Drug War Options 

Drug War Options 
Posted by FoM on July 17, 2000 at 21:56:22 PT
Critics push for change in drug war's focus 
Source: Houston Chronicle 
Colombia may be ground zero for the war on drugs in Latin America, but the nation's libertarian rules on the use of narcotics suggest another appellation: the Amsterdam of the Andes. Under a 1994 court ruling, adults may possess up to 20 grams of marijuana and one gram of cocaine and heroin for consumption in the privacy of their homes.Although the ruling gave Colombia the most tolerant drug-use policy in South America, experts say it has had little practical impact, because selling narcotics remains illegal. 
And unlike the Dutch city of Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal and widely accepted, in Colombia, society generally frowns on drug use.Still, the ruling represented a startling deviation from the hard-line orthodoxy on drugs promoted by the United States.As the battle against narcotics trafficking rages on six years after the ruling, a growing number of academics and politicians in North and South America is challenging conventional drug-war wisdom and calling for policy-makers to at least consider a change in focus. Some analysts, for instance, view the recently approved $862 million U.S. aid package for Colombia as a well-meaning but misguided plan.The bulk of the aid will help the Colombian army push into the country's rebel-controlled south and fumigate opium and coca fields, which provide the raw materials for heroin and cocaine. Critics contend that a better plan would focus on the disruption of powerful smuggling syndicates and provide more aid to help drug farmers switch to legal crops.Others question the logic behind supply-side crackdowns, since the market has consistently shown that as long as there is demand for drugs, someone will supply them."Asking South American peasants to stop growing coca is like asking the Scots to stop growing barley because people on the other side of the world could not hold their drink," Britain's Princess Anne said during a tour of Andean countries.But Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, insists that the U.S. aid program for Colombia will strengthen the Bogota government and deal a devastating blow to the drug cartels as well as the guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries who earn millions of dollars annually from the narcotics trade."The people involved in coca and opium cultivation are in the middle of one of the most disgusting, destructive businesses on the face of this Earth," McCaffrey says. "So it's hard to see this aid package as being anything but a blessing for the people of Colombia." But even if the South American drug supply were somehow cut off, some studies suggest that U.S. consumers still could choose from a Whitman's Sampler of domestically produced narcotics.As a result, many observers say, the United States should drop its "zero-tolerance" approach and focus on forging more realistic domestic drug policies. Several prominent U.S. and Latin American thinkers have proposed that nations allow their citizens to make their own decisions about drug use, then control and regulate the sale of cocaine and heroin much as they do for alcohol and prescription drugs.That was the philosophy behind the ruling of Colombia's Constitutional Court to legalize drug use.The ruling doesn't mean that the court believes it's good or healthy to do drugs. Rather, it's an individual decision. It's one's own moral choice,. says Carlos Gaviria, the magistrate who wrote the majority opinion in the case.U.S. officials point out that most Americans disapprove of drug legalization. But many polls also show that most people have little faith in current policies, which have resulted in overcrowded prisons, courts clogged with narcotics cases and annual costs at the federal, state and local level of $45 billion, according to Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, a nonprofit organization in Washington.Analysts point out that there are many drug-policy options, including the European-style "harm reduction" approach, which holds that eliminating all drug use is impossible and treats narcotics abuse more as a public health problem than a law enforcement issue.Still, many analysts say that reasoned discussion on reforming U.S. policy is often avoided, in part, because politicians seeking re-election want to appear tough on drugs.South of the border, meanwhile, drug policies are largely dictated by the U.S. government, according to George Vickers, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America. He points out that countries are wary of forging independent policies for fear Washington will blacklist them as untrustworthy partners in the war against narcotics and cut off millions of dollars in aid. "There have been a number of alternatives put forth," says Fernando Cepeda, who was Colombia's interior minister in the late 1980s. "No one is asking that you blindly follow what is proposed, but at least listen."Attacking supply. During a town-hall meeting in southern Colombia, a nervous coca farmer shuffles to the podium to ask the assembled officials about the U.S. aid package for Colombia."Why is most of the money for guns?" he asks. "Do you think that with military aid, you will solve the social problems of the Colombian people?"Many analysts are posing the same question. While they agree that some military aid is required, they say the problem is one of proportion. They believe that the bulk of U.S. counterdrug assistance should go toward humanitarian aid to help drug farmers switch to legal crops and to efforts targeting high-level drug capos.Instead, nearly two-thirds of the package consists of attack helicopters, troop training and other military and police aid for the push into guerrilla-held regions and the eradication of drug crops.The U.S.