Back to top

It’s A Gray Area: Drug prohibition has failed U.S., Mexico

Sam Sabzehzar 2012-03-09 1 comment

Daily Pilot Editor’s note: Judge James P. Gray (Ret.) was a speaker Feb. 16 at the closing banquet of an international forum titled “Drugs Unbalanced — After a Century of Their Prohibition.” The forum was sponsored by Mexico United Against Delinquency, and was held at the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City. The following is a summary of his comments.

By Judge Jim Gray  |  From a Speech at the Mexico United Against Delinquency Forum

Judge Jim Gray (ret.)

As we part company, I wanted to use my time to present a final summary of this forum.

But for reasons I will discuss, that cannot be done completely at this time.

But to begin.

The title of the forum presents a question that simply must be asked by all caring and responsible people around the world: Where are we after a century of drug prohibition?

Furthermore, the symbol that describes the forum of trying to stop a gun from being fired by putting a finger in its barrel really well describes the status quo.

There are four realities that the world is facing in this area.

They are:

1) The presence of these drugs in our communities brings harm;

2) All of these drugs are here to stay;

3) We can either have these drugs in our communities with drug cartels and other gangsters, or without them; and

4) The money from the sales of these drugs can either go to gangsters to pay for guns and corruption, or it can go to governments to be used for such things as fixing roads, educating children and paying for health care.

As amazing at it may seem, all of the complex and multifaceted issues about drug policy come down to only one question, which is: Will the reduced harms from the regulation and control of these drugs by the government be outweighed by the increased drug usage caused by the drugs no longer being illegal for adults, and being sold at the lower prices necessary to drive the gangsters out of the business?

The benefits that would be seen from regulation and control are clear. Why? Because, if you think about it, prohibition never works as well as regulation and control.

As proof, I suggest to you that the biggest oxymoron of our day is the term “controlled substances.” Why is that? Because when a substance is prohibited, we completely give up all control to the illegal sellers. That includes control over the place and time of sale, price, quality, quantity, advertising and age restrictions, as well as the ability to license the sellers and generate taxes from the transactions. So in actuality, we couldn’t get worse results than under drug prohibition if we tried.

But I said that I cannot completely summarize all of the effects of this forum. Why? Because the work of this forum is not yet completed.

In the future, I foresee that the history books will cite that on Feb. 14, 15 and 16 of 2012, Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia held a forum that directly resulted in a national debate with no taboos. Not only were candidates for president in Mexico forced to address this issue openly, honestly and realistically, but most candidates for other offices were forced to do so as well.

And the strong voices from this forum joined with those of Colombian President Santos; Guatemalan President Molina; former Mexican President Fox; former New Mexico Gov. Johnson, and those of the Global Commission on Drugs, with such luminaries as former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Colombian President Gaviria, and whose message was later adopted by former United States President Jimmy Carter.

And all of these voices persisted with an appropriate sense of urgency that resulted in great and beneficial changes worldwide.

Maybe the history books will also read that this forum helped to convince your current President [Felipe] Calderon to tell the government of the United States, like only he could, that throughout his term of office he tried to make the policy of drug prohibition work.

It obviously did not work, but it directly caused almost 50,000 deaths along the way. So now he believes that Mexico must adopt a policy that is good for Mexico. Thus, he now recommends that his country withdraw from the United Nation’s Single Convention Treaty, because it requires each signing country to pursue this failed policy.

I believe that the most patriotic and effective thing I can do as a citizen of the United States of America is to help the country I love repeal this failed and hopeless policy of drug prohibition. And may I say to you as my new good friends here in Mexico that the most patriotic and effective thing you can do for the country you love, is to do the same.

So as I close, I leave you with two guarantees. The first is that both of our countries will repeal this failed and hopeless policy of drug prohibition. I cannot say when, and I cannot say to what, but it certainly will happen. And the second is that within a mere three years of that repeal, virtually everyone in both of our countries will look back and be aghast and astonished that we could have perpetuated such a failed policy for so long.


JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge who lives in Newport Beach. He can be reached at

1 comment

  1. clarence dember jr

    Thanks for this.