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March 26th, 2009
11:22 AM ET

America's appetite for drugs

 Former DEA Special Agent Robert Strang speaks to CNN's John Roberts about America's appetite for illegal drugs.
Former DEA Special Agent Robert Strang speaks to CNN's John Roberts about America's appetite for illegal drugs.

Mexico's army is pouring into towns struggling to stop drug cartels' bloody tactics.

Washington is pledging cash and manpower – but the violence is threatening to tear Mexico apart.

Former Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Robert Strang joined us live for reaction.


What do you think? Is America's appetite for drugs fueling the violence?

Filed under: Crime • Drugs • Mexico
soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Prohibition FAILS

    Ron – Your blurb about everyone being high all the time because drugs are legal is absolutely absurd. People are ALREADY using illegal drugs if they want to and their behavior will not change drastically just because its legal. And people who don't already smoke pot are not going to do it just because it's legal. Sure some might try it, but the fact is, people who want to smoke weed do it already. That's why the anti-marijuana campaign is so successful, and why they won't change it.

    Also, do you see something the rest of us don't? Do you see everyone drunk just because booze is legal? No. Wake up and observe reality.

    April 7, 2009 at 7:31 pm |
  2. Burned Out At the Border

    I've been in a DEA US southwest border for over 10 years. We spend more time chasing our tails with US Border Patrol and CBP referrals than we do conducting in depth investigations of the drug trafficking and money laundering organizations in our areas of operation in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. 99.9% of the defendants bringing the marijuana into the country are indigent and enter the US with no documentation. Border Patrol and CBP agents arrest them and then demand DEA adopt the case for federal prosecution. The federal courts take the cases only to bolster their numbers for funding and adding staff attorneys for immigration cases. Last time I checked, CBP was under DHS with ICE. They have Title 21 authority. What gives?? The entire process is a drain on our resources and time, but DEA HQ is so hooked on the Congressional funding based on nothing but the referred seizures, the problem is ignored.

    March 31, 2009 at 8:13 am |
  3. Deborah in Blue Springs, MO

    If the President refuses to have a fair and productive debate on the subject of legalization, he should lift the federal law against marijuana and allow individual states to determine their own laws on the issue.

    March 27, 2009 at 9:01 am |
  4. Jim

    You think acool improve your life more then POT how dare you.
    Wake up ad ask god in your priere what is realy right? I have seen in India people smoking and beein in perfert helt phisical; and mental well into there heighty, but the y good totaly creasy when they drink.

    March 27, 2009 at 8:58 am |
  5. Lamboo

    I agree it is not our problem Until Mexico stop making these drug it will not stop. More importantly your number are wrong about 14 millions of pot user in the US my estimate is there are close to a Hundred millions. I don't drink and I don't smoke but I think people have the right to smoke pot as the rest toke the right to drink, first it is much better for your health then alcohol and tobacco which the government made legal. When a ado tries pot they go wow why is this illegal? it makes me spiritual. Until society wake up and give equal right to all of us there will be unbalance and corruption. I say legalese Marihuana or make alcohol and tobacco illegal. We as a society have the power to do what right for everyone even if you do not agree the other half of the country ( none drinker) are agreeing and want legalisation. Even presiden Obama doge the quesion yesterday on TVand did not anser the question like it was asked, he is afread like all polititian. Legalisation of pot is not for the economy it is for our mental spiritual and phisical helt. It is the right to do.

    March 27, 2009 at 8:52 am |
  6. Linda

    Okay lets get serious here. I am almost 60 years old and I think they should legalize marijuana! Should have been done years ago. Take the money equation out of it and you diminish the war over it.

    I think this country has placed to many people in jail for the taxpayers to support because of drugs. Some of these folks are just ordinary next door neighbors with families that had no criminal backgrounds at all but are sitting in jail cells for smoking weed. Give me a break!

    We have some real criminals out there, so why not go after dangerous people and legalize marijuana!

    March 27, 2009 at 7:52 am |
  7. Greg

    What Prohibitionists don't understand is that you could take the 10 million people that use marijuana, double it, put them all in treatment, and it would still be cheaper then prohibition destroy fewer lives.
    However Marijuana is not physically addictive and is less harmful then alcohol and tobacco. Yes some will need treatment, just as some need treatment for say, video games or gambling additions. But since marijuana is ubiquitous right now that number will not increase significantly if marijuana is legalized.
    Prohibition kills, prohibition funds organized crime, and prohibition puts drugs into teenager’s hands. Prohibition needs to end.

