Pubdate: Fri, 28 Apr 2000
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Page: A19
Contact:  200 Liberty Street, New York, NY 10281
Fax: (212) 416-2658
Author: Kevin B. Zeese
Note: (from the WSJ) Mr. Zeese is president of Common Sense for Drug 
Policy, based in Falls Church, Va.
Also: A biographical sketch of Mr. Zeese is at:
Cited: CSDP:


No Interdiction Program Has Had Any Serious Impact On The Supply Of Illegal 
Drugs In The U.S. Rather, These Campaigns Have Spurred New Source 
Countries, New Trafficking Routes And New Drugs.

Current congressional consideration of a $1.7 billion military aid program 
for Colombia is the most recent escalation of the U.S. government's war on 
drugs with a total federal budget of over $250 billion since 1980. Each 
administration has fought the drug war aggressively, using the military, 
spraying herbicides, extraditing leaders of cartels, providing intelligence 
and other assistance to the military and police forces of the Americas.

The results have been dismal. The street price of both cocaine and heroin 
has dropped to one fourth what it was in 1981 while the potency has 
increased dramatically. Drugs arriving from Colombia today are practically 
pharmaceutical grade, and they've never been easier to get. According to a 
government survey 35% of high school seniors now say heroin is readily 
available a proportion that has doubled in two decades.

A policy failure this spectacular would normally call for rolling heads or 
at the very least a congressional hearing. But instead of questioning a 
course that is steering us onto the rocks, we're about to push the 
throttles to flank speed. No eradication or interdiction program in the 
past 35 years has had any serious impact on the supply of illegal drugs in 
the U.S. Rather than cutting off the supply, these campaigns have 
consistently spurred new source countries, new trafficking routes and new 
drugs. Yet the White House and Congress are assembling a military aid 
package for Colombia that ignores this history.

Among the many examples of the law of unintended consequences are several 
disasters that illuminate the problem. In the early 1980s South Florida was 
the entry point for Colombian marijuana, and the Reagan administration 
moved marijuana interdiction to top priority. For the first time in history 
the Department of Defense was drafted for drug war duty, complete with 
troops and high tech resources.

The Colombian traffickers responded almost overnight. Since marijuana is 
bulky and easily seized, they needed something more compact. And since 
smuggling was now more dangerous, they needed to up the profit margin. 
Cocaine was the obvious choice almost as easy to produce, much more 
profitable, and compact enough to be hidden in the normal stream of 
commerce. Thus, the cocaine explosion of the 1980s which also brought us 
crack can be viewed as a direct consequence of drug enforcement efforts 
directed at the marijuana supply.

This lesson should have been obvious from catastrophic experience with a 
previous interdiction campaign. In 1969 the Nixon administration virtually 
shut down the Mexican border in an effort to stem the tide of marijuana and 
heroin. U.S. Customs was ordered to search one out of every three vehicles 
entering the U.S. The backups stretched for miles, Mexico was outraged, and 
the policy was soon shelved.

But the brief disruption of normal drug traffic lasted long enough to spur 
fundamental changes in the dynamics of drug trafficking and use. There are 
indications that prescription drug use filled the temporary void. Seizure 
reports demonstrate that traffickers adapted to the land blockade by 
switching to boats and planes. And Asian drug lords saw an opportunity to 
expand their heroin markets. Thus the end result was increased use of 
prescription drugs, expanded supplies of "China White" and the development 
of sea and air routes by the Mexican cartels. The rapid escalation of drug 
use in the 1970s can be directly connected to this effort.

It's not only interdiction efforts that have backfired. Eradication 
programs have an even worse track record. When President Carter decided to 
nip marijuana and heroin supplies in the bud by spraying herbicides in 
Mexico in 1977, the Mexicans simply shipped the stuff anyway. Health, 
Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano announced that contaminated 
marijuana showing up in the U.S. posed a significant health risk. American 
pot smokers responded. Instead of throwing the seeds away, they planted 
them, and with typical Yankee know how they refined the humble weed into a 
potent plant that made the Mexican stuff look like dandelions. The National 
Drug Intelligence Center now reports marijuana is cultivated in every state 
in the union.

In the unlikely event that the Colombian campaign has any impact on the 
cocaine trade, it could trigger an even more dangerous backlash. 
Methamphetamine, far more dangerous, is a less expensive, domestically 
produced substitute that can be manufactured in a motel room. Another 
likely impact is increased coca production in other countries. Peru reports 
that the price of raw coca has tripled and new coca cultivation expanded by 
3,700 acres in 1999.

Since the problem we face today can be traced in large part to our 
misguided enforcement campaigns, a rational person might ask why we are 
about to commit once again to a program that is probably doomed at the 
outset and almost certain to make everything worse. One might also ask why 
we are ignoring the mountains of data that show us a better way.

The White House says there are five million serious U.S. users who need 
treatment. It is this group addicts who have to get drugs several times a 
day that drives the narcotics market. Studies by the RAND Corp. tell us 
that treatment is 10 times as cost effective as interdiction, yet U.S. 
treatment facilities have room for only 43% of these hard core addicts.

The government could also be a lot more effective in preventing drug abuse 
in the first place. The best prevention programs for American youth are 
after school and alternative activity programs. The U.S. spends $600 
million on after school programs, and they help kids "just say no" by 
giving them something to say "yes" to. If there is a decision to be made 
between spending more resources on eradication and interdiction or on youth 
programs, the latter should be chosen. It has proved to be far more effective.

These simple steps involve no military hardware, but they could have a 
major impact on the drug market. For anyone who cares to look, the evidence 
is unequivocal. Focusing on demand reduction at home is the most effective 
way to undermine the Colombian drug markets. Military intervention cannot 
repeal the laws of supply and demand.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake