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"Snow Fall" Atlantic Monthly article articulates the sheer futility of the supply-side drug war

Submitted by David Borden on
There's an interesting article by Ken Dermota in the latest issue of Atlantic Monthly, "Snow Fall," a discussion of the failure of interdiction and source country efforts to drive up the US street price of cocaine. Dermota points out the two sides of prohibition's price dynamic:
[P]olicing has a big impact on cocaine prices: On the streets of Bogota, a gram of cocaine can be had for under $2. Recreational users in America, on the other hand, typically pay upward of $50 a gram... Yet over time, cocaine prices per pure gram in the United States have steadily fallen, from $600 in the early 1980s to less than $200 by the mid-1990s.
The government's stated purpose for engaging in supply-side drug enforcement measures is to drive up the price, in order to reduce use. Given that prices have fallen so dramatically, it is safe to say that the supply-side strategy of increase prices has not decreased use (because the price increases never happened). Prohibition itself drives up the price of drugs (with calamitous effects on the people who are addicted to the drugs, indeed driving many of them to commit crimes that affect the rest of us, but that's a separate issue), but supply-side enforcement appears to have failed completely by its own measures. The period of time Dermota cited is about a quarter century, by the way, enough time to conduct a pretty conclusive test, IMHO. Dermota explains why the seizures of illicit drugs that government officials like to hype so much may actually illustrate failure, not success:
In March, the US Coast Guard intercepted a freighter off Panama laden with 20 tons of cocaine, in the largest maritime bust ever. That was followed in April by Colombian authorities' seizure of a 15-ton cache most likely awaiting shipment to Mexico... Of course, the good news is soured by the fact that cocaine production remains robust enough to allow shipment in 20-ton batches.
Drug policy reformer Judge James P. Gray of Santa Ana County in California has made this point as well. He should know -- as a prosecutor prior to joining the Superior Court he was involved in a seizure of heroin that at the time set the quantity record. When he delivered the speech that the link above points to in 1994, that record had long been dwarfed. (I helped to organize that conference, by the way, at Harvard Law School with the Civil Liberties Union of Mass., early during my activist career when I was still a volunteer. Afterwards I guided Judge Gray, former NORML director Dick Cowan and actor Michael Moriarty to the bed-and-breakfast where we put them up.) Dermota may be a legalizer, though not an optimistic one, and he doesn't directly say he is:
Sea changes in policy, such as decriminalization or legalization of drugs, look politically untenable.
Unfortunately, the link above to the article only gets you the beginning, you need to be a subscriber to see the whole thing, or get a hold of a copy of the magazine. Anyway, there's at least one good drug reporter in the country. :) Besides DRCNet's Phil Smith, that is. :) Thanks to Steve Heath for the heads-up.

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