Bertram_Threefatalflawsinthewarondrugs[1]

Bertram_Threefatalflawsinthewarondrugs[1] - l5 Confronting...

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Unformatted text preview: l5 Confronting Denial As important as such a paradigmatic change in Conventional wisdom might be, it will never come about simply through force of argument. Only a sustained political struggle will yield genuine drug-policy reform. In chapter I I we look at current struggles for drug reform and consider the ways some of these might facilitate a transformation from a strategy that harms without healing to one that heals without harm. lf\~.L\/\ (X , d/UQ' 2 Three Fatal Flaws in the war on Drugs A De [Jae flan—6c: Much has been written about the dismal record of the war on drugs. Less well known are the reasons behind the drug war’s failure. Three fatal flaws are built into the drug strategy itself, flaws that doom the Strategy at every turn and systematically undermine efforts to eliminate the pro- duction, distribution, and consumption of illegal drugs. Understanding the continuing-cycle of failure and escalation in Amer- ica’s drug wars demands confronting the difference between failings and flaws in the strategy. The distinction is a crucial one, easily obscured by the polemics and rhetoric of the drug-policy debate. The failings of the drug war are familiar: both the supply of drugs and the levels of abuse and addiction remain high. But failure can be blamed on any of a range of causes—poor leadership, scarce funds, faulty implementation. A flawed strategy, on the other hand, is one that is fundamentally mis- conceived: it will continue to fail regardless of leadership, resources, or operational efficiency. The inability or unwillingness to see that the poor , track record of the drug war is due to fundamental flaws in the strategy is one reason U.S. leaders answer failure with escalation, continuing to pour good money after bad in the fight against drugs. FAILURE AND THE PATTERN OF DENIAL The United States has been engaged in a battle againstudrugs since r214. 'l In the early 19705 l’rgflzflwfomled itiflggaj'iaior drug war, and it was fought most fiercely by Presidents Reagan and Bush in the 10 Confronting Denial 19803 and early 19905. Yet, as most Americans know, we have little to show for it. The record of failure is sometimes obscured by the fact that the num- ber of so-called current users—people who have taken drugs within the past month—declined between 1985 and 1993 from 2.2.3 million to 11.7 million. According to White House reports, however, this drop is ex- plained largely by a decline in casual marijuana use—a decline that be- gan in I979, well before the drug wars of the 19805 were under way.1 The more serious problems of drug abuse and addiction, meanwhile, are as bad as or worse than ever. According to figures from the r 995 Na- tional Drug Control Strategy, the number of heroinwaddicts is estimated to have jumped tenfold betwe'EifWW' 199 to about 600,000. Meanwhile, cocaine, which raised few concerns in 1967, claimed at least I 2.1 million hard-core addicts by I 99 3.2 Even the intensive drug war as- saults of the mid- to late 19805 failed to reduce levels of cocaine or heroin abuse. One rough measure of hard-core use is the number of drug- related hospital emergencies. Cocaine-related emergencies increased by 27. percent between I988 and 1993, while heroin—related emergencies rose by 65 percent (see appendix 3).3 More Americans are addicted to a wider range of harder drugs now than before Nixon declared war on drugs in the early 19705. The com- mon reaction of public officials and many voters to reports of this fail- ure, however, is to call for an escalation of the war. “For those who say that we can’t possibly win the war on drugs, I say we haven’t tried,” ar— gued Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-Arizona) in February 1993. “If this nation expects to wage a true war on drugs,” he added, “we need to mo- bilize every resource available to the country and spend whatever it takes until we choke off supply and reduce consumption.”4 In 199 5 House Speaker Newt Gingrich reiterated the need to try harder by getting tougher, calling for “very Draconian, very real steps” to cut supply: any- one responsible for shipping narcotics into the country, Gingrich sug- gested, should be put to death.5 _ But we have tried. The annual federal drug budget for law enforce- ment has grown from roughly $53 million in 1970 to more than $8.2 billion in 199 5: since 1970 we have invested roughly $68 billion in do- mestic and foreign drug enforcement—$6 5 billion of this since 198 I (see appendix 1).6 Elygpmhlemis. not our lack of will or even the limits of our national pocketbook but, rather, o\ur inability. .or unwillingnessio see three fatal fl he_mm&r@:wamugyz..two_.undf:r@e the war onthe drug supply,and a third undercuts the war on drug. users. I N Flaws in the War on Drugs t r Failing to recognize these flaws, we look for another fix—a little -more funding, a little more firepower—and delude ourselves into thinking the drug war can work. .,THE FLAWS Most illicit drugs are grown by farmers in Third World countries. Co- caine is derived from the coca plant, grown largely in the Andean coun- \ .59 Q} tries, principally Bolivia and Peru. Opium comes from poppies grown in ‘6‘ Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, Turkey, and, increasingly, parts of Latin America. Marijuana, like-tobacco, is grown in large quantities across the globe, including the United States. Processing