The venue may not have been the most appropriate. Still, it’s hard not to be disappointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s press conference with Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa. Though the US delegation has days to pitch its revamped strategy for Mexico and the Drug War, Clinton didn’t leave much room for a true comprehensive solution.
Headlines misleadingly read that officials admit US demand is the root of conflict. Clearly US drug demand is key to the delegation’s PR. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters in flight to Mexico City, “We need to keep focusing on that drug demand reduction issue.”
Clinton too acknowledged that US drug demand is a top priority for the White House, but she was far less eager to explain how that demand will drop.
Impressing upon her audience America’s sober concern about its drug use, Clinton informed her audience, “The Obama Administration’s new drug policy is going to be released very soon. And it will include specific recommendations about how to decrease demand... we’re going to be doing a joint study about drug consumption.”
“We want to make sure we understand everything that is going on in both of our countries.”
These were encouraging words until she was asked how exactly US demand could be reduced.
“Madam Secretary, you spoke about looking at anything that works in this problem. I’m wondering, has there been any discussion of decriminalizing drug as one strategy for undercutting the power of the cartels?”
“No,” replies Clinton, an odd answer for someone with an alleged open mind.
Mexico, along with a growing list of South American states, has already decriminalized lesser narcotics, making America, the state with the biggest problem, look like the biggest obstacle. And observe the wording of the question. We’re not talking about stone laws, simply “any discussion,” implying US officials aren’t willing to debate the issue at all.
The underlying message America sends is that decriminalization has no potential positives - that it won’t work - even as more states contemplate drug reform. Instead Clinton claims, “Our Secretary of Defense and our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs... were very complimentary about what the military is doing.”
While we cannot deny the need for increased military operations, Mexico’s strategy hasn’t produced the most desirable results. Are Mexican soldiers and police courageous? Surely. Are they committed? In most cases. But emphasis on military action and law enforcement has escalated the overall war.
And why is a US super delegation in Mexico City in the first place? Because Mexico’s military strategy has stagnated and will be overwhelmed without a change.
The Drug War requires a full spectrum strategy, civil and martial, as every US official will tell us over the coming days. We can’t say for sure, indeed no one can, what effects decriminalization would have on the drug war, but reducing foreign demand for drugs over the long term appears to be a viable prescription to consider. Demand might not drop so much as demand can be regulated.
The business and revenue potential of decriminalization is a completely seperate sphere, yet filled with potential opportunities as well. Thus to exclude decriminalization from the discussion entirely is likely an action of ulterior motives, either political or business, more than real strategy.
The ultimate irony is that drug use is primarily a public health issue. A more politically progressive society would have debated decriminalization in relation to health care. Granted America is a centrist society, but decriminalization has gained steam since the Crack epidemic and is already underway internationally.
While universal health care is of obvious importance, it's also necessary to proactively prevent disease and substance abuse. Obama speaks often of doing so. US officials in Mexico spoke of every recourse except decriminalization, but this option must be explored in a true comprehensive strategy.