-backed plan "is not a strategy against narco-traffickers" It's a strategy against farmers and guerrillas," says Ricardo Vargas of Andean Action, a private group with offices in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia that investigates drug issues in South America.Vargas points out that fumigation programs have failed to reduce the amount of land under drug cultivation in Colombia. Yet, he says, the country's air-interdiction program has paid off.In the past two years, the Colombian air force has forced down 42 drug-smuggling planes. But just 12 percent of the U.S. aid package is for aircraft, intelligence, radar systems and other tools for interdiction in Colombia."What's more, just 9 percent of the funding is destined for alternative development programs for drug farmers," says Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy in Washington."You need to start attacking the reasons that people grow coca in the first place. What you need is the Alliance for Progress," Isacson says, referring to the Kennedy administration's massive program to promote social development in Latin America in the 1960s.Rand Beers, who heads the U.S. State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, defends Washington's emphasis on military aid and suggests that other nations will come through with humanitarian assistance for Colombia."This focus on the so-called 'stick' will allow other sponsors to provide support for the 'carrot,'" Beers told the Senate Armed Services Committee in April."No matter how the aid is parceled out, anti-drug policies must safeguard against the balloon effect, the phenomenon in which drug production is suppressed in one country but shifts to another," says Cepeda, the former Colombian interior minister."The strategy has to be designed so that if there is success in Colombia, it doesn't push drugs into Brazil or Ecuador," Cepeda says.Even so, many studies show that counterdrug efforts in South America may have little long-term impact on the flow of drugs into the United States.According to the U.N. Drug Control Program, profits in illegal drugs are so inflated that three-quarters of all narcotics shipments would have to be intercepted to seriously reduce the profitability of the business and discourage people from getting involved in the trade.In 1998, however, the U.N. agency estimated that just 30 percent of cocaine shipments and 10 percent to 15 percent of heroin shipments were intercepted.And even if the Andean drug pipeline could be cut off, experts disagree on how it would affect Colombia and the United States."If you could separate drug money from Colombia's other problems, their chances of achieving peace, putting the economy back on its feet and building democratic institutions goes way up," says McCaffrey, the U.S. drug czar.But others caution that entrenched guerrillas and drug mafias might find other ways to survive and prosper.Colombia's rebel groups have been around since the 1960s, long before the country's drug trade took off. According to Bruce Bagely, an international studies professor at the University of Miami, the guerrillas could make up for a decrease in drug profits by increasing their earnings from kidnappings and extortion.It's also seen as unlikely that the United States would evolve into some sort of drug-free Mayberry.According to a 1992 report by Rand Corp., a public policy research center in Santa Monica, Calif., overall drug consumption in the United States would probably decline if the flow of imported narcotics were cut off. But, the report said, many Americans likely would switch to domestically produced drugs, such as high-potent marijuana or the synthetic methamphetamine known as ecstasy. Many U.S. officials fear that ecstasy may be the next drug of choice among American youth."Unfortunately, I think the future that we face is chemically manufactured drugs," McCaffrey says. "Why would you use cocaine when you have ecstasy? It's much cheaper and can be made in a high school lab."Moreover, according to the Rand report, the dangers of drug use might increase, because the synthetics are often more powerful than plant-based drugs.Migration from one drug to another "shines the harsh light of reality on the futility of interdiction," writes Dirk Chase Eldredge in his book Ending the War on Drugs. If the supply of this or that drug were cut off, demand, ingenuity and greed would quickly supply a substitute."Legalization:As he watches a police crop-duster swoop over a coca field in northern Colombia, Defense Minister Luis Fernando Ramirez says that the true drug crisis lies far beyond his country's borders."The police and the army will continue to fight drugs here. But as long as there is consumption in the industrialized countries, people here will produce drugs," he says.Although drug use is rising in Latin America, the region's politicians and intellectuals have long insisted that narcotics are mainly the problem of consumer nations.But three decades after President Nixon declared the United States' first war on drugs, millions of Americans continue to use cocaine and heroin. If the war against narcotics has failed, some observers say, perhaps it would be more productive to make some sort of peace with drugs.A number of prominent intellectuals, including economist Milton Friedman, conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. and Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, have come out in favor of controlled drug legalization. Soon after former Secretary of State George P. Shultz retired from government service, he spoke out on the issue."It seems to me we're not really going to get anywhere until we can take the criminality out of the drug business," Shultz said in a 1989 speech at Stanford Business School." We need to at least consider and examine forms of controlled legalization of drugs.""Just as the end of alcohol Prohibition in the United States reduced gangland violence, ending drug prohibition would kill off the narcotics cartels," says New Mexico Gov. Gary E. Johnson, the highest ranking elected U.S. official