these illicit substances is easy and inexpensive. To produce cocaine, for example, coca leaves are first refined into coca paste (a simple process of mixing coca with easily accessible chemicals, often done on site by local producers) and then shipped to jungle laboratories to be processed into powdered cocaine. The powder is then transported to the United States and other markets, where it is distributed through dealers—wholesalers, distributors, sales- people on the streets—who in turn package it as cocaine powder or turn it into its derivative, crack. The U.S. war on supply is fought at each of the three stages in the global drug trade. F'rst, U.S. antidrug agencies target drugs at the sourc by pressuring foreign governments to elim' juana production (with eradication or to attack the refining facilities that con‘vErf-t e c caine. Sgggnd,antidrug agencies target drugs at or en route to U.S. bor— ders, using planes, boats, border patrols, and customs officers to inter- dict drug shipments. Finally, drug—enforcement agents and local police go after drugs within the United States by trying to locate, arrest, and prosecute drug dealers and to seize drug supplies. At each stage the aim is to make it more dangerous and more costly for growers, refiners, smu - gleis‘m to produce and sell drugs—thus driving down pro- duction and availability, driving up prices, and discouraging consumers from buying and using drugs. But the central objectives of significantly raising prices and loweringfi'”. availability remain unmet. As the figures in appendix 2 show, cocaine and heroin prices have declined markedly in the last fifteen years despite the dramatic esmaw enforcement. In the early 19905 heroin sold in New York City for about one-third its I979 price, and its purity increased from 34 percent in 1988 to 66 percent in 1993.7 Clin— Confronting Denial ton drug czar Lee Brown concluded in 1995 that “drugs are readily avail- able to anyone who wants to buy them. Cocaine and heroin street prices are low and purity is high—making use more feasible and affordable than ever. "8 Why has the strategy failed, even on its own terms? The drug trade has been packaged as a crime problem for so long that there is a tendency among policymakers and the public to overlook its nature as a business, driven b the laws of supply and demm mommm widely desired, and so extraordinarily profitable that there will always be an af— fordable supply. The drug trade is at root a market problem. The crim- inalization bf the trade, however, makes it a black—and particularly per- nicious—market. Black markets in various goods or services have long bedeviled government attempts to eliminate them, especially when the twin factors of high demand and high profits are at work. The black markets in cocaine, heroin, and marijuana are very similar to the black market in alcohol during Prohibition in the 1920s and early I 9 305. Then, too, the illegal products were ordinarily cheap and easy to produce, store, transport, and sell. Government policies aimed to inter- fere in the ake the product ’scarce and expensive by out- lawing it. Enforcement indeed raises prices by increaSIn—gthgrisks and costs m by suppliers. BuLgiventheeemrnued» r alcohol and illicit drugs,,_this~merchandise also becomes—as a result of government ,,proiij,b§ignfiextraordinarily profitable. “for. producers and V traffickers, _ “a-.. _....‘_ I precisely because it isscarcer animoregxpgnsive than it would other- -..a v a- . . -. ~\___..- wise be. If a gram of pure, pharmaceutical cocaine were purchased legally ,ug‘ for medical purposes, it would cost about $15 to $20, for example; the retail black-market price is about $r43.9 The black markef'fhus is the \ inevitable. result of government attempts tpfimalge highly sought after ; :commodlties illegal. Equally inevitable isithe crime that followsiusiuch l : black marketszltlie‘high profits, intense competition, and pressure by law- enforcement officials lead many black marketeers to arm themselves to defend their market shares against police and competitors. Government-prohibitiwhasihuwflicdlllEIlEFlYing blaCk market 'drugshand the government’s war on drugs seeks toil—supp'f—e‘ss it. Bfiut uccess has been elusive: for decades the policy of prohibition has kept consumer prices far higher than the legal market price would be—and this has undoubtedly deterred some use, abuse, and addiction—but it has not been able to raise consumer prices high enough to keep drugs out of reach. And what many policymakers and citizens fail to recognize Flaws in the War on Drugs 13 is that the attempt to suppress the drug trade through a war on supply generates two self-defe ‘ — rofit aradox Ed the hydra effect—which together d_oom the effort. “'I‘Tifi‘rug warflhas been unable70\raise the cost of doing business enough to put drug prices out of range for consumers because the strat- egy generates 3 'ts success in ._ rtificiall raising prices also inflates profits. ese 1gh profits have a paradoxical e ect: t ey pro- vide a steady incentive for drug suppliers to remain in the trade and for new suppliers to enter. Because the drug war~raises profits as it raises prices, the stick of law enforcement that is intended to discourage suppliers on the black mar— ket simultaneously creates a carrot of enormouS/profits—which encour- ages suppliers. As they pursue these high profits; they keep the supply of drugs up, and that keeps prices from rising too high, thus ‘uridermining the aim of policy. As Steven Wisotsky explains, “If the cocaine industry commissioned a consultant to design a mechanism to ensure its prof- itability, it could not have done better than the War on Drugs: just enough pressure to inflate prices, but not enough to keep its product from the market.”