Miami, Latin America, and the Drug Trade: Rethinking and Reshaping the War on Drugs

BY CHRIS PAWLIK — When you think of Miami, a number of images come to mind: The sun, beautiful beaches, high-rises, and—for better or for worse—drugs. Since the inception of the War on Drugs, Miami has been synonymous with the illicit drug trade. Indeed, Miami’s association with the drug trade has inspired a significant number of recognizable American cultural icons from Miami Vice and Scarface in film; to recording artists such as Rick Ross and Pitbull. Outside of the entertainment industry, the illicit drug trade flowing in to Miami from Latin America for distribution throughout Florida and the United States has posed a very real and significant issue for local, state, and federal policy makers and law enforcement agencies for decades.

While there have been momentous shifts in drug policy at both the state and federal levels over the last decade, Miami and the State of Florida have been rather resistant to changes in their drug policy. This should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the violence that the cocaine trade wrought upon Miami during the 1980s and the deep scars that violent crime left on the community. In fact, Florida still has some of the least favorable laws on the books for drug offenders. A recent 2012 study by the Pew Center on the States found that Florida’s non-violent prisoners in 2009 served 166% more time than in 1990. The rise in time served by Florida prisoners was also accompanied by $1.4 billion in increased costs shouldered by the State. This may change, however, as Florida may begin to see a reversal of this trend should the State’s voters legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes at the polls this November. Further, changes in federal drug policy regarding mandatory minimum sentences announced by Eric Holder will undoubtedly impact how Miami and the State of Florida approach the War on Drugs going forward.

Additionally, influences outside of the United States will become increasingly important as to how Miami conducts its role as a gatekeeper against illegal drugs flowing in to the United States. For instance, it is far from clear what the impact the legalization of marijuana in Uruguay will have on the global illicit drug trade and what this will mean for Miami in particular.

As the gateway to Latin America, Miami also acts as the gatekeeper. While there is a strong security interest for Miami, the State of Florida, and federal government to maintain against illicit drug trafficking from Latin America, there is also a strong economic and security interest in ensuring that a sensible drug policy is in place that does not disproportionately or unfairly impact vast segments of Florida’s population. As a result of shifts in marijuana drug policy within the United States and abroad, Florida—and Miami in particular—will come to bear the effect of these changes. What the consequences of these global shifts signify for Miami remains to be seen. What is for sure, is that Miami will continue to remain on the frontlines as the battlefield within the War on Drugs prepares for changes for the foreseeable future.

For more on illicit trafficking and national security be sure to check out this year’s National Security & Armed Conflict Symposium on Friday, February 28, 2014 from 1:00 – 4:00 PM at the University of Miami campus. The symposium will focus on the nexus between national security, illicit trafficking, and the law in Miami and the Greater Americas. This topic is both innovative and highly relevant. Miami-Dade is the “Gateway to Latin America,” and huge amounts of persons and products travel through the county, both legally and illegally. The issue of illicit trafficking is an essential one that Miami must confront to become a nexus of global trade and commerce.

For more information visit the Symposium tab of the NSAC webpage.

To RSVP to the event link here:

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