The problems with our justice system usually don’t have many impacts outside our borders, but one part of our legal code has caused a great deal of trouble for our international situation: the war on drugs. Not only has it caused a great deal of trouble for us, it’s also created a great deal of trouble for the southern half of our hemisphere. While most Americans have paid little attention, savagely violent drug wars have come dangerously close to destabilizing a series of Latin American countries, most recently our closest neighbor, Mexico.
From 2006 to 2012, the US suffered almost 5,000 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. In the same period, Mexico suffered almost 60,000 deaths – 12 times as many in a country with a smaller population! – in its war with the drug cartels. This included many children and other innocent civilians, and thousands of people who were brutally tortured to death.
The cartels are financed by billions in drug profits from the US, profits that wouldn’t exist if the drugs they trafficked were legal here. Using that money, the cartels effectively fought the Mexican government to a bloody stalemate. Judges, police chiefs, reporters, and even priests are all-too-often afraid to act or speak out against the cartels, and those who do face the prospect of being kidnapped, tortured, and killed.
This violence spills over into the US, especially in the border states, and seriously undermines our border security. Illegal immigration is hard to stop when cartels are willing to bribe border guards and pay people to carry bales of marijuana across the border. Immigration reform bills have repeatedly been stalled by demands to double the already high cost of border security, an issue that would be at least partly resolved if there were not such powerful incentives for drug smuggling.
In addition, our drug laws are directly responsible for channeling billions of dollars to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups, who have cashed in heavily on Afghan opium production and the heroin trade. Our drug laws thus put us in the peculiar position of both undermining our allies and financing our own enemies.