Tell U.S. Drug Warriors To Go Home

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That's what Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, is recommending that Latin American countries do in a remarkably sensible article in the current issue of Foreign Policy. He writes,

"Leaders in the region should call the war on drugs what it is?a failure and a farce?and politely tell Washington that Latin America will no longer contribute to a callous, misguided effort that undermines the region?s economic prospects and social cohesion."

Nadelmann also suggests that Latin American countries "[r]estore coca's good name." Coca was traded and used for centuries and Nadelmann is correct that there "would surely be substantial worldwide demand today for coca-based products such lozenges, gums, teas, and tonics were it not for the current restrictions, and lifting them would provide a much-needed boost to economic development in both Bolivia and Peru."

He's right, companies like Celestial Seasonings could make a mint selling things like coca tea. When I was in Bolovia in the mid-1990s for a free-market conference, pre-packaged coca tea with flow-through tea bags was sold in grocery stores. It tasted slightly sweet and had no more effect than caffeine as far as I could tell. I thought about bringing some back, but realized that coming through Miami customs after only 3 days in Bolivia would appear "suspicious." I was right–my luggage was thoroughly searched for the first and only time in my international travels.

Anyway, how does the U.S. get away with telling other countries that they can't grow and sell recreational drugs to develop their economies? After all, the U.S. was founded on the export of tobacco.

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  1. Not to mention that if South American nations do withdraw from the drug war the US government will probably call them a rogue state and supporter of terrorism. Not only will they lose a bunch of aid, they’ll probably see US companies and citizens barred from doing business with them.

  2. Since the current drug war tactics are a failure, any alternative is ligitimately coherent. In essence, any new strategy is worth trying then maintaining the status quo. Models of harm reduction are taking place in a few European and Canadian cities. It is certainly worth watching these programs, determine cost/benefit, and applying to the US if net results are even the slightest improvement over current programs.

    Nadelmann may not have the right answer at this point, but who does? Maintaining the current system will not only continue to fill US prisons and cost taypayers more and more, but also may lead to new terrorist campaigns against the US. Frankly, how long would anyone in the US sit by as roundup is sprayed indiscriminately overhead before they are willing to take matters into their own hands?

  3. A good place to follow drug war events in latin and south america is http://www.narconews.com — just skip the stuff where they defend idiots like Hugo Chavez and its a good site…

  4. It’s always amused me that the first commercially viable activity done in what was to become the United States consisted of growing and exporting a mood altering substance (aka drug!) namely tobacco.

    (And the colonies in the carribbean were focused on producing two other questionable substances – sugar and rum).

    Actually, thoughout history most trade between societies has involved luxuries like drugs, spices, silk, etc., etc., rather than supposed necessities. Probably some interesting insight to be found in that, but not by me at the moment.

  5. dude,
    Good point. Are drugs the new world’s contribution to the spice trade?

  6. “Actually, thoughout history most trade between societies has involved luxuries like drugs, spices, silk, etc., etc., rather than supposed necessities. Probably some interesting insight to be found in that, but not by me at the moment.”

    When pack animals are the choke point in your distribution system, as was the case until very recently in historic terms, trade over any distance inevitably involves relatively small, light, valuable items that can you can actually turn a profit on in small quantities. These tend to be luxury goods. You’re a Venetian merchant in Persia with a dozen mules – are you going to haul wheat or silk rugs back to Venice?

    Necessities tend to be heavy, bulky, hard to ship commodities, that the folks back home already have anyway. Until very recently, it made much more sense to try to grow grains, fruits etc. on-site, and to import them as seeds rather than finished products.

  7. If the U.S. government is really serious about eradicating the cocaine trade, there is a quasi-market based solution. They simply go directly to the Colombian farmers and buy 100% of their coca crop for 30% more than the drug cartels are currently paying, take direct delivery of all the coca produced in Colombia, and destroy it. The farmers are happy, the cartels get put out of business (literally), the cocaine never gets manufactured, and the total cost to the U.S. taxpayer is only a fraction of what is being paid now for pointless “interdiction” efforts.

