Congress Holding Four Hearings This Week on Drug-Related Violence on the U.S. / Mexico Border

Press Release March 9, 2009
Media Contact

Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430 or Ethan Nadelmann at (646) 335-2240

For months, Mexican drug trafficking organizations have battled it out with the Mexican government, the U.S. government, and each other, with violence escalating on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. Since 2007, the Mexican drug war has claimed the lives of more than 7,500 people, almost double the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq since 2003. Now, the violence has reached such enormous levels that Congress is holding four hearings this week on what to do about the problem. More than 200 Americans have died in the conflict so far.

“Many parts of Mexico today are like Chicago during the days of Prohibition and Al Capone — times fifty,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The causes of the violence, corruption and civil rights abuses are the same today as they were back then, and people on both sides of the border are finally beginning to ask whether the solution might be the same as well.”

In November 2008, the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) down-graded Mexico‘s status to “near failed state”. In February, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory warning Americans it is dangerous to travel to Mexico for vacation. “Recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades,” the advisory reads. “Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area.”

As members of Congress debate what to do, support is growing in both countries for major shifts in global drug policy. In El Paso, Texas, where several Mexican mayors live and commute to work out of fear they and their families will be killed if they live in Mexico, the city council passed a resolution in January calling on Congress to consider and debate drug legalization to reduce prohibition-related violence. In February, the Latin-American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, a high-level commission co-chaired by former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, called for a “paradigm shift” in global drug policy, including decriminalizing marijuana, and “breaking the taboo” on open and robust debate about all drug policy options.

More recently, the Arizona Attorney General, citing evidence that Mexican drug trafficking organizations get 60% to 80% of their revenue from marijuana, suggested national policymakers debate legalizing marijuana.

More than 40% of Americans, and over 50% of Canadians, say it’s time to legalize marijuana, according to recent polls. (Support is close to or over 50% in some western U.S. states and among Americans 30 and under.)

“The time has surely come to give serious consideration to taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “That wouldn’t solve all of Mexico’s prohibition-related problems but it would prove invaluable in breaking the taboo on open debate and honest policy analysis, without which there can be no long term solution to today’s challenges.”

Here’s a list of the four upcoming hearings:

Tuesday, March 10, 10 a.m.
House Appropriations — Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
“The Merida Initiative”

Tuesday, March 10, 11:30 a.m.
House Appropriations — Subcommittee on Homeland Security
“Department of Homeland Security Response to Violence on the Border with Mexico

Thursday, March 12, 10 a.m.
House Homeland Security Committee — Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism Border Violence: An Examination of DHS [Department of Homeland Security] Strategies and Resources

Thursday, March 12, 10 a.m.
House Oversight and Government Reform — Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs “Money, Guns, and Drugs: Are U.S. Inputs Fueling Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border?”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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