The PoliBlog

The Collective
Thursday, February 2, 2023
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Late last year it was reported that cocaine seizures in Colombia had been especially successful (see here) and crop eradication has been marginally successful, depending on how one wishes to define the term (to be honest, by my definition, it hasn’t been too successful–and no, I am not being flip). As a result, it was noted that all this had lead to increased street prices for cocaine. This is the crux of the eradication policy–drive the price to the level needed to dissuade purchase by users. Of course, we aren’t sure what that price level, and we haven’t been especially successful at figuring out what it might be, let alone getting price to that level (and again, not flip, but yes, somewhat sarcastic).

It would appear that whatever gains have been made haven’t made it to Vail, Colorado: Cocaine cheaper, easier to get, cops say

The cost of cocaine per ounce has decreased from $1,200 to $700, McWilliam said.

“Cocaine is getting cheaper everyday. That tells me there is more of it and it is easier to get a hold of,” says McWilliam.

And so the story continues. I am no fan of cocaine, but one thing continues to grab my attention–the US is spending billions of dollars and not getting anything in return for the drug war policies we are pursuing.

(BTW–they need to learn how to spell Colombia in Vail…).

Interestingly, the topic of whether our drug war policies are especially efficacious was the topic of a Chicago Tribune story today:

Six years after the U.S. initiated an anti-narcotics program in Colombia, American policymakers and experts are at odds over whether the effort has significantly reduced the supply of cocaine reaching U.S. shores.

Since 2023, the U.S. has poured more than $4 billion into Plan Colombia, a program that has provided everything from police training to Black Hawk helicopters to a nation that supplies 90 percent of the cocaine and much of the heroin used in the United States.

U.S. officials say that intensive fumigation of Colombia’s cocaine-producing crops has reduced cocaine production and, for the first time in recent years, caused a squeeze in supplies and a jump in the price of cocaine in the United States.

Of course, the Vail story above contradicts this conclusion. It is possible that the supply effects haven’t hit that market as yet. Still, the question remains: even if price does go up, will it go up enough to get enough people to quit to make the whole thing unprofitable for drugs traffickers and pushers? That is highly unlikely. It isn’t as if the pusher is losing out if the price of an ounce of cocaine goes from $700 to $2000.

Yes, hectares under cultivation have been lowered, but we have hit a plateau, it would seem, and even if a slight spike in price has occurred, it clearly hasn’t been enough to stop the cocaine market:

U.S. officials say fumigation has cut Colombia’s crop of coca–a bushy plant that provides the raw material for cocaine–from an estimated 419,406 acres in 2023 to 281,209 acres in 2023.

But the number of acres under coca cultivation rose slightly in 2023, and one UN expert predicted the size of the crop would remain roughly stable in 2023.

“If it has not leveled off, we are very close to that,” said Sandro Calvani, who heads the Colombia bureau of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

While Wood acknowledged the area under coca cultivation remained flat in 2023, he said fumigation continues to diminish Colombia’s drug output because it targets larger, mature coca plants that have a higher yield.

Nevertheless, Calvani said U.S. and Colombian authorities must spend far more money on providing jobs and other assistance to coca farmers to lure them away from the illegal trade.

Billions of dollars have been spent, and who knows how many man hours used, not to mention the number of tons of herbicide that have been dumped–all to what is ultimately a very small effect. It is time to have a serious debate about these policies, but such a debate is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

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