BEN SERCOMBE, Contributor
Last Thursday, Sanho Tree, the director of the Drug Policy Project for Institute for Policy Studies, presented at Richardson Auditorium about the failed global war on drugs. Tree mainly talked about his study of United States coca eradication efforts in Colombia. He described the economic, social and health effects fumigation has had on rural farmers throughout Colombia and how these practices have had virtually no effect on U.S. consumption of cocaine.
Enforcement and supply-side eradication techniques, Tree added, have increased the value and profit of the drug trade. For instance, a kilo of pure cocaine made in Colombia costs the supplier $2,500. Due to the added risks of being caught, arrested or killed in the process of transportation and production, the price of that same kilo is escalated to $250,000 once it reaches the U.S. The billions of dollars the U.S. tax-payers have pumped into supply-side drug enforcement strategies have only made the business more profitable and, therefore, more attractive to criminal organizations.
With higher profit margins, drug cartels can easily compensate for destroyed or confiscated product. They can also offer farmers a pay increase for cultivating coca, creating a larger incentive on the supply side. This is why, despite twelve years of intervention and $8 billion in aid, Colombia still provides 95 percent of the cocaine consumed in the U.S.
Fumigation also causes severe environmental and health side effects for impoverished farmers in the Colombian country side. Planes flying at high altitudes over supposed coca farms indiscriminately spray coca, legitimate crops, water sources, livestock and people alike. On top of possibly losing their crop yield due to sloppy fumigation, rural farmers must compete in the global market against highly subsidized U.S. agricultural products. With hefty pay salaries from drug-lords, we can see why many farmers turn to growing coca as a means to sustain themselves.
The solution, Tree concluded, is introducing legalization into our government’s vocabulary. Drug prohibitionism is similar to early U.S. alcohol prohibitionism in that it has escalated violence, incarceration rates and has created a highly lucrative market for criminals.
It is time that we as a nation and global community realize that our war on drugs has done literally nothing to curb consumption rates of illegal drugs (which are by-and-large up 10 percent since 1990), and start looking at proven effective models of addressing this problem. Countries such as Portugal and Holland have found that decriminalization and legalization with increased funding towards drug treatment facilities have phenomenally lowered domestic consumption rates.
With nation-wide marijuana legalization approval ratings at 51 percent, the US must account for the opinion of its citizens and drop its failed method of reducing domestic drug use. Next year, this may become a closer reality when states like Colorado and Washington vote whether or not to legalize marijuana.