Sunday, August 19, 2007

Indictment of drug prohibition in today's WashPost

Former BBC reporter Misha Glenny has an excellent piece on the front page of today's Washington Post Outlook section. In this devastating deconstruction of the War on Drugs, Glenny definitely makes the case for ending prohibition.

Here's a tasty taste.
The trade in illegal narcotics begets violence, poverty and tragedy. And wherever I went around the world, gangsters, cops, victims, academics and politicians delivered the same message: The war on drugs is the underlying cause of the misery. Everywhere, that is, except Washington, where a powerful bipartisan consensus has turned the issue into a political third rail.

The problem starts with prohibition, the basis of the war on drugs. The theory is that if you hurt the producers and consumers of drugs badly enough, they'll stop doing what they're doing. But instead, the trade goes underground, which means that the state's only contact with it is through law enforcement, i.e. busting those involved, whether producers, distributors or users. But so vast is the demand for drugs in the United States, the European Union and the Far East that nobody has anything approaching the ability to police the trade.

Prohibition gives narcotics huge added value as a commodity. Once traffickers get around the business risks -- getting busted or being shot by competitors -- they stand to make vast profits. A confidential strategy report prepared in 2005 for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet and later leaked to the media offered one of the most damning indictments of the efficacy of the drug war. Law enforcement agencies seize less than 20 percent of the 700 tons of cocaine and 550 tons of heroin produced annually. According to the report, they would have to seize 60 to 80 percent to make the industry unprofitable for the traffickers.

Supply is so plentiful that the price of a gram of heroin is plummeting in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom. As for cocaine, according to the UNODC, the street price of a gram in the United States is now less than $70, compared with $184 in 1990. Adjusted for inflation, that's a threefold drop.


In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It's obvious why -- telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world. In one particularly revealing conversation, a senior official at the British Foreign Office told me, "I often think we will look back at the War on Drugs in a hundred years' time and tell the tale of 'The Emperor's New Clothes.' This is so stupid."

How right he is.

From "The Lost War" by Misha Glenny (Washington Post; Sunday, August 19, 2007).

1 comment:

JT Barrie said...

It's a third rail issue because - like all abusive people - the drug war advocate switches the topic of conversation from the policy or the lies to the use of drugs created by the policy and the lies. The question of "Should we continue pouring money into a fiscal black hole" or "Should we keep on lying to our kids about drugs" to "Do you approve of kids using [Crystal] Meth or [Crack]Cocaine"? That's like asking a prohibitionist opponent if he/she approves of kids using moonshine whiskey - a substances that is next to impossible to get in my home town, but would be on the streets in prohibition due to all the backwoods locations for stills in my county.