HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html U.S. Cocaine Prices Drop Despite
Pubdate: Thu, 26 Apr 2007
Source: International Herald-Tribune (International)
Copyright: International Herald Tribune 2007
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


BOGOTA, Colombia: The street price of cocaine fell in the United 
States last year as purity rose, the White House drug czar said in a 
private letter to a key senator, indicating increasing supply and 
seemingly contradicting U.S. claims that US$4 billion (2.9 billion) 
in aid to Colombia is stemming the flow.

The drug czar, John Walters, wrote that retail cocaine prices fell by 
11 percent from February 2005 to October 2006, to about US$135 (99) 
per gram of pure cocaine. That's way below the US$600 a gram pure 
cocaine fetched in 1981, when the U.S. government began collecting 
data, and near the level it has been at since the early 1990s.

During the same period, analysis of data collected by the U.S. Drug 
Enforcement Administration showed that after a drop in 2005, levels 
of purity "have trended somewhat toward former levels," Walters said.

Price and purity estimates are a key barometer of cocaine 
availability. Dropping prices are an indication of robust supply or 
weakening demand, as is rising purity.

Walters made the disclosure in a January letter to Sen. Charles 
Grassley, the Republican co-chair of the Senate Caucus on 
International Narcotics Control. The Washington Office on Latin 
America, a lobby group, obtained the letter and made it available to 
The Associated Press.

Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the White House Office of National 
Drug Control Policy, told the AP that Walters would not comment on 
the letter, but Lemaitre described it as "an accurate reflection of 
our agency's thoughts on the issue."

Next Wednesday, President Alvaro Uribe is set to meet with U.S. 
President George W. Bush at the White House to discuss U.S. support 
for Plan Colombia, the anti-narcotics and counterinsurgent program 
that has cost American taxpayers more than US$4 billion (2.94 
billion) since 2000.

U.S. officials have insisted that Plan Colombia is reducing the 
quality and availability of cocaine on U.S. streets. Colombia 
supplies 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States.

But Grassley, in an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press, said 
the letter is "all the proof that anybody needs" that the White House 
drug office "has gotten quite good at spinning the numbers, but 
cooking the books doesn't help our efforts to curb cocaine and heroin 
production and consumption."

The numbers cited by Walters contradict upbeat appraisals made by 
U.S. officials as recently in March -- two months after Walters' letter.

Several household and school-based surveys show that America's 
cocaine consumption has barely budged since 2000, even as drug use in 
Europe, which also impacts supply, has soared.

Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, said despite the 
existence of the new estimates, senior U.S. Embassy officials 
provided him with older, more encouraging data during a March visit to Bogota.

"We've given this program a chance to work and clearly this is not 
producing the results we were promised," he said. "Cocaine is priced 
as low and purity is as high as it was before Plan Colombia began six 
years and $5 billion ago."

And despite a record fumigation of almost 550 square miles (1,425 
square kilometers) in 2005, there was 26 percent more land dedicated 
to production of the plant used to make cocaine. The 2006 estimates 
are to be released in May.

In November 2005, Walters announced that cocaine prices had risen by 
19 percent and purity had dropped by about the same. He touted the 
development as a sign that the United States had turned the corner in 
the drug war. Drug policy experts rejected his assertions at the 
time, and Grassley called for his dismissal.

Walters' latest letter to Grassley came in response to a request from 
the senator.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman