The Drug War – Time to Surrender?

Way back in 1971, the President of the United States, one Richard Milhous Nixon, declared ‘war on drugs.’ By doing a little math in my head, that was a shade under 40 years ago. A 40 year war is better than a 100 year war. I guess.

Since 1980 (I’m giving the war a chance!) marijuana arrests have more than doubled. Okay, I hear somebody say, isn’t that a sign the drug war is working, more arrests? If that was you who said that, you have permission to leave the room.

Raw statistics abound but I don’t have the patience to wade through tons of data. My conclusion is simply that drug use and related arrests have not diminished since 1971, and neither use nor arrests are lessening.

President Chinchilla gave a speech yesterday, a call for law and order. Well, I’d like to see less crime, who wouldn’t? Even criminals want less crime. Less competition. In fact, if you polled the prisoners on death row, you’d find overwhelming support for the death penalty, just not in their OWN case, you understand.

To quote Albert Einstein,

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

If you accept the idea that Einstein might be right, how does what we and most of the world are doing differ from insanity? The case is always made that we aren’t doing ENOUGH and THAT is why we are failing. That’s been the rationale since the beginning. Has it worked?

Let’s suppose we threw in the towel in the war on drugs, at least here in Costa Rica. Mexico is moving slowly in that direction. The Senate passed a bill to legalize small amounts for personal use of pretty much everything. Will this do the trick? Probably not. The real market for illegal drugs is up north, in the US of A. In 2004, a kilo of cocaine was worth $23,000 in the USA (they tell me). In Colombia, that kilo costs a little under $900. Much of a profit margin there?

Now, what do you suppose the mark up would be if it were LEGAL in the US of A? Suppose you were an importer, nice and legal. You could buy for $900. What does it cost to ship a kilo from Colombia to the US of A? Probably not $22,000. Maybe $22? You could sell for $2,000 a kilo and turn a nice profit, couldn’t you? What coke head couldn’t come up with a few hundred dollars for a half a pound of their favorite substance?

But to get back to Costa Rica… if trafficking were legal, would there be a giant surge in the number of people using it? I doubt it, but I could be wrong. My biggest fear would be that since the US of A was still doing the ‘war on drugs’ dance, the traffickers wouldn’t go away, might even multiply. I have the feeling that if it weren’t illegal, the criminals would have too much legal competition to turn the kind of profits they are now turning.

On the other hand… that’s not the direction Costa Rica is heading, for now. The country is allowing US warships to dock in its ports, supposedly to better fight the war on drugs. Would anybody care to place a wager on how much a bunch of warships are going to reduce drug crime and violence in Costa Rica? I’ll take the other side of any bettor who says drug crime and violence are going to go down. I’m not going to bet against Einstein.

(I had already written the above when I came across this: Report: Illegal drug use up sharply last year)

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  1. I'm reminded of Don Quixote battling windmills. What a horrendous waste of time, energy and money.