As Long As There Is Demand, There Will Be Supply

  As Long As There Is Demand, There Will Be Supply

Posted by FoM on September 07, 2000 at 07:14:48 PT
By Dan Gardner, The Ottawa Citizen 
Source: Ottawa Citizen 

Politicians try to solve the drug problem by destroying the source plants. Here's why they always fail.Cocaine, heroin, opium, marijuana: as strange and threatening as these illegal drugs appear to most people, they are made from quite ordinary plants. Why not destroy those plants in the field and therefore stop dangerous drugs from ever being made? That's a beguiling idea, and a very old one. In the 16th century, the Marques de Canete, the Spanish viceroy of Peru, was bothered by the extent to which Indians were chewing coca leaves, a practice that delivers a small amount of the same drug users take when they snort cocaine today. 
The Marques ordered a limit to the amount of coca that could be planted. He even set up financial incentives to get farmers to substitute food crops for coca. It didn't work. Coca was too much in demand, too lucrative. Not even the power of the viceroy could stifle the power of the market. Still, the idea that drug problems can be solved by eradicating the source plants of drugs is so simple and powerful it survived the Marques's failure and many others like it. Today, international anti-drug efforts are increasingly targeting source-plants in the field. The elegant cannabis plant that becomes marijuana and hashish; the squat coca bush, whose leaves produce cocaine; and the gangly opium poppy, whose sap becomes opium and heroin: these plants are international criminals, the targets of one of the greatest law-enforcement efforts in history. The United States and the United Nations are spending billions of dollars trying to destroy them. Third World nations are adding major contributions to the effort from their slim budgets. The economies of whole regions, even whole countries, are at stake. Supporters, especially the U.S. government, insist these efforts can work with enough resources and co-operation. The UN has even set a target date for the total eradication of coca, opium poppy and marijuana: 2008. The many critics of crop eradication, however, point out that this isn't the first time the UN has set a target date for the end of drug production: in 1961, the UN said coca and opium poppy would be wiped out worldwide by 1986. Crop-eradication programs, say the critics, have been tried and failed repeatedly, and will always fail. Worse, in trying to do the impossible, the attack on source plants wastes resources that could go to treatment and development; devastates eco-systems; destabilizes societies; and spreads the violence and corruption of illegal trafficking from country to country. The argument between the two sides could be said to be between the "cops" and the "economists." The "cops" favour going after source plants in the field. In some cases, that means sending in workers to manually uproot the plants one by one. More often, it involves sending helicopters and aircraft to spray the fields with herbicides, a method capable of destroying hundreds of hectares of coca, opium poppy or marijuana in an afternoon. For the U.S., this has been standard policy for decades. As far back as the early 20th century, the U.S. government talked of destroying source plants. In the 1970s, it became a major effort, made notorious when Jimmy Carter's order to spray Mexican marijuana fields resulted not in the eradication of the marijuana trade, but the delivery of poisoned marijuana to American consumers. Today, crop eradication is "the central aspect of U.S. counter-narcotics thinking," said Barry McCaffrey, the head of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy. It's not past success that has made the destruction of source plants such a key American policy. While eradication programs have destroyed huge crops of drug-producing plants, these losses have always been quickly and easily replaced elsewhere. Colombia's "Operation Splendour" is a typical example. In 1994, the Colombian government of Ernesto Samper, caught in a corruption scandal and struggling to return to the good graces of the U.S., announced it would eradicate the country's entire coca and poppy crop within two years. The Americans kicked in planes, helicopters and herbicide. Tens of thousands of hectares of drug crops were destroyed in short order. But just as swiftly, every hectare was replaced, and then some: Colombia's net production of coca and opium poppy exploded even while spraying was at its most intense. The American and Colombian governments responded to this failure with even more vigorous eradication efforts. Did they work? That's a matter of perspective. A State Department report released in March this year declared the latest eradication efforts a success, noting that in 1999, the spraying destroyed "42,000 hectares of coca and more than 8,000 hectares of opium poppy." But a 1999 report from the General Accounting Office, the research arm of the U.S. Congress, paints a much bleaker picture. "Despite two years of extensive herbicide spraying," the GAO stated, "there has not been any net