Colombia, the Germ of a Notion

In a Christian Science Monitor op-ed piece, Mark L. Schneider of the International Crisis Group examines the results of America's crackdown on cocaine cultivation in Colombia:

When Plan Colombia (the multibillion dollar US assistance program targeted at curbing drug smuggling and supporting Colombia against armed guerrillas) started, coca was cultivated in 12 of Colombia's 34 provinces. Today it is grown in 23 of those provinces.

In 2006, after five years of Plan Colombia, four years of the regional Andean Counterdrug Initiative, and after spending $5.5 billion, some 1,000 metric tons of cocaine were produced between Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. That's about the same amount that was produced in 2002 when President Álvaro Uribe took office.

The head of the White House Office of Narcotics and Drug Control Program, John Walters, admitted at a press conference in Haiti recently that last year that cocaine production had risen to 1,400 metric tons in 2007—a whopping 40 percent hike....

In 2002, just under 9 percent of the US population from 12 to 25 years of age admitted to using cocaine the previous year. In 2006, the same percentage said they snorted cocaine.

U.S. officials nevertheless hold up Colombia as "a good model" for Afghanistan to emulate, which helps explain why opium suppression there is going as well as it is.

[Thanks to Paul Rako for the tip.]

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • emmajane||

    Great headline.

  • ||

    The absurdity of the drug war is astounding. For better or worse, this country has a multi-billion dollar drug habbit. No amount of law enforcement is going to stop it. We have been throwing people in jail for decades now and it still goes on. As it is, the billions that are made from the drug trade go to people like the FARC. If we just legalized the stuff we could give licenses to big pharmaceutical companies and those billions would go to them rather than the FARC. Since recreational drugs are cheap to produce and do not require any research, they would just be cash machines for big pharm. That money would then subsidize medical research. But no we wouldn't want that. Lets keep it illegal and give it all to the FARC.

  • dhex||

    well, we can't have narco death squads holding bake sales, can we?

    that would simply not do.

  • ||

    The solution to failed policies is more of the same. Clearly, the only reason the prior policies failed is because we weren't trying hard enough. There's no other reason.

  • ||

    Have you ever been to a Chuck E. Cheese's and noticed that autistic child who just can't tear himself away from the Whack-a-Mole game?

    He grew up and got a job at ONDCP.

  • ||

    "We will not rest until the right of every individual to sell crack cocaine from vending machines in kindergarten classrooms is secure!"

    - Anti-Barr Delegate

  • ||

    I personally am very interested in Scott McKlellans take on this.

  • TallDave||

    It's odd that it goes virtually unmentioned that U.S. drug laws have created and maintained Colombia's civil war.

  • ||

    If they want my coke they'll have to pry it from my cold, dead nose.

  • TallDave||

    John,

    Big pharm wouldn't touch them, because (ironically) they wouldn't be profitable enough if legal as they can't be patented.

  • BakedPenguin||

    John - I doubt it would be worth it for Big Rx to synthesize coke, especially considering the price drop if the stuff were legal.

    However, we'd gain the ability to domestically grow some crops that could be grown here (opium, marijuana). The outflow of drug dollars - whether to the "terrorists" or whomever - would slow or stop. This, in turn, would prop up the dollar, since it would lead to a huge change in the balance of payments.

    With the increase in the price of the dollar, oil would become cheaper. Therefore, I submit that we should legalize drugs for cheaper oil.

    /tongue-in-cheek

  • ||

    Big pharma could do designer recipes of blow. Maybe some time released stuff. Or some different flavors.
    It being cooked from several ingredients, I would think there is much room for patentable recipes.

  • ||

    Not to mention K-Y and Astroglide maybe wanting to put a little tingle or zing into their products.

    I can invision many reasons for big pharma to want it legal.

  • Episiarch||

    Big Pharma would release it the same way they do aspirin (which is unpatentable). They would do it because there is a huge market for it and even with low margin it's still a huge profit. If what you said about patentable was correct, nobody would produce aspirin, or witch hazel, or rubbing alcohol.

