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Remind me again how we win here?

October 3, 2007

The US is claiming a victory in the war on drugs, according to BBC News:

“Efforts on both sides of the Mexican border have disrupted the flow of all drugs into the US, Mr Walters said. […] “What’s happened for the first time in two decades is we now see widespread reports of cocaine shortages in the United States.”

What the article fails to explain is how a decrease in the supply of Mexican cocaine is a victory in the “war.” Why is this cause for celebration? Coincidentally (or maybe not), Foreign Policy has just published an article on problems with current US policy towards illegal drugs. One section specifically addresses the notion that attacking supply is the way to go in fighting drugs:

“These methods may succeed in targeted locales, but they usually simply shift production from one region to another: Opium production moves from Pakistan to Afghanistan; coca from Peru to Colombia; and cannabis from Mexico to the United States, while overall global production remains relatively constant or even increases. […] The global markets in cannabis, coca, and opium products operate essentially the same way that other global commodity markets do: If one source is compromised due to bad weather, rising production costs, or political difficulties, another emerges.”

They go a step further, describing what would likely happen if the US were to cut off the supply of opium coming out Afghanistan, the origin of 90% of the opium sold today.

“Who would benefit? Only the Taliban, warlords, and other black-market entrepreneurs whose stockpiles of opium would skyrocket in value. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan peasants would flock to cities, ill-prepared to find work. And many Afghans would return to their farms the following year to plant another illegal harvest, utilizing guerrilla farming methods to escape intensified eradication efforts. Except now, they’d soon be competing with poor farmers elsewhere in Central Asia, Latin America, or even Africa. This is, after all, a global commodities market.

And outside Afghanistan? Higher heroin prices typically translate into higher crime rates by addicts. They also invite cheaper but more dangerous means of consumption, such as switching from smoking to injecting heroin, which results in higher HIV and hepatitis C rates. All things considered, wiping out opium in Afghanistan would yield far fewer benefits than is commonly assumed.”

We would probably be calling that a “victory” for US drug policy too…

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