to promote the legalization of narcotics."People think that somehow I'm giving in to the drug dealers," the Republican governor says in a telephone interview."Well, baloney. I'm putting the drug dealers out of business." "As things stand now, Americans support both sides of Colombia's civil war," says Robert J. Barro, a professor of economics at Harvard University who favors legalization. "While U.S. taxpayers provide funds to the Colombian army, drug consumers underwrite the nation's drug cartels and guerrillas by paying inflated prices for cocaine and heroin."McCaffrey, the drug czar, has described those who favor the legalization of narcotics as irresponsible free-thinkers who would sell crack to kids at 7-Elevens. But in most cases, legalizers suggest a control regime similar to that used for alcohol and prescription drugs."I would like to see drugs sold in licensed, regulated stores, not on street corners and not on playgrounds," David Boaz of the Cato Institute -- a libertarian think tank in Washington -- said at a congressional hearing last year. "You don't see very many liquor dealers offering liquor on schoolyards and playgrounds. You do see people selling drugs there, because it's a completely unregulated, unlicensed, illegal business."Gov. Johnson argues that if heroin were legal and inexpensive, users of the drug would be less likely to commit crimes to support their habits. In turn, he says, the billions of dollars saved from decreased law enforcement could be used for drug-use prevention programs and for treatment of addicts."Under a legalization scenario, there will be a new set of problems. But I suggest that the new problems are going to be about half the negative consequence of what we've got today," Johnson says.Many experts point out, however, that no one really knows what the new set of problems would entail, because only a handful of studies have focused on the issue.Some say drug legalization would have to be carried out at a worldwide level. If not, a checkerboard of conflicting drug laws could lead to a kind of balkanization under which nations opting for legalization would attract drug users from countries with stricter rules.For example, when Swiss authorities allowed drugs to be sold and used publicly at Zurich's Platzpitz Park in the early 1990s in an effort to identify and treat local addicts, narcotics users from all over Europe invaded the park. The experiment was canceled.It's also unclear how legalization would affect drug consumption. After Prohibition ended in 1933, alcohol use gradually increased by about 25 percent. But some experts say that the response might be different for cocaine and heroin.U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials suggest that legalization would turn the United States into a nation of zombies with millions of new users. "The practical outcome of legalizing even one drug, like marijuana, is to increase the amount of usage among all drugs," said DEA administrator Donnie Marshall in congressional testimony last year. Even the impact of legalization on Colombian cartels is a topic of hot debate. In their book The Andean Cocaine Industry, authors Patrick Clawson and Rensselaer Lee argue that multinational drug cartels might start smuggling nerve gas or atomic bomb parts. "Look at U.S. history," they write. "Prohibition spawned the growth of major criminal enterprises, but when Prohibition was repealed and alcohol again became legal, these criminal enterprises just expanded into new areas -- drugs, loan sharking, gambling and the like." Still, drug-policy reformers say that something seems amiss when the drug czar's views on legalization agree with those of many smugglers, including a convicted trafficker who wrote a 1992 book. "I do not want to see anything done that would change the status of illegal drugs," Hawkeye Gross says in his book Drug Smuggling. "It is a comforting thought to know that the opportunity exists for me to saddle up the ol' airplane and roll the dice for a million-dollar-plus payday if I so choose. That's the real American dream." Harm Reduction:In 1998, during a U.N. summit on illegal drugs, member states approved a resolution calling for a push to eradicate the world's coca, opium poppy and marijuana crops by 2008. But days before the conference opened, hundreds of influential figures, including newsman Walter Cronkite and former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, signed an open letter to the United Nations saying that "the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself." The signers of the letter endorsed what is known as "harm reduction," which holds that drug polices ought to do more good than harm. Many analysts view harm reduction as the fertile middle ground between an all-out war on drugs and legalization. Proponents of the philosophy, for example, would change marijuana laws, if stiff penalties for smoking the drug were deemed to cause more harm than the drug itself. They would adopt needle-exchange programs for addicts to help stop the spread of AIDS. Harm reduction also means focusing counterdrug efforts on the most effective programs. During the congressional debate on the U.S. aid package for Colombia, several lawmakers argued that some of the money for military hardware should be shifted to domestic treatment programs. They cited a 1994 Rand study that showed treatment is 23 times more cost-effective than drug fumigation and interdiction efforts abroad. "Our priorities are all out of line," said Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn. "For the $400 million proposed to build new helicopters for Colombia, we could treat 200,000 addicts in the United States." McCaffrey, the drug czar, has supported some harm-reduction measures, such as establishing methadone clinics to treat heroin addicts, but has opposed other initiatives. He has criticized the decision of several states to permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes, because he views