    March 26, 2009 at 8:56 pm |

    typical cop, all the answers, maybe the should learn how to investigate white collar crime like aig, instead of devoting any resources to potheads

    March 26, 2009 at 8:23 pm |
  9. Joe Montana

    Let's face it people. The government doesn't care about you. They wish that at least half of us would OD. They are getting rich raiding the drug dealers and using your tax dollars for their own benifit. If marijuana was legalized, they wouldn't make any money and wouldn't have anything to do.

    March 26, 2009 at 8:14 pm |
  10. Ron

    Legalizing it all would solve all of the problems as described above , butthe Criminal justice/Prison industrial complex will NOT allow this to happen, the fact that we have declared war on drugs in afgahnistan means we have also just lost that war.
    What legalizing will NOT do is reduce addiction, it will encourage lazyness and irresponcible behavior, there will be more accidents , certain drugs will cause terrible behavior, overdoses and health issues will increase. We can agree that this would happen and yet still feel that the best course of action is legalization the lesser of these harms
    The question then becomes how do we remain a healthy society with out the billy club ?

    March 26, 2009 at 8:00 pm |
  11. Nan

    # 1) You can't compare DRUGS to ALCOHOL.
    # 2) Marijuana does not improve your life IN ANYWAY. The dope heads just use that as an excuse to use it.

    If they would take anyone they catch using or dealing drugs and lock them up. The users in a hospital and the dealers in prison.
    The users if they were not allowed visitors to where they get it they would eventually get it out of their system. The dealers should never get out of prison and should never be allowed to have visitors.
    Anyone that has children should automatically lose all rights to those children. (at least that would make some of them think twice about using it.
    Anyone caught giving drugs to a minor should be shot on the spot and I don't care how old the pusher is.
    I just can't see all of these supposely educational programs such DARE working. It's just like tell teenagers not have sex because they will get pregnant, it just them more curious.
    They are going to have to do something to keep our illegal guns and money from going to mexico, even if they have to inspect EVERY Vehicle going both ways across the border. No matter if it is Can, Mex, Jap, or what ever Country it is coming from or what type vehicle it happens to be plane, boat, or personal vehicle.

    March 26, 2009 at 7:57 pm |
  12. Sean

    Mark, your logic is sickeningly flawed. In fact, I would say that you have no logic in your post whatsoever.
    Human beings have been inebriating themselves through whatever means they have since the dawn of the species. This proves that "drugs" (the word itself shouldn't even exist) ARE here to stay. PERIOD.
    Not to mention that, yes, we do have a constant stream of drugs to keep us in a state of delusion and denial, ask your doctor if prozac is right for you.
    There is a sensible way to use "drugs". its called not doing them, but as I have already said, people will. Its human nature. People like you say "what about the kids" people who think LOGICALLY say, "what about the parents". It is not the governments job to legislate in a way that makes parenting easier, just like it is not a teachers job to mother a child, yet they seem to be expected to do so (no child left behind[Obamas plan to revamp education]). If you cannot tell your child that "drugs" are bad, and the reasons for it, then don't have kids.
    And the mother of that "crack baby" is simply an addict who needed help, but she knew that she couldn't afford rehab and turning herself in to the police for her drug use wouldn't be much fun.
    People like you who want to keep these "drugs" illegal, are basically saying that you don't want to help low income families in the US (they are affected MUCH more than others due to the cash they can make by being involved in a black market and lack of job opportunities). You are also displaying your ignorance of history, and your total disregard to help your fellow man.

    March 26, 2009 at 7:47 pm |
  13. notrichyrich

    Yeah that is the solution!!! Throw more millions no BILLIONS oh Wait TRILLIONS of dollars at it !!! You are so smart sir!!! Why hasnt anybody thought of this before?? I am so very proud of you!!!
    Really laying the sarcasm on pretty thick wasn't I? You dont stand to make money from this continued failure do you? How many people out there do you really think you cant stop? 750 drug dealers in 250 city's? Hmm wow ! whopper numbers is that like 3 per city !!! You thieves are just promoting a losing position to gain a career sucking money from tax payers. Legalize it and let us make those choices for ourselves and our children, who are not supposed to drink or smoke but continue to do so in greater numbers every year. Get a real job you loser and stop pissing in our faces and telling us its rain!!!