  • ||

    "John,

    Big pharm wouldn't touch them, because (ironically) they wouldn't be profitable enough if legal as they can't be patented"

    Epi beat me to it. You could also give out just a few licenses to keep the price high enough and the profits up. No one is going to buy from a dealer that may or may not be any good or may or may not be safe, when they can buy the federally sanctioned stuff that is subject to quality control. Frankly, I don't think we owe drug users cheap drugs. I wouldn't care if they taxed it and regulated it enough to keep the prices up. There is a limit to that because if you get the prices too high a black market develops. But you could definitely keep the prices at some artificially higher price. Regardless, people like the FARC would no longer be making money off of it.

  • ||

    "In 2006, after five years of Plan Colombia, four years of the regional Andean Counterdrug Initiative, and after spending $5.5 billion, some 1,000 metric tons of cocaine were produced between Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. That's about the same amount that was produced in 2002 when President Álvaro Uribe took office."

    But when you adjust for inflation, production is way down, right?

  • ||

    wtf, if we were making commerical marijuana or opium we could sell it to the middle east for oil.

  • lunchstealer||

    The head of the White House Office of Narcotics and Drug Control Program, John Walters

    Isn't the ONDCP the "Office for National Drug Control Policy"? CSM needs better researchers.

  • ||

    With the increase in the price of the dollar, oil would become cheaper. Therefore, I submit that we should legalize drugs for cheaper oil.

    An alternative theory is that legalized drugs, potentially leading to increased use, will keep more people from vacationing, since the pleasure obtained from using drugs will offset the pleasure from vacationing, and the cost differential will favor recreational drug use.

    Again...solving the oil "crisis".

  • ||

    Nine percent in 02?

    That sounds surprisingly high. I guess I've just been lucky to encounter very few cokeheads in my life.

    -jcr

  • Tsu Dho Nihm||

    Ah, the good ol' Drug War!

    How wonderful it is that we can take products with consistent demand and spend billions of dollars in an effort to limit supply! Of course that effor always fails miserably becuase the demand is so consistent that people are willing to do what it takes to meet that demand (especially when the attempts to limit supply artificially inflates the low cost of the product, resulting in extra-large profit margins for the successful businessman).

  • ||

    Give me one industry which can stay in business even when it loses half of its product enroute to market.

    /The war on some drugs is making money for the right people, DEA, CIA, corrupt government officials, etc.

    //it will never end.

  • duster||

    jcr,

    There's a difference between having used coke in the last year and being a cokehead. Your statement just bolsters the fact that most cocaine users aren't cokeheads.

  • Chuck||

    jcr--

    you've probably encountered a lot more than you think you have. Many people who do coke recreationally are successful professionals, who manage their lives very well, and simply keep their use under control and under the table. If I were a coke user, I certainly wouldn't let anyone outside of a few trusted friends know.

  • Elemenope||

    It's odd that it goes virtually unmentioned that U.S. drug laws have created and maintained Colombia's civil war.

    Nah, it gets mentioned often enough. It's just that for most Americans, Colombia is outside the Monkeysphere.

  • ||

    U.S. officials nevertheless hold up Colombia as "a good model" for Afghanistan to emulate, which helps explain why opium suppression there is going as well as it is.


    Bob Barr thinks it's a good model for stemming drug flow and helping with anti-us sentiment so it must be true, right?

    Interestingly enough the article No Way to Treat a Friend has been removed from his official site in the last 48 hours but the Google Cache of it is still there as are all the "reprints" in places like The American Conservative.

    From the June 9, 2007 article:

    As the world's largest producer by far of cocaine, Colombia occupies a pivotal position in the U.S. effort to stem the tide of illicit drug trafficking in our country.
    ...
    Recognizing Colombia's essential role in our country's campaign against illicit trafficking in cocaine, the Bush administration and prior Congresses have responded to Mr. Uribe's efforts by funding "Plan Colombia" to the tune over its seven-year lifespan of more than $5.0 billion. While critics interpret the fact that Colombian-processed cocaine stills arrives in our country as evidence Plan Colombia should be defunded or dramatically reduced, in reality this support for Colombia's efforts will continue as an essential component of our anti-drug program. If Congress truly wants the plan work better, the solution would be not to dry up funding but to provide more flexibility for its implementation.
    ...
    A Uribe administration strengthened by renewed American anti-drug assistance and a Free Trade Agreement-the other key component of U.S.-Colombian shared interests sought by Mr. Uribe-will not likely result in a complete turnaround of regional anti-American actions and sentiment. But it definitely would stanch the bleeding. These days that would constitute a major victory.


