Drug and alcohol policy

Mexico’s Brutal Drug Violence

Published November 29th, 2011 by tcarpenter

I’ve written a lot recently on the drug violence in Mexico that has taken at least 42,000 lives (and perhaps as many as 52,000) since President Felipe Calderon unleashed the military on the country’s powerful drug cartels in December 2006.  The situation there grows steadily more worrisome, and is now having an impact on the Central American countries and on the United States.  Yet Washington continues to pursue the failed prohibitionist policy that enriches the drug traffickers–and demands that other countries do so as well.  Prohibition didn’t work regarding alcohol in the 1920s, and it’s creating a similar bloody mess this time regarding illegal drugs.  One might expect political leaders to learn from the mistakes of the past, but apparently that’s expecting too much.

Republicans: Federalism For Me But Not For Thee

Published October 30th, 2010 by tcarpenter

One interesting feature of the debate over Proposition 19 in California, which would legalize the possession of marijuana, is the curious position many Republican leaders have taken.  Members of the GOP supposedly want as many policies as possible decided at the state and local level.  They complain loudly about an overbearing federal government that runs roughshod over the wishes of people in the various states.  At Republican gatherings, such phrases as “states rights” and “federalism” make frequent appearances.

But the attitude regarding Proposition 19 is strikingly different.  Republican leaders such as Texas Representative Joe Barton insist that if the measure passes, the federal government should strongly enforce federal laws against marijuana inside California.  In other words, Barton and his cohorts are perfectly willing to disregard the wishes of California voters and trample on their new, liberalized law.

Unfortunately, this is hardly the first time that Republicans have displayed such inconsistency about “states rights.”  Overwhelmingly, they push to overide state laws or state court decisions legalizing gay marriage.  Again, they apparently have no problem invoking federal supremacy when it suits their policy preferences.

And it’s a long-standing pattern.  When Congress moved in the 1980s to establish a national minimum drinking age of 21, brazenly negating the wishes of states that had established 18 or some other lower age limit, the Republican congressional delegation split down the middle.  A major faction was willing to okay a measure whereby Washington blackmailed states into approving the 21-year-old threshold or lose a sizable portion of their federal highway funds.  Yet Republicans routinely screamed whenever Washington used that tactic to force state compliance regarding other matters. 

The GOP standard seems all too clear.  Republicans love states rights when they’re confident that voters at the state level will adopt policies conservatives favor.  But to Hell with states rights and federalism if those misguided voters might approve policies–especially social policies–that conservatives abhor.

There is a word for such a blatant double standard.  It’s called hypocrisy.

Drug War Debate

Published August 29th, 2009 by tcarpenter

Four experts (including, with all modesty, your’s truly) have been waging a vigorous debate in the latest issue of Cato Unbound (Cato Institute’s on-line monthly publication) regarding the war on drugs.  The focus has been on the drug-related violence in Mexico, with former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda writing the lead essay, but the discussion has evolved into something much broader.  Please take a look.

The Fire Next Door: Drug Violence in Mexico

Published February 4th, 2009 by tcarpenter

While U.S. leaders focus on Afghanistan, Iran, and other problems in distant regions, there is an alarming security threat brewing right next door.  Violence in Mexico, mostly related to the trade in illegal drugs, is spiraliing out of control.  Even worse, it is apparent that the drug traffickers are winning their fight against the Mexican government.  The situation on our southern border has grown so bad that even the Marines at Camp Pendleton in southern California are now barred from spending their leave time in neighboring Tijuana because the city is too dangerous.

The drug violence in Mexico, and how it is spilling across the border into our own country, is the subject of my new policy study for the Cato Institute.  You can access it here.

Finally, Some Common Sense on the Drinking Age

Published August 21st, 2008 by tcarpenter

A group of more than 100 college and university presidents have issued a statement advocating that the minimum drinking age in the United States be lowered from 21 to 18.  It’s about time!  The law requiring states to set a minimum age of 21 for consuming alcohol or lose their federal highway funds is perverse and counterproductive even by the usual standards of federal legislation.   We have a system in place where 18, 19, and 20-year-olds are considered mature enough to marry, purchase property, obtain and use credit cards, serve in the military, and be held responsible for any violations of law.  Yet, they are not considered mature enough to have a beer or a glass of wine.

I wrote on this issue back in 2001, pointing out that the United States is almost alone in the Western world in setting the minimum age at 21.  The vast majority of countries set the age at somewhere between 16 and 18.   Some have even lower limits–or no legally mandated minimum at all.  And almost all of those countries have fewer problems with drunk driving, binge drinking, and other social pathologies.  That’s not surprising.  Adolescents (and even younger children) in such societies learn to drink responsibly under adult supervision.  In the United States, young people are expected to avoid even a drop of alcohol until their 21st birthday.  Presumably, while they are asleep on the night before they turn 21, the responsible drinking fairy comes and sprinkles responsible drinking behavior dust over them. 

The U.S. system is a disaster.  A large percentage of teens and young adults flout the law, often in unsafe settings where binge drinking is the norm.  It is a law that cries out to be changed.

Predictably, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which was the main lobby for the passage of the orginal law setting a nationwide minimum of 21 back in the 1980s, has reacted to the proposal of the college presidents with shrill denunciations.  MADD, a group that was originally formed to combat a real social problem, quickly morphed into a group of prohibitionist zealots that has waged a jihad against even recreational drinking, and especially against any drinking by young Americans.   It is well past time that the rest of us reject their views and urge Congress to adopt more sensible legislation.  The college and university presidents deserve praise for launching a badly needed debate.