Thursday, February 19, 2023
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Cocaine price ‘set to fall more’

The price of cocaine in Europe is set to fall even further as smugglers use new routes through West Africa and the Balkans, says the UN anti-drugs agency.

In its latest report, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), said West Africa has become a “major hub” for South American cocaine smuggling.

UK officials said last week that the price of cocaine had fallen by half in the last 10 years.

In noting such information it is extremely important to underscore (as I frequently do) that one of the main goals of the drug war is to constrict supply so that price goes up, and therefore deters consumption. If price isn’t going up, then much of the foundation of policies focused on source-country interdiction simply aren’t working. So, yet again, we have more evidence that that the billions that we are spending on this enterprise are being wasted.

Further, there is another pattern of note here, which is the shifting of smuggling routes by traffickers to adapt to anti-drug efforts. While it is true that law enforcement efforts can staunch (or, at least slow) the flow of drugs via a specific route it has been demonstrated time after time that when one leak is plugged that several other spring up. What this means is that violence and crime will increase in West Africa as the drug traffickers seek to protect their massive profits from the drug warriors.

For example, there was a time when the major transit point for Colombian cocaine cartels was Miami, now its via Mexico. Not only has the overall flow of drugs not stopped, but the situation in Mexico is now a nightmare.

Indeed, one can expect an increase in such nightmares:

The INCB’s annual report says South America’s main producers of cocaine – in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia – were switching their smuggling routes from the Caribbean and the North Atlantic to avoid US and British naval patrols.

The smugglers are targeting countries with “weak governmental structures that have limited capacity to defend themselves against drug trafficking and its consequences, such as corruption and drug abuse”, the INCB warns.

According to the piece, the Balkans may be an increasingly significant staging ground for smuggling routes into Europe.

All of this will lead drug warriors to state that what is needed is more money and escalation in interdiction. The problem is, all the evidence suggests that such moves will not work. The fundaments of the overall prohibitionist policies are crop eradication and product interdiction, both aimed at the basic goal of supply reduction. Supply reduction is supposed to make it more difficult for users to acquire in general and to specifically create price pressures that will make the drugs too expensive for users to purchase.

However, while it is true that hectares and hectares of such crops (e.g., coca and opium poppies) have been eradicated, nowhere near enough of said crops have been destroyed to make an appreciable dent in supply. And, further, while we seize tons and tons of drugs, the traffickers produce evermore to offset such losses. And, as noted at the start of this post, cocaine is as cheap as it has ever been. This is not the picture of policy success.

It is incumbent upon me to note (yet again) that even if the policies worked, and price went up, all that would result in would be more violence. Increased price means increased profits for traffickers and therefore a greater incentive to fight for product and customers (meaning: gang wars and increased willingness to fight with law enforcement). If one thinks the Mexican drug violence problem is bad now, wait until the cartels have to fight one another over constricted supply. Increased prices would also mean addicts going to great lengths, including criminal activity, to fund their habits.

Of course, the ability of states to actually constrict supply in any long-term way is practically nonexistent. Indeed, apart from nuking all coca and poppy producing countries, so as to sterilize them from all drug-producing capacities, I don’t think it is possible to stop these drugs from being created. And, of course, even if we could magically make the coca and poppy plants disappear tomorrow, human beings would find some other intoxicant to use.

I will conclude with the kind of disclaimer that anyone who criticized anti-drug policies often finds themselves having to make: I do not use, have never used,1 and have no interest in using any of the illicit substances under discussion. I don’t want my kids to use them. I once was at least moderately pro-Drug War, as I am no fan of organized crime, drug gangs, or destructive drug use/addiction. However, I know policy failure when I see it, and it is nearly impossible to actually study the drug war and its efficacy (or lack thereof) and come away saying that we are getting our money’s worth, or even that the policies are successful in any significant way (although some people quite familiar with the situation delude themselves otherwise).

  1. In the interest of full disclosure: I did drink some very weak coca tea in Peru once (the kind one can purchase in a grocery store), eaten some coca candy that I bought at the airport, and chewed a coca leaf with a member of the Bora tribe, but when you chew it right off the bush is it very much like chewing, well, a leaf. []
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2 Responses to “Yet More Tales from the Drug War: Cheap Cocaine”

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  • pt
    1. Moonage Says:

      Meanwhile, another headline in the news today:

      INXS’s New Lead Singer Homeless, Living in Car,2933,496464,00.html

      Needless to say, this is not the picture of policy success either. It is however, the picture of not doing anything.

      My opinion is we’re doing a half-assed stab at the war on drugs due in large part to ambivalence of the general public. Those not dealing with the issues of drug abuse simply see it as someone else’s problem. They just laugh at others and hope to god it doesn’t affect their family. When it does, it’s internalized as a family issue. I’m dealing with a family member now trying to get off of drugs as he sees the big picture since he can’t get a decent job since so many employers do drug testing now. He’s amazed at how easy it’s been so far. He doesn’t realize the hard part is yet to come. Additionally, so much of our pop culture promotes drug use that it’s virtually impossible to convince kids that the reason a lot of them don’t promote it in their adulthood is because they are dead from it. Dead rockers just don’t speak a whole lot on what it did for them. And, given the nature of pop culture, when you’re dead, the next generation will never know who you are for the most part. So, it’s a lose-lose situation for policy makers. You can make the most logical well-thought-out policy that ever existed and then along will come a crack-whore like Amy Winehouse or Pete Doherty and your policy is blown out of the water by every media imaginable.

      Full disclosure, never done cocaine. Never wanted to. Have had friends and family die and suffer from it and other drugs.

      Besides, there are plenty of perfectly legal pharmaceuticals to do what I prefer and I don’t have to worry about the law.

    2. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

      Of course, you can go back into your story and substitute “alcohol” or, as you allude, prescription drugs, and have the same stories.

      I am not arguing that drugs are good, or that ending the drug war will solve these problems. I would just prefer a public health approach to what we are doing. It would be a far better expenditure of cash.

      Beyond that, I would rather stridently dispute the notion we are taking a half-assed stab at the drug war, quite the contrary–and there are a lot of innocent people, from Colombian peasants to US citizens mistakenly raided from no-knock warrants, who are suffering as a result.

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