Monday, May 4, 2015

Let Them Plant Coca Leaf?

A graphic from El Tiempo portrays the recent jump in coca leaf acreage in Colombia. 
The reports that coca leaf acreage in Colombia leaped during 2013 - by between 15% and 39%, depending on whose counting - are a big blow to drug warriors. That's because Colombia has been the model student in the War on Drugs, employing an aggressive United States backed campaign of manual eradication and aerial spraying against the base ingredient of cocaine. 
A plane sprays herbicide
 on jungle coca leaf plots.

The war on cocaine was never a grand success, as the drug's availability on North American city streetcorners attests. However, the fact that acreage has rebounded in Colombia even as the government used aggressive aerial spraying with glyphosate against the crop is a serious sign. 

And, now, the use of glyphosate in Colombia is being challenged because of a World Health Organization report that the herbicide might cause cancer. 
Historic coca leaf production, 2001 - 10.
Colombia's production is in light blue.

Drug eradication doesn't appear to have succeeded ever, anywhere in history, perhaps because it goes against basic laws of supply and demand. As the supply of drugs is cut, prices rise, increasing profits for traffickers and incentives to plant drug crops in other locations. There have been recent reports of coca plant cultivation in Mexico, far from the plant's three traditional sources: Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. 

Replacing drug crops with licit crops would make sense, if only those legal crops were as or more profitable than coca leaf. However, because coca leaves sell for high prices and have advantages of durability and easy transport, many campesinos will always want to produce them.

Perhaps there's a better solution: End futile and expensive eradication programs, which have done much to antagonize Latin Americans against the U.S., decriminalize the drug and concentrate on demand reduction in the consuming nations. According to one RAND report, that's a much more cost-effective way to reduce demand, in any case.

Manual eradication is slower and more dangerous.
World coca flows. (Graphic: UNODC.)

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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