Pubdate: Fri, 01 Jul 2005
Source: Mirror, The (UK)
Copyright: 2005 The Mirror
Author: Stephen White


The illegal drugs business rakes in more money than 88% of the world's
countries. It brings untold deaths and misery to millions. If you were
burgled recently, drugs were probably the cause. Isn't it time
governments tried a new way of dealing with the problem

If your house was burgled last year... if your mobile phone was nicked
in the street... if you have bought a dodgy copy of a computer game or
DVD... then you have probably been sucked into one of the world's
biggest businesses - the drugs business.

World sales of illegal drugs in 2003 earned more than the gross
domestic product of 88 PER CENT of the world's nations.

The number of people using drugs rose 15 per cent - a total of 200
million people.

That figure may seem huge but it is just five per cent of the world
population - a small number compared to the 50 per cent who drink
alcohol and 30 per cent who smoke tobacco.

But drugs are an irresistible business. Their value at wholesale level
dwarfs all other agricultural commodities: $94 billion, compared to
$52 billion for meat, $40 billion for cereals, $17 billion for wine,
$6 billion for beer and $2.6 billion for tea.

The profit margins are immense. The United Nations estimates illegal
drugs are worth $12.8 billion to producers, $94 billion to the major
suppliers and an astonishing $321 billion to the dealers.

If you are enterprising enough, you can buy a kilo of cannabis in
Djibouti, East Africa, for $20, transport it to America and sell it
for $7,000. A nice little 3,500 per cent profit.

If you could be bothered to divide it into $10 bags, that $6,980
profit would rocket. Behind these astonishing figures, lies a
seemingly unstoppable scandal of greed, murder, crime, broken souls
and bloody human tragedy.

It is probably as big a scar on our world today as

And the UN's annual drugs report breaks down the world market for
narcotics in detail.

It is the first time the UN agency has made an estimate of the worth
of the world's illegal drug market, which it says is necessary to
understand the breadth of its influence and ability to destabilise

The report says: "Its 'companies' are not listed on the stock
exchange, they are not valued by any private accounting firm and the
dynamics of the drug industry are not regularly pored over by
analysts, economists and forecasters."

The bulk of the money - $214 billion - was made at the retail level:
drugs sold on the streets.

North America was the biggest buyer, and accounted for 44 percent of
all estimated sales, followed by Europe with 33 per cent. Africa was
in last place with just four per cent.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN department said: "This is not a
small enemy against which we struggle. It is a monster."

So can the answer be simply: "Just say no"?

Is it not time that governments realised it may be better to try a new
approach to drugs, rather than continue their fruitless 35-year
attempt to stamp them out?

Britain has given UKP 52 million to Afghanistan to fight opium
production - the war-torn country supplies around 90 per cent of
Europe's heroin.

According to the UN, production there has dropped - a victory of
sorts. They also hope production in the Golden Triangle - straddling
Myanmar, Laos and Thailand - may have been completely stopped by 2007.

Cocaine production has fallen in Bolivia. But, the UN says, production
in Peru and Columbia has simply expanded to fill the void.

For four decades the world has fought the drugs lords - but is it a
war that needs more than handouts and military intervention.

Pressure group Transform campaign for the legalisation of drugs under
government control. They liken the war against drugs to America's
13-year ban of alcohol during prohibition in the 1920s. The group say
almost half of all crime in the UK is linked to the drugs trade and
that half or even more of our prison population are behind bars
because of drug-related crime.

Transform's answer is radical and they accept it may not come about
for two decades: The legalising of drugs with government

They point to the  UKP 16 billion spent every year in the UK by the
government on combating drugs.

Spokesman Danny Kushlik told the Daily Mirror: "It's the same as the
prohibition of alcohol - 1920 to 1933 - which ended with the corruption
of the entire United States police force and the creation of the
American Mafia, but on a global scale

"What we have done with drugs prohibition dating back to 1961 is set
up this huge hundreds-of-billions-dollar business."

Mr Kushlik added: "It's very difficult for senior politicians like
Tony Blair and George Bush to get out of this now. They are having to
produce reports that show their own policies aren't working.

"You can have all sorts of schemes to try to control the drugs trade -
you can encourage Afghan farmers to grow apricots, you can make sure
that people with drug issues get into rehabilitation programmes - but
you cannot end it at source and that is the issue - how do you do this?

"You can end it by ending prohibition. That is a huge issue for the
whole world and it has to be addressed.

"Remember it is not the farmers or people working the fields that are
making the money. It is the drugs lords who are making the money and
they are the ones who want to keep making that money, and that money
is fuelling the fight against law enforcement."

Two years ago a UN policy meeting considered the 1961 convention that
ordered countries "to limit exclusively to medical and scientific
purposes the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of,
trade in, use and possession of drugs".

Forty-four years on, it remains the basic template for attempting to
control the world's drug trade. In its report the UN noted studies
from 95 countries that showed in the past eight years there had been
around 1.3million drug seizures every year worldwide.

Around the globe 161 million people - four per cent of the population
between the ages of 15 and 64 - used cannabis in 2003.

The year before, Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam called for the
legalisation of all drugs - including ecstasy, heroin and cocaine.

The head of the government's anti-drugs campaign - who admitted she
smoked cannabis as a student - said she would tax drugs and use the
revenue to help reduce addiction.

She added: "You'd have the money from tax, which if it were
ring-fenced for working with addicts whether cannabis, pills,
barbiturates, coke or heroin you'd have a chance of beating it.

"I think that is the most effective way because in the end I don't
think you could ever stop it.

"I don't think we can stop it, and there are a number of people in
other countries and police and social workers who agree with me."

Many people might disagree. Most politicians would regard such a plan
as electoral suicide.

Many are so scared they won't contemplate talking about

In Britain, demands for a Royal Commission on drugs have been
consistently turned down.

But can any government in the world put its hand on its heart and say
that the current policy on drugs is working? 
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