I got a chance to speak with Senator Mike Gravel at the Direct Democracy conference last week about ending marijuana prohibition, and his frank opinions were refreshing.

He’s also working to produce a new TV show, I Like Mike, based on the premise that he is now the President of the United States.  A compelling premise, to say the least.

I do not know for the life of me how the discourse about violence on the US/Mexico border immediately devolves into a left-right debate about immigration.  I invited Senator Gravel here today to talk about his thoughts on the subject.

The facts:

  • Americans consume $113 billion worth of marijuana each year
  • The US government says 1/2 half of that comes from overseas sources, which means it’s being smuggled in and enriching the Mexican drug cartels
  • The Arizona shooting that triggered H.B. 1070 was related to marijuana smuggling, not people crossing the border to find jobs
  • The battle between the Mexican drug cartels and the Mexican government have left 28,000 dead in the past 4 years
  • The drug cartels are now so powerful that they have taken over local government and are collecting their own taxes in certain parts of the country
  • 70% of all drug cartel profits come from marijuana
  • That money is being used to finance the war with the Mexican government, as well as the war on the border
  • The Mexican government is spending so much money on the drug wars that it has no money to deal with its own unemployment problems, driving more people over the border in desperation
  • The U.S. Joint Forces Command warned that the Mexican government could experience “a rapid and sudden collapse” due to drug cartel violence.
  • The outgoing head of the CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden, warned that drug cartels “threaten … the well-being of the Mexican people and the Mexican state.”
  • Former Mexican President Vicente Fox, member of the conservative PAN party, last week said “we should consider legalizing the production, sale and distribution of drugs” as a way to “weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to earn huge profits…radical prohibition strategies have never worked.”
  • Mexican President Felipe Calderone has reversed his previous stance and called for a debate on marijuana legalization, acknowledging that it’s US drug policy that is enriching the cartels, and if Mexico acts alone it would do little good.
  • Last week, two Mexican cardinals have endorsed Calerone’s call for debating legalization
  • Now a Mexican Archbishop has called for a debate on legalization
  • The problem is not limited to the border — the drug cartels now have a presence in 230 cities across the US, up from 150 2 years ago
  • Former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria  have called for and end to “prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization of consumption” that are fueling violence across Latin America.
  • Many police officers, including former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, are now calling for an end to marijuana prohibition because they’re the ones who are having to deal with the well-funded drug violence in those US cities
  • Militarizing the border and handing out $500 million in fat contracts to turn it into a war zone with drones and National Guard, as the Senate did yesterday, will do absolutely nothing to solve the underlying problem
  • Neither Arizona’s S.B. 1070, Florida’s proposed anti-immigrant bill, nor repealing the 14th amendment will do anything about the underlying problem, either.

I can tell you from personal experience that there are many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who would like to be able to speak as directly as Senator Gravel about ending prohibition as a way not only to deal with the problem of violence on the border but also the mounting immigration problem (well, maybe not quite as directly).  But they’re all frightened of stepping into the middle of the culture wars.

Just as it is in Latin America with former elected officials opening the door for those in office to begin the debate, I appreciate Senator Gravel being here today to chat with people about the urgency of the subject.

Senator Gravel’s experience entering the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record and getting them to the Beacon Press also has relevance at the moment, given the situation surrounding Wikileaks. So I thought it would be another good reason to have him here.

Please welcome Senator Mike Gravel in the comments.