to learn quite a bit about the underworld in my five year immersion program.

While I stuck to drugs, others around me, each with their own little drug-empire, had no problem expanding into other profitable business like electronics, cellular phones, and credit card numbers complete with identity theft. If it made money, they wanted a part in it, and the drugs served as a great bonus since we were all high on a lot of them all the time. On many of our more extensive drug deals, involving those tinted-window car caravans you've seen in movies right along with secret meetings in the back of an abandoned gas station south of Orange County, we would use cell phones that my partners got from their underground operations, activated using a stolen identity so that they can't be traced to us. A good deal of the stereo equipment in my old apartment was gotten through one of my friends' little electronics-store operation - he gave me an entire stereo system, and I paid him with a few hundred ecstasy pills. I rocked and he made some money.

When cops sell drugs

One of my main connections, a stocky, short, Jewish guy we all simply called "D", once took me along with him as he delivered a bag full of money and some boxes of armor-penetrating bullets to a Mexican Federale who would drive cocaine into the U.S. in the tires of his car. While he was supposed to be playing a different role in the Mexican drug war, he apparently really loved those bullets and would come back to his home country happy, with a trunk full of cash, while we drove away with spare tires full of those scorpion-stamped bricks of cocaine. And who could blame him given the huge sums of money flaunted in his face all the time as he was forced to live near poverty? At the time I certainly couldn't.

The things is that morality aside, it doesn't matter if anyone blames, or would arrest, this guy and the thousand others like him. We live in a world driven by money, and when the straight-and-narrow offers little compensation, the good life is only a few smuggling miles away. Of course on the money's heels also comes intimidation, constant paranoia, and the almost certain feel of gun-metal either in your waist, or up against your temple. I've been there too.

Legalization? Probably not

All in all, it's time for our government to realize that where there's poverty there's crime and where there's crime drugs will soon follow. As the Mexican cartels send representatives to the U.S. they have taken over the distribution in many of our cities as well, increasing their profit margins, and their control, over this market. If you really want to deal them a blow, make all drugs legal and start regulating their manufacturing, though maybe then the difference between drug cartels and the Halliburtons of our world will become even less obvious.

Obviously, legalization isn't going to happen, and I'm not sure that's a bad thing. The most commonly abused drugs in this country are alcohol and nicotine, both legal, with marijuana, which is essentially decriminalized in most states, coming in a close third. Together, those three drugs account for more than 95% of drug abuse here, and for a substantial portion of health-problems and deaths. If we bring the rest of the drugs into the fold, we'll no doubt see large increases in use for most of them, compounding the problems in terms of health and related mortality.

Still, that seems to be the question - Legalize and reduce black-market crime while hurting the health (physical and psychological) of your citizenship? Or try to reduce demand with prevention while continuing the drug war, stopping as much of the supply as you can but never getting enough of it and letting drug kingpins amass Bill-Gates-like fortunes?

Fortunately for me, I don't have to answer that question...

 

© 2010 Adi Jaffe, All Rights Reserved

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Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., is the executive director of Alternatives Behavioral Health and a lecturer at UCLA and California State University Long Beach.

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