Former Mexican president Vicente Fox, who has watched a national drug war claim 28,000 lives in less than four years under his successor, Felipe Calderón, says that "radical prohibition strategies have never worked."
Fox, a member of the same conservative National Action Party as Calderón, was president between 2000 and 2006 and was a staunch U.S. ally in the war against drugs. But he says he now favors legalizing drugs.
"Legalization does not mean that drugs are good," he wrote in an Internet posting, according to Reuters, "but we have to see [legalization of the production, sale, and distribution of drugs] as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to earn huge profits."
Fox also backs critics who say it was a bad idea to send the Mexican Army to support police as they battle the cartels that smuggle cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamines, among other substances, across Mexico and into the United States. "They are not prepared for police work," he said, in apparent response to allegations of Army brutality. "They should return to the barracks."
The former president joins a growing number of influential voices who think drugs should be legalized and regulated. Last year three former Latin American leaders—Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico—wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal with the stark headline The War on Drugs Is a Failure. Their argument was simple. "It's high time to replace an ineffective strategy with more humane and efficient drug policies," they wrote.
The Economist magazine was equally unambiguous. "Like first-world-war generals," it said in an editorial last year (subscription required), "many [world leaders] claim that all that is needed is more of the same. In fact the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to legalise drugs."
Economists, like Harvard's Jeffrey A. Miron, also argue that legalizing drugs would allow for taxation and lessen the negative economic and social impacts of a black market. President Calderón said last week that he supports a debate about legalization but does not personally believe it is the right move. For now, it seems Mexico's increasingly bloody drug war will continue.