reduction in coca cultivation -- net coca cultivation actually increased 50 per cent." In fact, Colombia, which grew very little coca in the early 1990s, is now by far the largest coca cultivator in the world despite having carried out, over the same time, some of the most ambitious crop eradication efforts in history. The critics of the "cops" are the "economists." They say there's an obvious reason why eradication efforts have failed and why they always will fail: The law of supply and demand. Wiping out supply leaves demand unsatisfied. Unsatisfied demand causes rising prices. Rising prices cause more people to produce supply. Thus, squeezing production in one place only causes it to expand elsewhere -- the "balloon effect." Examples abound. When opium poppy growing went down in Pakistan, it surged in Afghanistan. Poppy went down in Thailand and Mexico, and up in Burma and Laos. Marijuana was suppressed in Mexico so it shot up in Colombia, and when it dropped there, it went up in the U.S. Coca plummeted in Peru and Bolivia and soared in Colombia. Demand, just as the economists say, creates supply. It's a law as irresistible as gravity. That law is something that Jaime Ruiz, senior adviser to the Colombian president, wishes people would consider before stigmatizing Colombia for producing drugs. "As long as there is demand in the United States and Europe," he says, "there is going to be supply. If it is not from Colombia, it is going to be from somewhere else." Still, some "cops" defend crop eradication by pointing to the linchpin of the economists' argument: rising prices. After all, they argue, rising prices at the production level may spur more production, but they also mean rising prices for the consumer. And higher prices discourage people from using drugs, which is the whole point of the exercise. This is wrong on two counts, say the economists. First, the assumption that price and consumption are joined at the hip is dubious. Cocaine prices in the U.S. peaked in the late 1970s -- exactly when American consumption of cocaine reached an all-time high. The years following, when both cocaine prices and cocaine use steadily fell, also belie the assumption that cheaper prices mean more use and higher prices mean less. What's more, rising prices at the production level typically don't result in higher street-level prices for drugs. As Peter Reuter, a professor at the University of Maryland, explained in the New York Times, "It costs cocaine refiners only 30 cents to purchase the coca leaf needed to produce a gram of cocaine, which sells for about $150 in the United States. Even if the price of the leaves needed for that gram of the finished product doubled, the change in retail price would be negligible." And even that assumes that any increase in production cost would be passed on to the ultimate consumer, which need not happen, since the traffickers have such a huge profit margin they can easily absorb any increase in production costs. A 1994 report commissioned by the U.S. government confirmed the negligible effect of increasing the cost of production on drug use. The report, produced by RAND, the American public-policy institution, found that in reducing cocaine use, treatment of heavy cocaine users is 10 times more cost-efficient than interdicting smuggled drugs -- and 23 times more cost-efficient than crop eradication. "These results suggest," the report concludes, "that if an additional dollar is going to be spent on drug control, it should be spent on treatment, not on a supply-control program." Far from heeding this advice, the "cops" instead developed a more sophisticated mode of crop eradication. Acknowledging that the "balloon effect" is real, the new approach combines eradication with development aid, to give farmers positive economic incentives to abandon drugs and grow legal crops. The UN is vigorously advancing this policy. Getting farmers to switch from drug crops is a tough sell. There's the obvious problem of cash: Because drugs are illegal, there is a huge profit margin in selling them. Even though traffickers pay growers and pickers just the tiniest fraction of that profit, that fraction is a powerful enticement in poor nations. In rural Colombia, where bare subsistence is the economic norm, a farmer can make $500 U.S. a month per hectare of coca -- legal crops would do well to fetch half that. An even bigger barrier to getting farmers to switch crops is a lack of basic infrastructure. Many drug-growing farmers live in areas so isolated they have no roads linking them to markets, or roads so poor that crops rot on the way. But drug traffickers offer farmers door-to-door pickup. If farmers want to sell crops for cash, they often have no choice but to grow for the traffickers. On top of all these factors, drug crops are easy to grow and harvest. Coca in particular is a farmer's dream. It can produce four harvests per year. A bush can produce for decades. And coca is extraordinarily tough, thriving even in rocky or acidic soils where nothing else grows. Chop it off at the trunk and it grows back. The UN and the U.S. government think all these factors can be overcome and farmers can be