Settlement with HSBC Shows Feds’ Real Priorities with “War on Drugs”

In New York City, every day, hundreds of people are arrested for possession of a controlled substance – Merely for having the narcotic on their person. The vast majority of these people only had it for their own personal use, and yet many of them wind up spending time in jail. Often, these are young people, and the conviction has harsh effects on the rest of their lives. This is all for our “War on Drugs”: Kids losing educational opportunities because they had a little bit of marijuana, mothers being taken away from their kids and put in jail because they had a few bumps of cocaine on them on a night out. If these mere users, who are, at worst, just harming themselves, can see their lives being ruined, what do the drug warriors in the federal government have in store for those who are part of major international operations to put these drugs on the street?

Well, apparently if you’re a banking executive who laundered billions of dollars for drug kingpins, you might expect to see your bonus “partially deferred.”

Make sure you read this excellent takedown, by Matt Taibbi of The Rolling Stone, of a settlement this month by the Department of Justice with British bank HSBC. HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels, breaking other banking laws in the process. By laundering the money, HSBC enabled the cartel kingpins to continue profitable operations. Yet, the DOJ apparently decided it was too important to our financial system to take down, so they let them off the hook with a $1.9 billion settlement — five weeks’ income for the company.

As a New York City drug defense lawyer, I often represent the people on the lowest levels of the drug trade, including its customers, the mere user. These are people who are tremendously important to their families, and many young people who are tremendously important to our nation’s future.  Yet, the government doesn’t seem to have any problem attempting to put those people in jail and making them suffer.

For years, I’ve said there is no way to win the War on Drugs, that there will never be a day when the United States can say it has “conquered” controlled substances. What is especially infuriating about this settlement is that it shows that, while still working to destroy the lives of everyday citizens and, often, decimating civil liberties, those in charge of prosecuting the Drug War aren’t even trying to go after the big guys. When virtually handed a victory over one of the major players in cartel operations, the feds slap them on the wrist. It’s unconscionable, and it needs to change, now.