This month I wrote a review for War is Boring that juxtaposed Sam Quinones’s book Dreamland with Matthew Heineman’s documentary Cartel Land. Both highlight the maze of moral ambiguity attendant in understanding and responding to the Mexican drug war.
One aspect of the American and Mexican drug wars that I didn’t discuss in the review is totally without moral ambiguity: To fight for the rights of the oppressed and partake in illegally obtained drugs (unless, I suppose, you witness its transformation from seed to smoke) is hypocrisy. Widespread use of recreational drugs in the United States can be traced, for the most part, back to the Sixties. A stereotypical tableau: Leftist college students, discussing communism and the Civil Rights movement, debating Vietnam and the draft beneath a haze of marijuana smoke. Today, similar scenes play out across the United States. Leftist students continue to challenge the received wisdom of the patriarchy and champion the liberation of the Global South’s oppressed masses under that same haze. The marijuana and recreational drugs that they and millions of others use are paid for with the lives and well-being of those very individuals they seek to liberate. The defenses I’ve heard include that “you can just tell” when it’s American grown and that cartels traffic mainly in hard drugs, both of which are flimsy false comfort and entirely without merit. When Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, about 40% of the cartels’ revenue came from marijuana, and afterward the cartels’ market share dropped by nearly the same percentage. I’ll risk sounding like a stodgy killjoy to express my unalloyed disgust for chasing a high from a black market drug industry that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and dispossessed millions of the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that we celebrate as our rights. We are the lucky ones. Por siempre.