Wednesday, May 11, 2011

One Step Forward, Two Back in the Drug War

Does more erradication really mean less drugs?
Thanks to aggressive erradication, Colombia now has less coca leaf acreage than any year since 1996. That's good news - but it's overwhelmed by a flood of bad news from the drug war front.

While coca leaf acreage is down in Colombia, it's up in Peru and Bolivia, the other two cocaine-producing nations. And violence is down in Colombia, but it's up in Mexico and Central America.

All of which ought to make the folks in Washington D.C. pulling the strings on the anti-drug effort consider whether there isn't a better way.

That was the conclusion of a study released the other day by academics at Bogotá's elite University of the Andes, which forms the nation's political and business establishment, and ex-President Cesar Gaviria. The study concluded the obvious - the prohibitionist policy hasn't worked and Drug War leaders must look at alternatives to erradication. But the authors didn't go so far as to propose decriminalizing drugs.

Ricky Ross
However, that alternative was considered by this interesting piece by National Public Radio, which interviews 'Freeway' Ricky Ross, who became famous in the '80's and '90s by feeding Los Angeles, California's huge cocaine habit with tons of the stuff. In the interview, Rick points out that the people who deal drugs use violent, murderous tactics to get their way, instead of going to court the way the avocado industry does. By keeping drugs illegal, we'll ensure that violent groups like Ricky's keep a monopoly on them.

"When I sold drugs, if they'd told me they were going to legalize it, I'd have been mad, because I knew that was going to drive the price down," Ross told NPR.

Legalizing would also mean that companies like Philip Morris and Seagrams would suddenly have more legal drugs to market.

If avocados were prohibited, would those of us who are obsessive about avocadoes in our salads just resign ourselves or seek them on the black market, from businessmen who used violence when necessary? I suspect so.

The NPR piece interviews a U.S. professor who argues that depenalization would bring a rise in drug consumption. I suppose that's probably true, but wonder how significant it would be. After all, both Portugal and Holland have tried depenalization with no drug epidemics. And Colombia for many years had depenalized the 'personal dosis' of all drugs - yet cocaine use here seems quite low. A middle class Colombian acquaintance recently observed that her friends did not use cocaine. However, an Australian tourist who'd spent weeks in Colombian hostels said she'd seen lots of cocaine consumption in many areas, particularly along the Caribbean coast. It seems evident that more than access, drug use depends on cultural factors.

Read about how drug crimes sent Ted went to a U.S. prison and back to Colombia.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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