Drug War

15 Tons and What Do You Get?

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This week Mexican drug warriors are bragging about a record seizure of methamphetamine. The New York Times describes it as "15 tons, found in pure powder form at a ranch outside Guadalajara." That supposedly amounts to "13 million doses worth $4 billion—more than double the size of all meth seizures at the Mexican border in 2011." Progress? Not really:

While the authorities proudly showed off the seizure to local reporters, the sheer size of the find set off alarm among experts and officials from the United States and the United Nations. It was a sign, they said, of just how organized, efficient at manufacturing and brazen Mexico's traffickers had become even after expanded efforts to dismantle their industry.

"The big thing it shows is the sheer capacity that these superlabs have in Mexico," said Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. "When we see one lab with the capability to produce such a mass tonnage of meth, it begs a question: What else is out there?"…

"It's important to keep the seizure in perspective," said Eric Olson, a security expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "It's huge. Eye-popping. But seizures, even huge ones, don't generally change the demand for the drug in the long run. If a seizure of this magnitude raises the street price, consumption may go down for a time, but it is only a matter of time until the market adjusts and the supply comes back up."

Those Mexican superlabs got a boost from the U.S. government's restrictions on retail sales of cold and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine, a meth precursor. That policy inconvenienced people with colds and allergies, hurt domestic mom-and-pop labs, shipped meth jobs across the border, and encouraged a shift to a more dangerous production method here in the U.S. But it had no discernible impact on meth consumption. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, meth use by Americans 12 or older has been flat or falling since 2002, with the exception of a spike in 2006, the year the federal restrictions took effect. Numbers for high school seniors from the Monitoring the Future Study show a similar pattern, but with no uptick in 2006. Yet back in 2008 Bush administration drug czar John Walters was claiming (per A.P.'s paraphrase) that "laws restricting the sale of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine…and  efforts to thwart drug trafficking from Mexico have disrupted the market for meth."

No matter. Ever-bigger seizures, indicating utter failure, only mean drug warriors must redouble their efforts.