Pubdate: Sat, 1 Sep 2005
Source: Foreign Policy (US)
Issue: September/October 2005
Copyright: 2005 Foreign Policy
Author: Peter Schwartz
Note: Peter Schwartz is chairman of the Global Business Network, a 
Monitor Group Company.


The war on drugs will soon be over. It won't have been won or lost,
and we certainly won't have wiped out illicit drug use. People will
still pursue their personal pleasures and uncontrollable addictions.
No, the war on drugs will end because drugs as we know them today will
be gone.

The model drug of the future is already here in the form of crystal
methamphetamine, a drug that is sweeping the United States and making
inroads abroad. It's cheap and easy to make--little more than Sudafed
doctored up with plant fertilizer. One hundred percent of the profit
goes to the manufacturer; no intermediary or army of couriers is
required. Made of locally acquired materials in the garage or
basement, the drug's production is nearly impossible to stop. Only the
stupid and incompetent get caught.

Thirty-five years from now, the illicit professionals who remain in
the business will be custom drug designers catering to the wealthy.
Their concoctions will be fine-tuned to one's own body and neural
chemistry. In time, the most destructive side effects will be designed
out, perhaps even addiction itself. These custom drug dealers will
design the perfect chemical experience for those who can afford it.
The combination of cocaine with skiing, sex, or other intense physical
activities is common today; likewise for pot and making music. In the
future, there will be custom drugs for meals, golf, gardening, and
more. Like crystal meth today, some drugs will reach the point of home
manufacturing. And they will all be designed to make their use
invisible to others--no red eyes, nervous tics, or lethargy.

The shift to custom drugs that are locally produced will have some
positive effects. Opium fields in Afghanistan and coca plantations in
the mountains of Colombia will wither, creating new economic realities
for those countries. The loss of cash crops will sting at first, but
farmers and traders producing legal goods that are taxable and
transparent will ultimately facilitate the building of healthy
societies. Cocaine couriers won't sweat their way through customs, and
human mules will stop smuggling bags of heroin in their guts. Drug
lords will not need to launder billions of dollars or pay for private
armies, and street corners won't have drug dealers waging gunfights
for turf. The prison population in Western countries, and particularly
the United States, will shrink.

But as the violence of the drug trade dies down and as drugs become
safer, drug use will blossom. The boundary between legal performance
enhancement (Viagra) and the illegal drugs of pleasure and creativity
will blur. The political and social pressure against drug use will
remain, but it will increasingly resemble the campaigns against
performance-enhancing drugs for athletes. Widespread use will spark
debates about fairness and authenticity: Is a drug-using musician
better than one who composes and performs naturally? Is it fair for
only the wealthy to have the richest sexual or culinary

Just as the legal system is struggling with new realities of
intellectual property in a digital age, it will struggle to control
innovation in the chemistry of pleasure. We may even wistfully look
back at a time when there were smugglers to be chased and coca fields
to be burned. The bad guys were brutes, largely foreign or inner-city
hoodlums. The new drug sellers will be chemists, most likely caught on
tax-evasion charges. Users, too, will be harder to hate. They'll look
a lot like you and me.
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