Purchasing Recreational Drugs and Fueling Violence

Discussions of privilege are ubiquitous on the left these days, and the desire to make ethical purchases is common not only among “bourgeois bohemians” but a growing number of those who recognize a religious imperative to engage in ethical consumption. While scholars, activists, and everyday people try to figure out how to operate in the marketplace ethically and make it easier to do so, not enough attention has been given to the purchasing of recreational drugs that fuel violence and other grave evils. Perhaps because it is inherently immoral and chimerical to pursue happiness through recreationally altering one’s brain chemistry, the detrimental effect of drug use on social justice and the common good—particularly its impact on the poor and vulnerable—does not garner as much attention in religious circles as the incompatibility of drug use and human flourishing at a personal level. But for Catholics, the personal level is not the individual level—we are embedded in communities and our actions affect others, creating responsibilities toward these people. And for those who do want to “check their privilege” or to exercise the preferential option for the poor, this is a subject that can’t be ignored, as Mario Berlanga writes in a recent New York Times article:

Many of my friends and classmates here in the United States care about making the world a better place, and they try to make purchases that reflect their values. Some have become vegetarians to save animals or fight climate change. Others buy cruelty-free cosmetics, fair-trade coffee or conflict-free diamonds.

Yet I’ve noticed at parties and festivals that some of these same people pop Ecstasy or snort cocaine. They think this drug use is a victimless crime. It’s not. Follow the supply chain and you’ll find a trail of horrific violence.

In Mexico, the official death toll from the past decade’s drug trade stands at over 185,000, with many of the dead innocent bystanders. And these tallies don’t include the thousands of people who have disappeared, including four members of my family who were kidnapped and never seen again. We were deprived of our loved ones without explanation, without even their bodies to cry over….

The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, constitutes more than 30 percent of the global demand for illegal drugs, according to my calculations. Yes, there are addicts, but experts estimate that eight in 10 users — more than 20 million people in this country — take drugs recreationally….

If you think one person’s consumption is too small to make a difference, consider that $100 — what a recreational cocaine user might spend on a single weekend — buys the cartels 500 rounds of ammunition; $500 buys a new AR-15 rifle; $700 covers the monthly salary of one of their gunmen….

If you use illegal drugs, even just occasionally, please reconsider. Lives are at stake. Go for legal vices if you must. Even if you never use illegal drugs, you probably know people who do. Tell them about the trail of blood that led to their night of partying. If they had seen it firsthand, as I have, they wouldn’t buy those drugs.

We can shatter the misconception that recreational drug use is a victimless crime. We must put an end to the hypocrisy that allows people to make purchases based on their concerns about the environment, workers’ rights or animals — but not about killing people in Mexico.