Pubdate: Sat, 09 Sep 2000
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2000 Southam Inc.
Contact:  300 - 1450 Don Mills Road, Don Mills, Ontario M3B 3R5
Fax: (416) 442-2209
Author: David Frum, National Post


Earlier this week, police announced the largest heroin bust in Canadian 
history. In two separate raids, one in Toronto and one in Vancouver, 
they intercepted 156 kilos of heroin worth almost $150-million on the 
street. I hope it does not traduce the courage and hard work of the 
police to wonder: What exactly have they accomplished?  

Daniel Moynihan, a U.S. Senator, likes to tell the following story 
about his experience commanding Richard Nixon's war on drugs.  

In August, 1969, he negotiated a complicated deal whereby India, Turkey 
and France all pledged for the first time to co-operate in stamping out 
poppy growing and heroin manufacture. "Shortly after my return I found 
myself in a helicopter with George P. Shultz heading from Camp David. I 
told him of my triumph.  

He looked up from his papers and nodded.  

No, I came back, this is really BIG. Same response.  

More than a little deflated, I pondered for a moment, and then 
suggested that what he was thinking was that as long as there is a 
demand there will be a supply. Whereupon that great statesman and 
sometime professor of economics at the University of Chicago looked up 
from his papers, smiled, and said, 'You know, there is hope for you 
yet.' "  

Here's what Shultz was driving at. The U.S. government estimates that 
the poppy fields already in cultivation produce enough opium paste to 
manufacture some 410 metric tons of heroin a year -- or more than 
37,000 kilos.  

World heroin consumption is estimated at a little less than half that 

In other words, the world's police forces would have to make more than 
three 156-kilo busts a day, every single day, with no time off for 
Sundays simply to blot up the world's excess heroin production.  

But of course busts on such a scale are unusual and difficult 
achievements. The biggest single heroin bust in recent years was scored 
by the Turks in 1998: It netted 480 kilos, or less than five days' 
worth of heroin production. And if such interceptions ever become more 
common, the world's heroin producers can easily increase their 
production. Heroin is an agricultural commodity and as any farmer can 
tell you, the normal condition of agricultural markets is glut.  

The surest sign that interdiction is failing to crimp supply is the 
steady decline in the real price of drugs.  

Retired general Barry McCaffrey, President Clinton's drug czar, told 
Congress last year that the average price of a gram of heroin on the 
street tumbled by nearly half between 1981 and 1998, from US$3,115 to 
US$1,800. And while that 1981 gram was typically only 19% pure, the 
1998 gram was 25% pure. Despite the 20-year war on drugs, supply is 
pulling farther and farther ahead of demand.  

And demand, after a welcome decline in the early 1990s, has once again 
begun to rise.  

Proponents of the drug-interdiction strategy often argue that minus 
police efforts to intercept drugs heading our way, the North American 
drug problem would be even worse than it is. Myself, I doubt that, and 
sometimes wonder whether drug-interception may not actually be 
aggravating the problem.  

The premise behind drug interdiction is this: Drug abuse is something 
that happens because foreigners are thrusting drugs upon us -- er, 
sorry, "our children." The pushers are the villains, "our children" are 
the victims.  

As victims, "our children" require help and protection. We offer them 
drug treatment programs to recover from the addiction into which they 
have been led, but we also try to smooth their way back into society -- 
by, for example, defining drug addiction as a disability against which 
employers and landlords may not discriminate.  

But there's another way of looking at this story.  

Maybe the foreigners aren't such villains and "our children" aren't 
such victims.  

As dreadful as the harm done to us by drugs may be, the harm done to 
countries like Colombia and Mexico is far worse.  

North American drug users have thrust hundreds of billions of dollars 
into the hands of the most evil and violent people in those countries, 
and they have used that wealth to create vast criminal kingdoms that 
corrupt justice and overwhelm lawful authority.  

From the point of view of people in those countries, the drug problem 
is as much one of our money invading them as of their drugs invading 

Our money will continue to invade them so long as our people continue 
to use drugs on the scale they do. Drugs will cease to be a problem 
only when our people cease to buy them.  

How can we persuade them to do that? Locking them up is, of course, one 
possibility. But something like 15 million North Americans use illicit 
drugs in the course of a year. Only a police state could arrest them 
all -- and with a year in jail costing upwards of $25,000 not even a 
police state could afford to. We could, as the Americans do, arrest the 
more flagrant users; people caught with unusually large amounts of 
drugs or people who sell drugs to other users.  

But that policy gives the green light to the vast majority who use 
drugs only occasionally.  

What, however, if we jettisoned the idea of drug user as victim 
altogether? What if we treated him as a rational person capable of 
making a choice -- and encouraged him to understand the frightening 
(but non-criminal) consequences of his choice?  

We would then experiment with measures like these: denying drug 
addiction its status as a disability, freeing landlords to evict drug-
users and employers to fire them; testing public employees for drug use 
and firing them if they fail; testing recipients of welfare and Indian 
Affairs money for drug use and cutting them off if they fail.  

Here's one final thought, the most radical of all: Instead of the 
government trying to lure drug users into free treatment programs, 
perhaps it ought to consider offering such programs only to those 
willing to pay for them, either in cash or with labour.  

The point would be to send potential users a message: If you get 
yourself addicted, it is going to be your problem.  

Be warned.  

For until our people take the warning, our police can stack the kilos 
of heroin five yards high at their triumphant press conferences -- the 
drug problem will get no better.  
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MAP posted-by: John Chase