The Environmental Impact of a Misguided War on Drugs
It’s clear that drug trafficking, and the organizations, who make their living by pushing drugs into the United States and other parts of the world, is an industry that is destroying the communities it touches.
In response, governments, including our own, have imposed heavy criminal penalties upon those responsible for the influx of drugs into our communities.
Unfortunately, this response has not proven to be as effective as hoped. In place of those incarcerated for their crimes spring up a new crop of individuals ready to take their predecessors’ place with new ideas and changes that make them harder to pin down than the previous group. We are also finding that the toll the industry takes on human life – those forced into servitude under threat – is astronomical and only surpassed by the number of lives lost to active addiction and overdose.
In addition, we are now finding that there is also an environmental impact of the drug war as well. Destroying crops ostensibly for the purpose of tracking down drug traffickers has become commonplace in areas of the world that depend upon those crops for survival, both for local food sources and for international trade. Areas of the rainforest have been destroyed as well, both by governments that are attempting to ferret out drug trafficking operations and by farmers and drug traffickers who are continually moving further into endangered habitats and primary forests in an attempt to make a living.
Other impacts from choices made by desperate people attempting to provide for their families in a hostile time of war include:
- Endangered wildlife trafficking
- Illegal gold mining
- Illegal harvesting of animal parts (e.g., shark fins)
- Timber trafficking
- Clearing land for cattle or to produce oil palm
In light of the problems being caused directly to the drug trade, is there a better way to protect human life, mitigate addiction, and protect the environment at the same time?
In countries where drug trafficking is so prevalent – not necessarily something that is hidden in back alleys but something that occurs out in the open every day at all hours – the rest of the economy is often struggling. People who would like to feed their families safely and healthfully are making little progress, as prices and commerce are so heavily controlled by ruthless people – many of whom are in government positions or protected by corrupt officials. People who are otherwise law-abiding and as disconnected as they can be from the drug trade are forced to protect their lands or to take undeveloped lands after being pushed off their farms by the war on drugs. An economy that is deeply broken cannot be fixed with one or two policy changes. Rather, an entire overhaul of perspective and structure is necessary to create real and lasting positive change.
Is Legalization a Viable Option?
Many governments are considering the potential outcomes of legalization.
For example, Mexico has started the process of legalizing marijuana just like many states in the US have. Since a large part of the illegal drug trade in Mexico is based on the growth and distribution of marijuana, this could have a significant impact on a number of issues, including:
- Creating legal jobs that are safe for locals
- Decriminalizing marijuana and thus emptying jails and prisons, which in turn will save the government money that can be better spent elsewhere
- Increased tax revenue from the sales of marijuana that can be funneled into services that support the people
- Increased tourism (as has been seen in Colorado after the legalization of marijuana), which increases the number of jobs for the local residents as well as taxes supporting the government and its investment in the people
Increased access to the drug potentially creates higher rates of addiction and accidents caused by people under the influence, but proponents of legalization believe that these costs will be far less significant than the current costs incurred by illegal drug trafficking and the war on drugs.
What Do You Think?
As Americans head to the polls to determine what direction the country should take, the world is watching to see how our communities fare as a result. Though our system is far from perfect, it is certainly worth considering the situations of nations torn apart by the war on drugs.
How do you think we should proceed in our country to have the most positive impact here at home and abroad?