    In other words, it may not be working but it's still a great thing and should not only be continued but increased. This article BTW is from six months AFTER Barr joined the LP and twelve months BEFORE receiving the LP nom.

  • ||

    If I were a coke user, I certainly wouldn't let anyone outside of a few trusted friends know.

    IF eh? Riiiight. Please wait for knock at your door. And by knock I mean, we will kick that shit down and come in guns blazing.

  • ||

    "It's odd that it goes virtually unmentioned that U.S. drug laws have created and maintained Colombia's civil war."

    Not created, but maintained and escalated for sure. Colombia has a legitimate concern in eliminating the Farc, but can only get US support under the guise of a "drug war".

    Otherwise, I see no reason they shouldn't decriminalize coca in their own country - why does everyone have to follow US laws?

  • George Bush||

    ...why does everyone have to follow US laws?

    Because we're better than everyone else, dummy. You must be a foreigner.

  • ||

    The drug war isn't going away. It is the only boogeyman they have left. /sarcasm> Them queers is get'in equal rights. Can't hang niggers or cook jews anymore. Dese drug fueled hippies are all we righteous folk have left that we are alllowed to hate. /sarcasm>.

    Plus there is just way too much money to be made from the criminal industrial complex. There is a private prison (read: concentration camps for poor people) here pays a good number of taxes. No one wants this cash cow to go away.

  • ||

    troy,

    you have forgot one thing my friend. There are more of them terristical islams than all the others combined. That's enough boogey-man to go round for a long long time.

  • Chuck||

    The drug war is big business. Total spending is what, about $60 billion per year? That would put it in the top 40 of the Fortune 500, which means there are probably well over 100,000 jobs at this point depending on keeping it going. Like any other large corporation, it has gotten Too Big To Fail.

    And val, thanks for the tip-off! The emergency flushing system is all ready to go...

  • ||

    Not to mention K-Y and Astroglide maybe wanting to put a little tingle or zing into their products.

    Cocaine is a topical anesthetic so I'm not sure making it numb would be good for sales.

  • charlie||

    Good thing we have a principled libertarian we can vote for in November who opposes this sort of nonsense.

    Oh... right:
    "Recognizing Colombia's essential role in our country's campaign against illicit trafficking in cocaine, the Bush administration and prior Congresses have responded to Mr. Uribe's efforts by funding "Plan Colombia" to the tune over its seven-year lifespan of more than $5.0 billion. While critics interpret the fact that Colombian-processed cocaine stills arrives in our country as evidence Plan Colombia should be defunded or dramatically reduced, in reality this support for Colombia's efforts will continue as an essential component of our anti-drug program. If Congress truly wants the plan work better, the solution would be not to dry up funding but to provide more flexibility for its implementation."
    -- Bob Barr, 6/9/07, "No Way to Treat a Friend"

    But remember -- only kiddie-porn loving nut jobs could object to Barr becoming the public face of libertarianism.

  • ||

    Bob Barr's nomination is a disgrace.

  • LarryA||

    It's odd that it goes virtually unmentioned that U.S. drug laws have created and maintained Colombia's civil war.

    And the one in the U.S.

    Give me one industry which can stay in business even when it loses half of its product enroute to market.

    Politics, reality shows, beauty contests...

  • ||

    The operation has been a success for two reasons:

    1. It allowed a lot of congress critters to tell their voters they did something about drugs.

    2. It took the sort of person who would participate in such a program and got them out of the country for a few years.

  • han||

    A more interesting question, one that Schweich never asks: Why is Afghanistan a narco-state?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement