July 25, 2013 -- Pope Francis refuses to ride in the bulletproof popemobile during his trips. He's also shunned the luxurious papal apartments and likes to travel in a minibus to the Vatican.
There's no doubt that this Argentine Pope is bent on breaking with tradition while infusing his papacy with a much-appreciated touch of humility. But when drug policy is on the table he seems to be just as orthodox and old school as any of the pontiffs who came before him.
On Wednesday, for example, Francis blasted proposals to legalize drugs in violence-afflicted Latin American countries. He made these statements during his four-day visit to Rio de Janeiro, a city that has suffered heavily from the violence wrought by drug gangs who constantly fight for turf in its shantytowns.
"The liberalization of drugs, which is being discussed in several Latin American countries, is not what will reduce the spread of chemical substances, and addiction to them," the Pope said, after visiting a hospital that treats addicts. "What we must do is to face the problems that are responsible for use, promoting greater justice, and educating youth in values that construct common life. We must show solidarity with those in need, and give them hope for the future."
Like many supporters of drug prohibition, the Pope focused on the negative consequences that drug use has on certain individuals, rather than speaking about the violence that banning this stuff generates.
That's expected. But his argument that the "liberalization" of drug use will "do nothing to stop the spread of addiction" is not necessarily true.
Studies conducted in Portugal show that rates for marijuana and heroin use decreased significantly after that country decriminalized all forms of drug use in 2001. That is partly because Portugal shifted resources from law enforcement to health treatment for addicts. So, instead of jailing drug users or forcing them underground, this country began to boost treatment options for them, showing drug users the type of "solidarity," that the Pope preached about on Wednesday.
Pope Francis also had a couple words to say about the drug gangs who are behind much of the violence in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America.
"What prevails frequently in our society is selfishness," the Pope said in Rio. "How many merchants of death are there who seek power and money at all costs!"
The Pope could be right about something here. If human beings were more saintly there would probably be less drug cartels fighting each other over smuggling routes.
But humans are, well, human. And the drug prohibition schemes that the Pope seems to support raise the prices for marijuana and cocaine by astronomical quantities, giving certain individuals an incentive to shoot each other and fight it out with police as they try to cash in on the lucrative trade for this forbidden fruit.