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El Chapo’s escape a lesson

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s most recent prison escape is a tremendous blow not only for Mexican authorities but also for the U.S. government.

One of the world’s most notorious criminals escaped last week from one of Mexico’s most secure prisons in a rather conventional fashion: by digging a tunnel.

This is not El Chapo’s first escape.

In 2001 he escaped from another Mexican maximum security prison, reportedly by sneaking out in a laundry cart.

The Mexican government’s failure to keep one of the world’s most dangerous criminals behind bars is astonishing.

Equally disturbing is the inability or unwillingness of the U.S. government to pursue the extradition of Guzmán, who rose to the top of the FBI Most Wanted list in 2010 following the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden.

El Chapo Guzmán is no petty criminal. He leads one of the world’s most successful and murderous criminal enterprises.

The Sinaloa Cartel is a transnational corporation in its own right, responsible for trafficking thousands of tons of illicit drugs – through tunnels, no less – throughout the U.S., as well as Latin America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. Its annual earnings are in the tens of billions of dollars and, in the process, thousands of lives are lost each year to the violence that is inherent to the illicit drug trade.

For better or for worse, Guzmán’s latest escape doesn’t change much for the Sinaloa Cartel’s operations other than perhaps some internal power struggles.

In fact, his arrest 18 months ago had minimal impact on the transnational drug trade.

The Sinaloa Cartel, and its many rival organizations, continued with business as usual. No single arrest, no dismemberment of any one criminal organization, will curb the drug trade.

The real problem is that for the past 50 years we have pursued the wrong strategy.

Arresting or killing drug traffickers, criminalizing users and militarizing our police forces have yielded poor and ineffective results.

It’s time for a change in strategy.

As a country we must evolve from our failed War on Drugs, and New Mexico can lead the way.

That’s why I am calling on our governor to place the issues of drug policy and criminal justice reform on her call in the upcoming 2016 legislative session.

New Mexico can be a leader in reforming our criminal justice system. Drug addicts must be treated as patients, not as criminals. Legalizing marijuana will usher in a new era of regulated, taxable industry no different than the alcohol and tobacco industries.

By focusing our resources on prevention, education and treatment, rather than on criminalization and imprisonment, we can ensure that our young people do not fall victim to the perils of addiction.

The choice is clear. We can continue with our tired strategy of criminalizing drug users or we can change course.

If we don’t, the likes of El Chapo will continue building their tunnels, and we will continue digging our hole.