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August 2006
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Another must-read article

The U.S. drug prohibitionists are now reeling from a 1-2-3 punch.
1. We start the salvo by hitting the DEA in the Washington Post and elsewhere by tying prohibition with failure and a profitable black market.
2. Afghan opium hits record levels and the drug warriors have no answer.
3. Now there’s Colombia’s Coca Survives U.S. Plan to Uproot It by Juan Forero in the New York Times. Powerful.

The latest chapter in America’s long war on drugs — a six-year, $4.7 billion effort to slash Colombia’s coca crop — has left the price, quality and availability of cocaine on American streets virtually unchanged.
The effort, begun in 2000 and known as Plan Colombia, had a specific goal of halving this country’s coca crop in five years. That has not happened. Instead, drug policy experts say, coca, the essential ingredient for cocaine, has been redistributed to smaller and harder-to-reach plots, adding to the cost and difficulty of the drug war. […]
* As much coca is cultivated today in Colombia as was grown at the start of the large-scale aerial fumigation effort in 2000, according to State Department figures.
* Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, the leading sources of coca and cocaine, produce more than enough cocaine to satisfy world demand, and possibly as much as in the mid-1990’s, the United Nations says.
* In the United States, the government’s tracking over the past quarter century shows that the price of cocaine has tumbled and that purity remains high, signs that the drug is as available as ever. […]
The lingering question is whether America’s drug problem would be worse today had the drug war, nearly 40 years in the making, never been waged. That may be unanswerable.
What is clear is that the war on drugs, the original open-ended war against an elusive and ill-defined enemy, has moved inexorably onward, propelled by decades of mostly unflagging political support on both sides of the Congressional aisle.
Jon Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University, echoing other analysts, estimates that the drug war has cost American taxpayers upward of $40 billion annually in recent years, though there is no comprehensive government tally of all its state and federal spending. […]
“The spray program has itself increased the difficulty of carrying out the spray program,” said John Walsh, who tracks American drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America, a nonprofit research and human rights group. “And as a result it becomes less efficient and it becomes more costly to accomplish the same thing.”
“The bang for the buck that people are expecting hasn’t materialized,” he added.

This is a major article in the Times and has to be demoralizing to the drug warriors.
And did you notice? The question was asked.
It was fleeting and in passing and wasn’t discussed, but it was asked.

The lingering question is whether America’s drug problem would be worse today had the drug war, nearly 40 years in the making, never been waged. That may be unanswerable.

Several years ago, a paragraph like that in a major media outlet would be unthinkable. Actually questioning whether the entire decades long drug war, with all the costs in dollars and lives, may have been… for nothing!
Not just in balance, but in its totality.
And the unspoken implication of that question is that if you can think that, what’s to stop you from wondering if the drug problem might have been less had the drug war never been waged?
This is big stuff. Who knows? Before long, this society might actually reach the point where it is acceptable to mention alternatives to the drug war.
Won’t that be something.
Update: This article in the New York Times was also published in dozens of other papers around the country at the same time, giving it some real visibility. And then UPI reported briefly on the topic with the headline of their article: Report: U.S. coca erradication has failed. Ouch. I can’t wait to see that one enlarged to poster size and presented on the floor of Congress the next time Colombian eradication funding comes up for a vote.

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