Pubdate: Thu, 27 Dec 2007
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2007 Independent Media Institute
Author: Sanho Tree
Note: Sanho Tree is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in 
Washington, DC and directs its Drug Policy Project.


With every passing year the drug problem seems to get worse. The U.S.
government responds by pumping billions more dollars into the war on
drugs. Federal spending for this "war without end" is more than twenty
times what it was in 1980 and still the drug traffickers appear to be
winning. Despite more than six billion dollars spent on "Plan
Colombia" alone, cocaine production has actually increased in that
country. Now the Bush Administration is asking for $1.4 billion more
to aid the Mexican government's drug crackdown through the "Merida

Although it may seem counterintuitive, the "law and order" response by
our politicians only intensifies the problem. Instead, they might turn
to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to glean insight as to why
these "common sense" reactionary solutions often are

As illegal drugs become easier to obtain and more potent, politicians
respond in a knee-jerk manner by ramping up law enforcement. After
all, drugs are bad so why not escalate the war against drugs?
Politicians get to look tough in front of voters, the drug war
bureaucracy is delighted with ever expanding budgets, and lots of
low-level bad guys get locked up. Everyone wins - including,
unfortunately, the major drug traffickers.

As politicians intensified the drug war decade after decade, an
unintended consequence began to appear. These "get tough" policies
have caused the drug economy to evolve under Darwinian principles
(i.e., survival of the fittest). Indeed, the drug war has stimulated
this economy to grow and innovate at a frightening pace.

By escalating the drug war, the kinds of people the police typically
capture are the ones who are dumb enough to get caught. These criminal
networks are occasionally taken down when people within the
organization get careless. Thus, law enforcement tends to apprehend
the most inept and least efficient traffickers. The common street
expression puts it best: "the dealer who uses, loses." Conversely, the
kinds of people law enforcement tends to miss are the most cunning,
innovative and efficient traffickers.

It's as though we have had a decades-long unintended policy of
artificial selection. Just as public health professionals warn against
the overuse of antibiotics because it can lead to drug resistant
strains of bacteria, our overuse of law enforcement has thinned out
the trafficking herd so that the weak and inefficient traffickers get
captured or killed and only the most proficient dealers survive and
prosper. Indeed, U.S. drug war policies have selectively bred

Politicians cannot hope to win a war on drugs when their policies
ensure that only the most efficient trafficking networks survive. Not
only do they survive, but they thrive because law enforcement has
destroyed the competition for them by picking off the unfit
traffickers and letting the most evolved ones take over the lucrative
trafficking space. The destruction of the Medellin and Cali cartels,
for instance, only created a vacuum for hundreds of smaller (and more
efficient) operations. Now the police cannot even count the number of
smaller cartels that have taken over - much less try to infiltrate and
disrupt them.

Moreover, the police have constricted the supply of drugs on the
street while the demand remains constant thus driving up prices and
profits for the remaining dealers. Increasing drug interdiction
creates an unintended price support for drug dealers which, in turn,
lures more participants into the drug economy. Of all the laws that
Congress can pass or repeal, the law of supply and demand is
apparently not one of them.

A public health approach to dealing with illicit drugs should take
precedence over "law and order" approaches. Treatment and prevention
must take priority over interdiction and eradication because drugs are
a demand-driven problem. Politicians, however, continue to devote most
drug funding toward cutting the supply. The proposed aid package for
the notoriously corrupt Mexican drug war establishment would be better
spent on providing treatment for addicts in the United States. Over
reliance on politically expedient "get tough" policies will only
continue an endless spiral of drug trafficking evolution.
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