Monday, October 30, 2017

Let Them Plant Coca!

Working a coca leaf plantation in Colombia.
El Tiempo has reported the controversy over a proposed law to reduce the penalty for having a plantation of less than 3.8 hectares of coca leaf, the base ingredient for cocaine, to only 4 years in prison.

It's polemical in particular because sentences of less than four years can be served outside of prison. Since the great majority of family coca plots measure less than 3.8 hectares, this new legislation would in practice make coca growing a non-prison crime.

Of course, in practical terms it's been this way for a long time. Logistically, in terms of prison space and for the sake of rural peace, Colombia could not possibly imprison the more than 100,000 families which survive by cultivating coca leaf.

But there are also economic and legal reasons why decriminalizing coca leaf cultivation is a good idea - no matter what the Trump White House says.

First of all, erradicating coca leaf is futile. The United States has poured well over $10  billion into Colombia, in great part to combat the illegal drug trade. What does Colombia now have? Very possibly a record coca leaf harvest this year!

At the same time, removing a coca-planting family from the business only reduces demand and raises prices enough to make it worthwhile for someone somewhere else to start planting coca leaf.

But there's a third reason: Reducing coca acreage makes little difference in the drug war, because cultivation is clearly not the limiting factor for cocaine production. We know this because most of cocaine's final cost is paying for the danger of producing and transporting it. And campesino coca leaf farmer earns only a tine fraction of cocaine's street price. The tough, and expensive, part of cocaine production is transporting the stuff across international borders and distributing it on U.S. streets.

Even if ALL  of Colombia's surface area were planted with coca leaf, it would make little difference in the drug trade.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Stuart Oswald said...

We know that the record harvest is due to Santos and FARC creating a framework that enabled it. FARC wanted to be left alone to make a bumper harvest, SANTOS gave it to them. It was plan Colombia that ultimately brought them to the negotiating table. Santos that gave them a dream ticket and denied the people their justice. The corrupt deal was even rejected clearly by the people despite the massive pressure by those in power and spending the public's money.

Miguel said...

Unfortunately, a very imperfect deal may be much better than no deal at all.