    The problem is: this doesn’t address the real agendas at work here, as pointed out in the foregoing posts. No more money for the “drug warriors,” no graft for Colombian politicians and police, and no public relations value for the mighty Drug Czar conquering the dreaded drug lords.

  8. Paul-

    The drug dealers will cheat. They’ll double production, moving some of it into the open and keeping the rest hidden as it is currently. They’ll laugh all the way to the bank as they get double the business.

    Nice wish, though.

  9. Actually, you don’t need to have a coherent alternative in order to argue against the status quo.

    The classic example of this is with alcohol prohibition. There were anti-prohobitionists all over the map, with some in favor of complete legalization while others were in favor of various restrictions. We ended up with a variety of post-prohibition policies in the different states. Some, like Nevada, are pretty much anything goes. Some, like Pennsylvania, handle liquor sales in government-run stores. Some counties and even states were/are dry to a lesser or greater extent.

    The contemporary example of being against something without agreeing on what replaces it is the sentiment in my state, California, for throwing Gray Davis out on his ass.

  10. I just realized that you suggested going directly to the farmers, not the dealers. First, the dealers can always up their bids, so the US will find itself in a price war with drug dealers. Their clients are addicted and often affluent (powder cocaine isn’t cheap. I know a banker who used to be addicted), so demand is inelastic. They can pay the farmers more and pass on the costs to the consumer without a significant drop in profits, at least for a while.

    They can also buy or seize their own land and use that to grow coca. Or they can simply kill any coca farmer who sells to the US.

    In a battle between the drug lords and the people who gave us Amtrak, my bet is on the drug lords.

  11. Dean already responded to “dude” but let me make another attempt.

    When you go on vacation do you bring a supply of your favorite soft drink? Probably not, because the cost (in an economic sense) of transporting it is so high, even if you might have to pay a little more at your destination.

    Oh, and the idea of buying all the coca for 30% more than “market price” is silly because every farmer in South America and beyond will plant gobs of this now-legal crop and there would never be enough money to buy it all.

  12. Seems old Moneyline’s Lou Dobbs of CNN fame has weighed in on the drug war. Judging by his take, I think I will do just about the opposite of what he recommends on investments. Should be pretty safe…

    🙂

  13. Oops, sorry, been a while since I tried to manually post a link … here it is …

    http://www.townhall.com/columnists/GuestColumns/Dobbs20030813.shtml

  14. One more time dammit!

    Lou Dobbs

  15. Good question. I don’t quite understand why the Latin American countries don’t just tell us to go home and deal with this alleged problem on the demand side. (If, indeed, it is a “problem” needing to be dealt with).

    All I can figure is we must give them enough money that it looks worth their while. Probably a bit of saber rattling as well.

  16. I really dont see nadelmann as having any coherent alternative to the drug war. He is just generically against it in the most broad terms, but unless you come out For something, like legalization or something else, I see that as pointless. As far as cocaine, they could wipe it off the face of the earth and they would still have meth which is probably worse, so interdiction is one of the dumbest things this country does.

  17. “enough money to be worth their while”
    ummmm…..ya think?
    Billions and billions, my friend. All concentrated to politicians and military midgets. Ya think it’s destabilizing their countries? All that money to the “authorities?” ummmm…yeah.

  18. “enough money to be worth their while”
    ummmm…..ya think?
    Billions and billions, my friend. All concentrated to politicians and military midgets. Ya think it’s destabilizing their countries? All that money to the “authorities?” ummmm…yeah.

  19. Latin American governments will never want to give up a drug war that

    1) Gets them lots of aid from Uncle Sam as long as they pretend to cooperate (including military aid)
    2) Gets them lots of bribes from drug lords
    3) Inflates the price of their agricultural exports, bringing in lots of money from wealthy foreign countries that that the drug lords “trickle down” into the entire economy

  20. Don’t forget that the Bush family fortune was made in the Chinese opium trade. That’s a fact.

  21. Just to even things up for the liberals the Kennedy family fortune was made by Joe Kenendy smuggling whiskey during prohibiton.

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