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April 14, 2005 - Valley Morning Star (TX)

Editorial: Nothing To Show For Cocaine War

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

British historian Thomas Carlyle once wrote, "Teach a parrot the terms 'supply and demand' and you've got an economist." That attitude might be too dismissive of what drives economies. But it's the attitude that keeps the international war on drugs chugging along, destroying at least as many lives as the drugs themselves.

The law of supply and demand is routinely ignored as developed nations co-opt undeveloped and underdeveloped nations by offering them aid in exchange for attacking drugs at their sources. Such is the case in Colombia, where President Alvaro Uribe announced recently that his government would continue with U.S.-backed and funded aerial spraying of coca crops, despite data from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy showing that last year's spraying was ineffective -- Colombia had roughly the same number of acres planted with coca as it did the previous year.

Drug warriors point out that the result is not for their lack of effort: 337,427 acres were sprayed, but the growers replanted almost before the planes had disappeared.

Not to be deterred, Uribe announced, "Our will is to continue seizing the drugs and to continue with the fumigation."

What have Americans gotten for the $3 billion we've given Colombia since 2000 to help stop cocaine at its source? U.S. street prices for the white powder are as low as they've ever been and, at the risk of sounding like Carlyle's parrot, it's because there is plenty of supply to meet the demand. Despite last year's fumigation efforts, Colombia still had the potential to produce 430 metric tons of cocaine. That doesn't sound like a successful eradication program to us.

Part of the reason for the drug war's failure is that many Americans don't think it's the government's business what they choose to ingest, provided they don't hurt others by doing so. But the feds didn't learn anything from alcohol Prohibition during the 20th century -- and they don't seem to be learning anything from the current drug prohibition.

Our jails are full as a result of the drug war. Granted, few felons are locked up solely on possession charges; many also have been convicted of property crimes committed to support a drug habit.

But part of that situation can be laid at the feet of officials who refuse to acknowledge that prohibiting drugs doesn't make them unattainable, only more expensive. And higher prices attract criminal elements drawn by big profits.

The way to get rid of the criminals is to get rid of the prohibition that makes it a high risk/high profit industry. When Prohibition ended in 1933, gangsters had to find other ways to line their pockets -- manufacturing and smuggling liquor was no longer profitable enough and was overtaken by legitimate business people.

Insanity has been described as doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results each time. ONDCP's David Murray noted recently in an interview with the Associated Press, "What you have now is hard-core cultivators ... who are faced with extinction of their business, and what they are doing is they're staying put and replanting as rapidly as they can, and we're coming back and hitting them with eradication."

It's easy to understand the position of the farmers; they tend to be poor peasants trying to eke out a living. But we expect more from officials in Washington, who have several options from which to choose, yet continue to chose the one that has been a demonstrated failure.

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