convinced to stick to legal crops. A key part is developing infrastructure so farmers are able to get legal crops to market. Beyond that, a U.S. State Department official (who, according to department policy, may not be named) says, "These folks would be offered the opportunity for government services in the form ... (of) schools and health clinics. Those opportunities will not equal the dollar value of growing coca. There is no question about that. "The other ways in which we try to create an economic rationale," the State Department official added, "is on one level to say, 'If you choose not to do this, we will begin an involuntary eradication program in X period of time.' " Supporters of this approach say they have proof it works. Both Peru and Bolivia began major anti-coca efforts of this type in the second half of the 1990s. Peru's coca cultivation is down 66 per cent in the last four years (helped in part by a fungus that attacked Peru's coca bushes). Bolivia's has fallen 55 per cent in 21/2 years. Colombia's coca production did rise rapidly at the same time, but not as much as these drops, meaning there was a big net cut in the total amount of coca grown. Or so the authorities thought at first. Further analysis showed that Colombian cocaine productivity was 21/2 times higher than previously believed. "We were underestimating the number of harvests per year," says the State Department spokesman. "We were underestimating the leaf yield, and we were underestimating the efficiency of processing." No one knows for how long these errors were made, so it's impossible to say for how long the U.S. has been underestimating South American cocaine production. Once the 1998 and 1999 figures for Colombia were adjusted accordingly, the major drop in cocaine production vanished. Instead, the decrease was only marginal. And Colombian traffickers have now substantially reduced their costs because they no longer have to ship most of their coca from Peru and Bolivia to Colombia. Undeterred, the U.S. government argues that Peru and Bolivia still prove crop replacement works, and so it will fund, at a cost of more than $1 billion U.S., an attack by the Colombian army on rebel-held territories in the south of the country. Once these areas are under control, the U.S. believes, crop replacement programs can eliminate coca and opium poppy growing and cause a major net reduction in cocaine and heroin. Careful monitoring and swift reaction will then stop drug production from slipping back over the border into Peru and Bolivia, or from starting up in Ecuador, Venezuela or Brazil. Many are deeply skeptical. Ricardo Vargas, a Colombian sociologist who studies the drug trade, insists that "even if the government succeeds in scrapping (traffickers') supply, they'll just set up somewhere else. It's like a law." In fact, there are signs that gains in Peru and Bolivia are already being lost. Prices for coca are steadily rising, tempting farmers to return to the business. Traffickers have started refining cocaine in Peru itself, and opium poppy, which had been little in evidence in the country, is expanding. Barry McCaffrey, the American drug czar, admitted to Congress last fall that "in Peru, the drug-control situation is deteriorating." That reality aside, even if the U.S., the UN and local governments managed the Herculean task of pushing coca production down -- and keeping it down -- across South America, there's little to keep it from popping up any place else in the world -- just as opium poppy has done over the years. One vehicle for such a shift could be insurgent movements, such as Colombia's FARC, which have become reliant on drug trafficking to finance their rebellions since the end of the Cold War dried up funding from superpowers. The move from shipping drugs to producing drugs wouldn't be difficult for some. Albanian gangs, in fact, have recently attempted to grow coca in the Albanian countryside. The State Department official dismissed these possibilities. The Andean region, he said, "is essentially the area of the world in which coca appears to grow." That's true today, but it was not always. In the late-19th century, coca was grown commercially in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Iwo Jima and Nigeria. At the beginning of the 20th century, Indonesia exported more coca leaf than Peru. What's to prevent drug traffickers from starting coca production in a large, unstable, corrupt country such as Nigeria or Indonesia? The State Department official responds: "There's no reason for anyone else to grow it because they'd have to compete with these very vicious trafficking organizations to introduce it to the market." But if coca production were suppressed in South America, it would be those "very vicious trafficking organizations" that would themselves be growing it elsewhere. Call it the globalization of the "balloon effect." Leaving aside the entire question of whether drug-crop eradication programs can ever work, there are still reasons to doubt the wisdom of fighting drugs this way. For one, there is the "opportunity cost," to use economists' jargon, that these programs entail. What could have been done with the many billions of dollars these programs cost? The RAND study, which found treatment to be vastly more effective at reducing drug use, suggests the opportunity costs of crop suppression are enormous. For Third-World nations, whose meagre budgets cannot absorb failed schemes, the costs are higher still. The dismal failure of "Operation Splendour," to take one example, cost Colombia and the U.S. $300 million U.S. Operation Splendour, and similar programs that followed, also inflicted another cost on Colombia, one quite common when crop eradication schemes are tried. Tens of thousands of coca farmers who saw their livelihoods vanish in a spray of herbicide felt betrayed by their government. At times, protests grew to resemble open revolt. Similar protests in Bolivia resulted in clashes with the army and dozens of deaths. This unrest among rural farmers in Colombia naturally fuelled the civil war. For decades, the main guerrilla faction in Colombia, FARC, had never had more than 6,000 fighters, but from 1990 to 1995, it grew to 8,000. In the five years since then, FARC's membership has doubled. Guerrillas aren't the only blight on the Colombian countryside. Huge patches of clear-cut jungle have spread across Colombia's south. These giant, open sores are left behind after planes spray coca fields, forcing farmers to go elsewhere and cut more holes in the jungle. According to the U.S. government, almost two million acres have been cleared for the coca trade over the past 15 years, less than one-third of which is now in use. Mr. Ruiz, the senior adviser to Colombia's president, notes that the land available in the Andes region is so vast that "you spray fields and you don't do anything. They just move somewhere else because they have the territory. So they just move and move and move." Colombia's years of spraying eventually pushed the coca industry into the southeast of the country, the sparsely populated Amazon basin. Tens of thousands of farmers and harvesters arrived suddenly and began hacking at the jungle in what Mr. Ruiz calls "the Coca Rush." Eco-systems are also afflicted on a more local level. Although the U.S. is adamant that the herbicides used in spraying are environmentally safe, their long-term effects are open to some doubt. For farmers who, not uncommonly, get caught in the spray, this is an unsettling possibility, however remote. Chemicals that certainly are unsafe, however, are those used to process coca leaf into cocaine. To dodge the authorities, traffickers use small, mobile laboratories that stay at one place in the jungle for a week or two, then move on. Since it takes about 250 litres of gasoline (or kerosene or acetone) and 50 kilograms of cement to process just one kilo of cocaine, piles of noxious waste are left scattered all over the processing regions. A new anti-drug strategy is further cause for alarm. The fungus that attacked Peruvian coca is being worked into a bio-herbicide to be dumped on coca in other countries. The U.S. is pushing Colombia to apply this "mycoherbicide." The State Department bills it as a "more environmentally friendly" approach, but there's inherent danger in introducing an alien species to new ecosystems, particularly when it would have to be injected in large quantities across great distances. If at least some of the perils of crop eradication are speculative, the benefits are entirely so. More than 400 years after the Marques de Canete tried and failed to stop coca in the fields, there is still little reason to think that these policies can substantially reduce drug use and the harms associated with it. The Marques de Canete may have unwittingly demonstrated a limit of governmental power -- just as another ruler with an oddly similar name, King Canute, did intentionally when he ordered the tides to stop. But Canute's lesson at least has been learned. Canete's remains unheeded. Dan Gardner is a Citizen Editorial Writer Losing the War on Drugs Is the war on drugs causing more harm than drug abuse itself? The Citizen's Dan Gardner spent five months researching this question, travelling to Colombia, Mexico and the United States, where efforts to end the international trade in illicit drugs have led to unexpected, often unwelcome, consequences. Published: September 7, 2000Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)Copyright: 2000 The Ottawa CitizenContact: letters Address: 1101 Baxter Rd.,Ottawa, Ontario, K2C 3M4Fax: 613-596-8522Website: Articles:Why The War On Drugs Has Failed Advice: End The Drug War - Vancouver Sun The War On Drugs Has Failed, Part 1a The War On Drugs Has Failed, Part 1b

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Comment #2 posted by Val on March 22, 2001 at 14:05:59 PT:
please respond soon to my question about opium, i need to know for a report that I'm doing!!! Just send it to Giselle115 Thanx
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Comment #1 posted by Val on March 22, 2001 at 14:02:21 PT:
hook me up
I would like to know how much opium cost and how much do i get for each price?! Also what the street names are, and if it is mixed or pure. 
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