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November 20, 2006 - The Eagle (DC Edu)

Experts Say Drug War Policies Unsuccessful

By Marissa Newhall

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The United States' international policies regarding the War on Drugs are hurting the environment and spreading anti-American sentiment throughout Central and South America while doing little to reduce drug use in the U.S., according to a panelist of drug policy experts who spoke at the national Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference Saturday.

The panelists voiced doubt about both the U.S.'s eradication policy, which includes spraying an industrial herbicide on coca crops with crop-dusting planes, and alternative development, which gives farmers incentive to grow crops other than coca.

Coca leaves are used to make cocaine, but when unrefined are not a drug. The leaves have cultural and practical relevance, such as being chewed or made into tea to prevent altitude sickness in the Andes region.

"It's too early to talk about alternative development in areas where they've never had basic development," said Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies in D.C.

Tree spoke of his trips to Colombia and Bolivia and showed photographs of rural farmers whose non-narcotic crops have been destroyed by haphazard crop-dusting planes used by the United States.

According to Tree, the planes are supposed to fly low to prevent inadvertent spraying of people, livestock and non-coca crops, but since guerillas often shoot at the planes, pilots fly too high and create vapor clouds of toxic herbicide. Tree showed photos of a woman with an herbicide-induced rash, as well as of a farmer whose crops were destroyed four times - three after he stopped growing coca and erected signs asking planes not to spray his land.

"You always hear about 'narcoterror,' not about kids and family farms," Tree said. "We're alienating these people and making them angry."

Panelist Peter Reuter, a professor at the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, said anything done to eradicate coca overseas will only make cocaine more expensive in the United States. Reuter said he is "equally pessimistic" about alternative development because drug traffickers will always offer poor farmers more money for coca than other parties are willing to provide for other agricultural goods.

This means cocaine will still be available and coca farmers and drug dealers will simply become richer, Reuter said.

Tazewell Jones, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs who is an intern at SSDP and recently started an AU chapter of the organization, worked at the conference and said he agreed with the panelists' assertions.

"Our operations in Central America and South America aren't just destroying lives of farmers but also their livelihoods," Jones said. "[Drug] prohibition promotes ... violence and detrimental effects on our society."

SSDP is an international organization that mobilizes students to oppose unjust policies associated with the War on Drugs, according to its Web site, The conference took place Thursday through Sunday at the Georgetown University Law Center.

AU's SSDP chapter hopes to bring issues from the conference to campus in the coming months, including a speaker from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former law enforcement officials that support drug regulation, Jones said. The group also hopes to show a screening of the documentary "Busted," which helps people understand their constitutional rights regarding police searches, according to Jones.

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