    March 26, 2009 at 7:38 pm |
  14. Bob

    It seem like a lot of people have died from drugs and pot,but that was from lead poisoning! My gate way drugs were definitly booze and cigarettes,those felt good so I wondered what the others might do.
    The drug money is so far up in the gov.,because the dealers really don't want it to be legalized and those in the gov. are enjoying the extra money by keeping it against the law so the profits stay high.
    It's time we wake up

    March 26, 2009 at 7:28 pm |
  15. randy

    It's the same story for all government programs. You build them and then you can't get rid of them. It's the same with the IRS. We can't have a flat or fair tax, because it will eliminate all those government jobs. If we legalize marijuana, the demand will go down, jobs will be created and taxable income generated. There also won't be any reason for a drug war on the border. But it won't happen, because more than 10,000 jobs in the DEA depend on the war on drugs.

    March 26, 2009 at 7:24 pm |
  16. JOhnny B NOrthwest

    Alcohol is WAY more powerful than cocain or marijuana - but where are the lobbiest for those drugs? Hard A lobbiest would have them killed off just like the cartel if such suggestive tones of legalization were going to happen. 60% of all county jails are filled with drug users, sellers and distributors....legalize it, and jails are cleaned up, real criminals are put away, violence WAY down, etc....lets be honest, its fairly rare to hear about someone killing someone over a pack of cigs, because they are legal and fairly cheap! LEGALIZE DRUGS - it won't change behaviors, it will just make it legal! Like commercials for drinking Vodka, 151, or what not - they don't effect me! I don't drink Hard Alcohol. Legalizing drugs, or tabacco, or alcohol doesn't change people's interest in the products, it just makes it controllable, cheap, taxable and....enjoyable 🙂

    March 26, 2009 at 7:22 pm |
  17. mark

    I love the logic you drug lovers post here..

    We already are paying billions of dollars in health care costs for nicotine and alcohol addictions

    So lets legalize the hard stuff and spend some more!

    Its too difficult, or "drugs are here to stay"

    Great lesson for our kids: give up, roll over, surrender, and pretend like there's no problem. We have all the drugs we need to keep ourselves in a constant state of delusion and denial.

    Continue to emphasize that there is a "sensible way to use drugs"

    Yea, try that propaganda on the poor crack babys that are born each year, addicted through no fault of their own, tell them their mother was right in using drugs while they writhe in excrutiating pain, as they go through withdrawal

    March 26, 2009 at 7:22 pm |
  18. Teacher4U

    1: the DARE program is a waste of money, I remember the first time i was introduced to drugs was at school during the D.A.R.E. program. they literally brought it in and showed us plus with the paraphanara* products. As a teacher, i can say that students that are being lecture dby cops and with the attitude and perspecive of the parents towards cops, it only makes the students more curoius about it when COPS introduce them to drugs. The less students knows about drugs the less they are going to be curoius about it. (a Child would not snork something that is powdery white, but they would if they knew it was cocaine and it gave you a buzz.

    All Stang is trying to do is waste our tax payers money on ideas that never have workED!

    March 26, 2009 at 7:14 pm |
  19. John Smith

    This is ridiculous. DARE is a joke, and totally useless. Strang is on the board and must be getting money from them to hawk this useless crap. Kids are curious and they are going to try drugs. When they see that Johnny down the street didnt turn into a frog after smoking dope they will discount everything an out-of-touch adult tells them about drugs. Treatment is key of course but treatment does not just include treating for drugs but treating the condition that drove people to the ABUSE of drugs. If you don't address the underlying issue, you will NEVER impact drug use. Enforcement is a joke in and of itself. It is a money maker for cops, susceptible to corruption and a disaster to the recreational user caught up in the game while the kingpins go free.

    It would be cheaper and more efficient for our government to agree to buy all the drugs Columbia and Mexico can produce and then just sink them in the ocean. If the US govt was the big customer it would make distribution by cartels obsolete and prices would rise. It would not end abuse or smuggling, but it would marginalize it.

    March 26, 2009 at 6:50 pm |
  20. michael

    This is saying the same tired argument since i was a kid in the dare program. It doesnt work they told us when pablo escabar was killed that would the end of drugs. they told us when noregia was arrested that would end the war on drugs. They have been wrong consistantly for 30 years it a joke. the only way we can end the war on drugs is legalize it treatment center are fine for addicts that want to quit but they dont stop the flow of drugs into this country. We have education everybody knows heroin is bad yet they do it anyway thats there problem not mine. The DEA is a joke, so is most federal law enforcement agencies. This president in Mexico started this war and when its over there will be new cartels and they will be enemy number this so stupid meanwhile were allowing drug cartels flourish in Afganestain because the government is so corrupt. End prohibition now

    March 26, 2009 at 6:48 pm |
  21. Rusty

    Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, Viagra, and Penicillin are all drugs, along with marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. To treat ANY of them differently from each other legally or socially is the height of hypocrisy. Either ban them all, or distribute them all with no restrictions and tax them, but don't presume to judge the value of one over the other, to another person. Alcohol does more damage to individuals and society than all of the others combined. Why is that one 'legal'?
    This whole debate is one more example of CORPORATE special interests desperately trying to hold onto their criminally insane profits and exclude any possible competitors. This includes the CORPORATE 'Drug Enforcement' and Prison industries.

    March 26, 2009 at 6:33 pm |
  22. Mariathelion9, San Diego

    Facts first: In a Jan 15, 2003 letter to Sen. Richard Durbin , the GAO Government Accounting Office) reported at his bequest the efficacy of the DARE program reported on page 6-"Evaluations of the DARE Elementary School Curriculum Show No Significant Differences in Drug
    Use Between DARE and Non-DARE Students" ( So obviously this guy has a biased to SAVE his job. Please Stop the insanity of prohibition now! I do NOT ant soldiers stomping around my city like they are doing in Mexico! End prohibition and the guns stop, the money stops, and the violence stops! Ypu'd have to be on CRACK to think WAR is the answer!

    March 26, 2009 at 6:32 pm |
  23. inc0g

    The "war on drugs" has always been the war on "some drugs". The gov't and AMA don't want you to decide how to medicate yourself. They will decide which "dangerous" drugs you can and can't have.

    Everyone wants to forget that George Washington grew Marijuana, smoked it, and had large parts of his estate dedicated to growing it.

    But hey, if they legalize/decriminalize certain drugs, how are we going to supress minorities (of skin color or personal beliefs), because drug law enforcement is a major part of that.

    Maybe these tough times will buy us some increased freedom in exchange for our higher taxes.

    March 26, 2009 at 6:30 pm |
  24. Alex Olsen

    You want a real three step approach:

    1. LET THE PROFESSIONALS DECIDE – Evaluate the programs before beefing them up, we tie up our taxpayer money for nothing. Legislation should be based off of facts after thorough research. Bureacrats stand to make money of the longevity of a pointless "war" that gnaws away at our taxes; and we eat this stuff up on the news. Oh great we capture 40 tons of marijuana, do you not realize there are forests of this crap. The cartels laugh watching the news because they hand us truckloads of their money and we set it on fire. MONEY THAT THEY GROW OUT OF THE GROUND.

    2. LET PEOPLE RESEARCH THE FACTS FOR THEMSELVES- http://WWW.DRUGWARFACTS.ORG This fool name drops DARE. DARE is a testament to our failure in this cash cow war. DARE has proven to cause more harm than good, it makes kids think that drug use is more prevalant than it is. OUR PREVIOUS DRUG WAR CZARS HAVE FAILED US, THAT IS A FACT. GET NEW BLOOD AND NEW LEGISLATION.

    3. DECRIMINALIZE MARIJUANA – Take the money out of the black markets hands and into our capitalist system, free our prisons of the $17 million we spend a day incarcerating non-violent drug offenders. Focus on hard drugs, tax the plant. DO YOUR RESEARCH

    March 26, 2009 at 6:26 pm |
  25. Jay Vasko

    There are just too many people who are against the idea of legalizing, or de-criminalizing drugs for the idea of ending prohibition to ever be taken seriously. You've got people who have been brainwashed by anti-drug propaganda, sensationalist media coverage, and movies and television that all tell people that drugs are bad, m'kay.

    Add to those people the lobbying force behind the tobacco industry, which doesn't want any competition, the prison industry, which would fall to pieces when they lost hundreds of thousands of inmates who have committed non-violent drug related crimes, and the religious right who want to enforce their morals on everyone else, and the rational idea of ending the money pit we call the war on drugs doesn't stand a chance.

    March 26, 2009 at 6:12 pm |
  26. maynard

    Why emphasize DARE when all objective studies have shown that the program does not work.

    March 26, 2009 at 6:00 pm |
  27. Rhett

    U.S. Marijuana Prohibition fuels this mess. The other drugs don't have enough demand to outpace law enforcement efforts. People who use the hard drugs usually want to get off them, as well.

    Marijuana use is different, though. It will never go away. The people who use it do so because it improves the quality of their lives, not because they are addicts. The don't want to stop and flatly refuse to. They have an "over my dead body" position when it comes to taking marijuana away from them. Youd have a better chance of taking guns away from the people than you would marijuana.

    End Marijuana prhohibition and the mess goes away. Continue to attempt to enforce unjust laws on willful people who want liberty and you'll continue to fund organised crime. It looks like we have chosen more crime. How sad.

    Good news for helicopter sales, I guess.

    March 26, 2009 at 3:51 pm |
  28. Ireg

    Clearly, wars on anything don't work. The war on poverty.....has it worked? No.

    The war on drugs.....has it worked? Are you kidding? Drugs are cheaper and easier to get than ever.

    It's time to re-think the strategy. If a real cost-benefit analysis would done on the war on drugs, it would make the outrage over the AIG bonuses look mild.

    Wars are supposed to have a beginning and an end. These wars are never-ending.

    There has got to be a better way.

    March 26, 2009 at 3:45 pm |
  29. prohibition fails

    "What do you think? Is America’s appetite for drugs fueling the violence?"

    Don't be ridiculous. What is fueling the violence is largely the same thing that fuels the appetite: Prohibition. Prohibition is an utter failure as policy, just as it was for alcohol in the 20s. Do you have people gunning each other down in the streets, smugglers carrying large sums of cash and an illegal substance, with cops hunting them down, who therefore need to arm themselves in self defense against both other smugglers, cops, and just plain common criminals looking for an easy score, over alcohol, today? Of course you don't... and why not? Because the failed policy of alcohol prohibition was ended. All of those things DID occur, in the 20s, when prohibition ruled. And all of those things are occurring now, in the face of drug prohibition. Could it possibly be any more obvious?

    You want an end to the violence and murder over drugs? An end to the crimes surrounding the cash involved in these substances, both for the suppliers and the consumers? An end to the huge profit motive that drives the supply chain (and the violence) south of the border? Even the overall levels of usage would be reduced, as proven by numerous studies. Not to mention ending the incarcerating of millions of people whose only crime is getting high. End the idiocy of prohibition. Prohibition is responsible for more destroyed lives on every scale than the drugs themselves could ever possibly claim. There is no rational basis for this policy, and it should be abandoned, immediately.

    March 26, 2009 at 2:55 pm |
  30. ap

    Don't believe the DEA's hype. The DEA is worried about the fact that a large majority of counternarcotics funding goes to DHS,. Not to mention that CBP, Border Patrol, and ICE seem to make all the drug seizures. DEA is losing its market share and have resorted to this "250 city" argument as if it's something new. Mexican cartels have been distributing drugs in every city where drugs are being used since the '30s. DEA is using this as an opportunity to reposition themselves on the Southwest Border as the lead agency, and move into cash and gun smuggling. It's just another DC turf battle that leads to story planting to a sensationalist media. Please do your research and look behind the press releases.

    March 26, 2009 at 2:44 pm |
  31. Prohibition FAILS

    Prohibition of alcohol failed and was thankfully eliminated by FDR. How many decades do we have to keep throwing our money and lives away on another failed prohibition before we admit that it's not the solution. it is human nature to desire the effects of drugs. We cannot change human nature by filling our prison systems beyond capacity and ruining the lives of otherwise law-abiding, tax-paying citizens.


    That is the ONLY true solution to this mess.

    March 26, 2009 at 2:39 pm |
  32. cop welfare

    drugs are here.
    people will continue to use drugs.
    it's not going away.
    get used to it or else ban caffeine and alcohol.
    more work for law-enforcement, right?
    is that too complicated for you?
    jave a nice day.

    March 26, 2009 at 2:07 pm |