With the total failure of the drug war causing many Latin American political leaders to publicly question the wisdom of prohibition, President Obama was forced to repeatedly address the issue this weekend at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. Unfortunately, Obama did his best to quickly dismiss the topic with incoherent excuses. From the LA Times:

Facing calls at a regional summit to consider decriminalization, Obama said he is open to a debate about drug policy, but he believes that legalization could lead to greater problems in countries hardest hit by drug-fueled violence.

“Legalization is not the answer,” Obama told other hemispheric leaders at the two-day Summit of the Americas.

“The capacity of a large-scale drug trade to dominate certain countries if they were allowed to operate legally without any constraint could be just as corrupting, if not more corrupting, than the status quo,” he said.

This is simply an absurd defense of prohibition. If drugs were legalized and regulated like any other product, the business running them would be operate like any other legal business such as beer breweries, pharmaceutical makers, car manufacturers, alcohol distillers, dairies, etc. While corporations can and sometimes do have a corrupting influence over a nation’s politics, the idea that the level of corruption and violence from a legal business would ever be on the scale that we see with the cartels in the illicit drug trade doesn’t pass the laugh test.

I’ve never seen stories about Grupo Medelo, the brewer of Corona, offering local politicians the choice of the “silver or the lead.” Legal breweries simply don’t assassinate dozens of local politicians, police officers and reporters to get their way. Rival Tequila distillers compete with each other for market share using advertising and sometimes lobbying to get a tax or regulatory advantage, but they don’t use armed gangs to fight for market control in a bloody war that cost 50,000 Mexicans their lives. Legal car manufacturers don’t employ criminals to dissolve hundreds of their enemies in acid.

Just as the end of alcohol prohibition in America caused legal and law abiding businesses to replace the deeply corrupt and violent mafia in the American alcohol trade, ending the prohibition against other drugs, like marijuana, would result in law abiding businesses replacing the cartels.

If this pathetic defense is the best President Obama can offer to justify the continuation of a policy that is literally killing thousand of people a year, that is truly sad.

The one positive note is that the growing push for ending the failed “war on . . .” approach, both domestically and internationally, is forcing the federal government to continue to confront and address calls for reform.