such laws as back-door efforts to legalize drugs. Given the gravity of the issue, some analysts say that there ought to be far more public debate on alternative policies. Still, says Zeese, of Common Sense for Drug Policy, "I think things are shifting. Politicians are starting to feel comfortable coming out and discussing" different approaches to the war against narcotics. In Colombia and Peru, criticism of current drug policies is growing. But due, in part, to a lack of funding and the danger of being targeted by drug traffickers, few think tanks and universities have focused on the issue. Isacson, of the Center for International Policy, says that the pace of drug-policy reforms in both North and South America could depend on whether the U.S. aid package has much impact in Colombia. "If things go badly after spending all this money and they still have an increase in flow of cocaine," he says, "then maybe there will be a day of reckoning." Fast Facts: Drug trafficking is a $400 billion per-year industry that represents 8 percent of the world's trade, according to the United Nations.  Three-quarters of all illicit drug shipments would have to be intercepted to seriously reduce the profitability of the narcotics trade, the United Nations says. Current efforts intercept 30 percent of cocaine shipments and 10 percent to 15 percent of heroin shipments.  Americans spend between $46 billion and $79 billion yearly on cocaine and heroin, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.  In 1969, the Nixon administration spent $65 million on the drug war. In 1982, the Reagan administration spent $1.65 billion. In 2000, the Clinton administration is expected to spend $18.5 billion. By John OtisTo Contact Us: E-mail: hci chron.comBogota, Colombia Published: July 17, 2000Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle Related Articles & Web Site:Common Sense For Drug Policy Colombia Rolling in Cocaine Crop in Colombia To Colombia Military Under Fire Justice Archives:
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on July 18, 2000 at 05:42:38 PT:
The antis took another broadside.
Many, many thanks FoM! This is the kind of even-handed article I believe we will begin to see more of since the Abrams Report. More and more, as the author suggests, we will begin to see the writers, the talking heads, even the pols, start to treat this matter with the respect it deserves. Partly because they are smelling a change in the political winds.You see, the media was just as afraid as the pols of being slapped with the tar-and-feathers of the DrugWarriors favorite epithet of 'soft on drugs'. But now, they are sensing a power shift, and feel safe in publicly commenting on what they felt privately. And the DrugWarriors can sense it too. Their silence is deafening.I was just listening to C-SPAN's Washington Journal this morning, where during the first hour they had their traditional open lines. The topic was Judge Breyer's ruling yesterday about the Oakland Club being allowed to distribute cannabis. The number of callers supporting this decision far outweighed any dissenting voices. (And thank God, most of the callers made their points articulately and concisely!) In short, the political cat has got the antis tongue. How can they blast their propaganda now, when a *scientific* study has proven them wrong? In the past, because they had 'discouraged' research via threat of imprisonment for the researchers, they could cast aspersions on the thousands of years of anecdotal information of cannabis efficacy as old wive's tales. Now, the very thing they have feared for years has come to pass: a scienific study that proves what we all knew from the git-go; that cannabis is relatively safe for AIDS patients to use. And if it is safe for AIDS patients with their almost non-existant immune systems, then how could it possibly endanger a healthy person?The steel is hot. The anvil is waiting, Do we have the strength to lift the hammer? Or will we let the antis win like they did the last time in the late 70s? By our being complacent and thinking 'someone else' will do the work needed? It's time to write your Congresscritter and demand the release of the HHS results of their cannabis studies. It's time to fill the pols in on what happened in Durban. And it's also time to let them know you've had enough waiting. Remind them it's only 4.5 months to November. But some simply can't wait that long.Too many have died waiting, already.
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Comment #2 posted by dddd on July 17, 2000 at 22:56:59 PT
Hi FoM...Thanx for yet another outstanding article............JAH shine on you..........dddd
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on July 17, 2000 at 22:45:45 PT:
Colombia: Why They Hate Us
July 17, 2000Source: AntiWar.com years the US government has been criticizing the Colombians for letting drug traffickers go with a slap on the wrist. The bipartisan approval of $1.3 billion for "Plan Colombia" in military aid to the beleaguered regime of President Andres Pastrana, launched with much brouhaha and an overwhelming vote of approval in the American Congress, is supposed to augur the beginning of a new crackdown, in which the Colombians have pledged to get tough with the drug cartels in exchange for greatly increased levels of funding. But now the shoe is on the other foot: a US Army officer who headed up the "drug war" campaign in Colombia, Col. James Hiett  commander of the Military Group at the American embassy in Bogota, Colombia's capital city  has been sentenced to a measly 5 months in jail, and a mere 5 months probation, for helping his wife launder tens of thousands of dollars in drug money. "This is almost a joke," said newly-installed National Police chief Gen. Luis Ernesto Gilibert. "When Colombian narco-traffickers are sent to the United States they are given long sentences."Click the link to read the complete article.
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