Friday, June 17, 2011

Evaluate the success of drug control policies in the United States

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This essay aims to look at the success of drug control policies taken by the United States in the 0th Century. I shall be examining the advantages and disadvantages of the various policies that targeted different sections of the drug industry. In order to do this I shall look at policies implemented that were aimed at both the supply side and the demand side and deliberate on their effectiveness at controlling drugs in the US.

In the 160’s and 170’s there was a dramatic rise in the number of diagnosed drug addicts in the United States. This was a great concern for the governments at the time and the first policies introduced in the US were aimed at the demand side � to decrease trafficking and addiction. This was because drugs could be smuggled in reasonably small quantities, so in this way they were hard to detect when crossing borders. I think it is important to state now that any statistics used concerning the trafficking and consumption of drugs have to be taken with caution as obtaining such statistics rely upon many estimations. It is impossible to know exactly the extent of drug consumption in the US.

The UN General Assembly in 186 was determined to ‘mobilize the international community in an unprecedented global counter-offensive against the international drug menace’. The same year Reagan poured more money into both law enforcement and increased penalties for drug traffickers. Moreover, his crackdown on drugs was not limited to the US. Economic sanctions were proposed against the main drug producing countries. However the apparent failure of these policies initiated under Reagan led the USA to change from a focus on the demand to a focus of cutting the supply. Indeed as the White House stated in 18, “elimination of illegal drugs at or near their foreign source is the most effective means to reduce the domestic supply of these substances.” This was reflected in a dramatic increase in economic and military aid to drug producing countries under Bush. However this aid was obviously not given unconditionally. It was given under the condition that these countries would use it to clamp down on drug production. The money was to be used to set up alternative farming as well as being used for enforcement. One of the biggest problems, though, with the alternative farming schemes was that firstly the farmers had no skills in growing other crops and that secondly the financial gains were far less. This meant that many farmers took the risk of being caught because of the greater financial awards.

Interestingly, Clutterbuck notes that drug enforcement policy has not always been a top priority for the US. This was particularly evident in the Cold War. The logic from the US governments was that no measures should be taken against Third World countries that could potentially be destabilized by Communism. This was particularly obvious in South America where ‘some repressive leaders were helped to stay in power because they were regarded as bulwarks against Communism.’

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Many people began to have doubts about the effectiveness of attacking the supply side of the drug industry. David Whynes, 11, talking specifically about the coca industry, gave scathing criticism to the four existing approaches to the problem. He concluded that none of the measures taken had worked and that he could not see them doing so in the future. The first measure saw governments buying all coca produced at prices above the market rate. There are three problems with this. Firstly, this would cost, according to Whynes, $1.05 billion per year � (about 1.7% of the combined GDPs of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia). Secondly the market rate would keep rising to stay ahead of government purchasing. And thirdly the higher prices would encourage the farmers to grow more of it.

The second alternative would be to end the production of coca through making it illegal. The measures suggested to enforce this were imprisonment, fines and destruction of crops. Whynes argues that this would only cause violent protests from the farmers who would probably end up turning to the SL terrorists in order that they might protect their crops. Furthermore the governments could not fully support these measure on account of the foreign exchange it would lose and the clout that the cartels carried.

The third alternative from Whynes was a system of offering ‘bounties’ to farmers who would grow different crops in order that the production of coca could be cut down. However, the problem with this was that the subsidies would have to be huge to make the alternative crop more profitable than coca. He estimated that the UN Fund for Drug Abuse Control would have to multiply its current funds by about 150 times in order to match it. This does not even take into account the fact that the cartels would soon offer higher payments to the farmers for coca.

Finally Whynes proposed that a tax be placed upon coca production to raise the market price. However again the problem rises that the drug cartels could cover it by raising the price they paid the farmers to cover the tax. Because of this Whynes argues that if a tax is to exist it can only be effective at demand end in the form of those who import, deal and consume.

All of these last measures have been used to some extent in the US in order to stem the supply of illegal drugs. In 1 the government spent $8.6 billion on them, however drug production continues to rise. For these reasons the US has been focusing harder again on the demand. There are only really two alternatives when it comes to addressing the demand side. The first is to decriminalize or legalize drugs, but this is still a very unpopular option today. On that very subject Clinton stated in 1 that the legalization or decriminaliztion would ‘foster America’s self-destruction as a nation’. The second alternative is to offer very severe penalties to those trafficking, dealing or caught in possesion. This has been adopted, so that now drug trafficking, even for small quantities, can mean 40 years in prison. However it has also been suggested that the penalties be made so severe that people would no longer take them. Newt Gingrich is a advocate of this more severe policy � ‘His specific proposals called for the death penalty for those who import large quantities….and mandatory community service for users.’ There is of course a problem with tougher sentences as was seen in Florida in the 180s. Like many other states Florida brought in tough prison sentences for drug offenders. ‘This legislation resulted in massive prison crowding and overwhelmed the authorities responsible for avoiding or eliminating such conditions.’ The overcrowding resulted in an early release program being initiated for non-drug offenders. Obviously this meant that ‘very serious violent offenders were often being released from prison in order to make room for drug violators, many of whom had been sentenced for simple possession.’ Clearly the US cannot be said to be dealing with a drug problem if it is at the expense of creating other problems.

Having spoken so far rather negatively about American drug policy and its effectiveness, I am now going to turn to a couple of successes to demonstrate that her drug control program has not entirely been in vain. In the late 160s America’s chief supply of heroin came from Turkey, (it was thought to account for about 80% of American heroin consumption). This led to an agreement in 171 whereby Turkey agreed to prohibit all poppy farming providing that the USA compensated the legal growers. The sum agreed was $5 million. The ban worked and there was very little evidence of poppy growing in Turkey. Although the ban only actually lasted two years, the Turkish government made sure there was a minimal amount of opium leaving the country. The second success came immediately after Turkey when America focused its attention on the Mexico problem. They came to an agreement in 17 that would see the eradication of Mexican poppy fields providing that the US provided the majority of the equipment necessary to do so. However, despite being seen specifically as successes, they have done nothing to solve or even curtail the overall drug problem. The immediate consequence of the Turkish ban was noticeable in that purity fell and prices inflated. But almost straight away Mexican heroin was accounting for 80% of heroin consumption that had been taken from Turkey. The subsequent Mexican agreement did lead to a decline in heroin consumption, however within five years it was back to its former levels.

These “successes” aptly demonstrate the futility of drug enforcement policies. Whatever country America decides to take action against will quickly be superseded by somewhere else on account of the massive profits available. As Taylor puts it ‘The international programs can work only by creating an absolute scarcity of the drugs for US consumption.’

In conclusion it seems that the drug problem cannot be addressed and successfully dealt with by attacking the supply or the demand. It seems apparent to me that drug production will continue as long as it offers the great profits that it does to poorer countries, which effectively depend on a drug trade for a large source of its wealth. As Taylor puts it

‘The sad fact is that real long-term success stories have had nothing to do with international aid and law enforcement. Vastly more important is political and economic development.”

The example that he uses to prove this point is Macedonia. He states that before World War II Macedonia was a significant producer of opium. However by the 170s the production of opium had fallen to 5% of its previous levels, and analysts put this down to general economic progress.

Perhaps the best way to cut demand is by targeting more money towards education so that a stigma might be attached to drugs that they are neither safe nor acceptable.

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