Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cocaine Production's Comeback

Erradicating coca leaf bushes. But they don't stay gone. 
The numbers are in, and once again it looks like the billions of dollars the world pours annually into the War on Drugs have accomplished little. 

Global cocaine prices haven shifted little in recent years.
(United Nations graph)   
Yesterday's El Tiempo reported that Colombia's coca leaf acreage increased by 3% last year. While that's not much, and the defense ministry called the numbers "stable," it does mean that cultivation has ceased declining, despite erradication efforts. 

The defense ministry explained that cultivation has increased in certain areas because they are near borders and have indigenous territories, where erradication efforts are restricted. But the defense ministry did not observe that Colombia will always have border regions and indigenous territories, meaning that this upward trend may very well continue.

Legal and illegal drugs have followed similar consumption
patterns. (United Nations graph)
Beyond Colombia's borders, the trend is also negative. Coca leaf cultivation has increased in both Bolivia and Peru, which has surpassed Colombia to become the world's biggest cocaine producer, according to the United Nations. The Wall Street Journal reports that Peruvian coca leaf growers have managed to cultivate the crop in wetlands, something once thot impossible. That means both more production and environmental impacts. The Journal points out that growers could easily cross the border and plant coca in Brazil - and why not Africa and Asia? (In the early 20th century coca leaf was grown industrially in Java and Taiwan.) Today, much of South America's cocaine is shipped to Europe via Africa. Wouldn't planting the stuff in Africa be much cheaper and easier for the traffickers?

The United Nations annual world drug report offers a mixed review of the main plant-based drugs: cocaine, heroin and marijuana. Global coca bush cultivation has dropped by a third since the year 2000, according to the U.N. (altho productivity per acre has apparently risen). But those gains have been counterbalanced "by rising levels of synthetic drug production." And some of those drugs, such as amphithetamines, may be much more harmful than heroin and cocaine.
Thru 2010, coca leaf cultivation inched upwards in Peru and
Bolivia, but dropped in Colombia. That's since changed. 

The reports, once again, constitute a powerful case for legalizing and regulating these now-illegal substances. Such a policy change, which is happening slowly and contradictorily for marijuana - would enable states to tax and regulate these substances, require quality standards and enforce environmental protections.

And, the world would save a whole lot of money it now spends on drug law enforcement and encarceration.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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