‘° T second flaw is the self-reproduction of the trade, or th b dra - ect attempts to staifi'p'o’ut drug production and dealing often spread the problem and make'liardTo—u—hg' tx'lrt'gmnsswr-livedT‘l‘fie’key here is that cocaine, heroin, and marijuana are easy products to grow, refine, trans- ‘gport, and sell. The amount of money and skill needed to enter into the business is not high—there are low barriers to entry, an‘leconomist would :- say—and the business is quite profitable, especially compared with other ‘~ business opportunities available to many of the farmers, shippers, and salespeople involved. These conditions make even the success of drug-enforcement cam- paigns ephemeral. lt.issimpl_e_a_nd lucrative forwsuppliers to produce more in order to offset what they mightloseflin'se'izures by drug enforcers. And there arem to taker-he plaCe of those who arenafrheSEed. As a result, growing fields, production labs, and supply routes spring (back to life and evenfiexpamzl despite repeated law-enforcement efforts. Like the mythical sea serpent that Hercules battled, the drug trade is an elusive enemy: each time one head of the hydra is cut off, two more grow jin its place. Often, attempts to suppress the trade inone locale simply I. oura e new recruits or veteran su liers to set up operations else- l j where to meet the demand for their product. '\ Confronting Denial Taken together, the profit paradox and the hydra effect undermine the war on supply at every stage. At the Source: The War Abroad “The logic is simple,” George Bush said in a r988 campaign speech. “The cheapest and safest way to eradicate narcotics is to destroy them at their source. . . . We need to wipe out crops wherever they are grown and take out labs wherever they exist.” This claim echoed those of Presidents Rea- gan and Nixon before him.11 And a few years later the Clinton admin- istration underlined the continued commitment to the war against for- eign drug production with a strategy to shift the focus of international drug enforcement from transit zones to source-country programs.‘2 Those who support the war at the sourcevassume that it is much less costly and difficult to locate and destroy crops and labs in the field than to intercept the finished product along smuggling routes or on U.S. streets. The most aggressive and expensive attempt to date to stop drugs at the source has been the war against cocaine production in the An- dean countries of Colombia, Peru: and Bolivia. Launched in the mid- 19805 and escalated under the Bush administration’s “Andean Initia— tive,” the U.S. drug war in the Andes was continued under the Clinton administration. The strategy is to cut supply by eradicating coca crops? destroying processing laboratories, blocking the transport of processing chemicals, and intercepting drug shipments. Traffickers are to be arrested and prosecuted, their assets seized, and trafficking networks dismantled. The logic is simple—but deceptive. Consider what the drug warriors are up against in the war on cocaine. Hundreds of thousands of Andean peasant farmers grow coca. Crop-eradication efforts have rarely even kept pace with new growth; according to State Department reports, erad- ication had no significant effect on the volume of coca leaves produced between 1989 and 1994.13 Coca leaves are refined in small, well-hidden, easy-to-move, and inexpensive-to-replace labs, where they are converted into tons of cocaine powder—which is moved throughout the region by ' large numbers of traffickers and is eventually smuggled out of South America. Figures for I 994 show that levels of coca-leaf production are sufficient to refine more than I,OOO metric tons of cocaine annually— more than three times the estimated U.S. cocaine market.” A U.S. em— bassy official in Peru concluded in late 1993, “We haven’t had any real impact on the drug flow.” In 1992 Peruvian government officials seized Flaws in the War on Drugs 15 7 tons of cocaine and cocaine base our of an estimated 650 tons pro- duced in the country. He pointed out, “That’s peanuts.”l5 The magnitude of the trade makes the prospect of drug control in the Andes daunting enough. What makes it virtually impossible is the way ‘ in which the profit paradox and the hydra effect work in conjunction with the politics and economics of countries like Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia to systematically undercut efforts to lower supply. The profit paradox dooms the strategy through a simple market logic: the drug-enforcementstrategy, in the United States keeps prices up at black-market levels but does not significantly dent the demand for co- . caine. The result is a dream for producers and dealers—La guaranteed market, with profits kept artificially high by the U.S. government. The incentives produced by these U.S.Fgovernmerit‘: rice supports” system— ___ : ung“ atically overwhelm spurcelcountry efforts to reduce supply. Consider the money eSEhéH‘f‘rom one kilogram ofcocaine at various stages of production and distribution. Once diluted and sold in grams, one kilogram—2.2 pounds—of Andean cocaine powder in 1990 yielded between $70,000 and $300,000 on American streets. These high prices produce a ripple effect through the chain of production. Theest'ii'hm 330 kilograms of Bolivian coca leaves required to produce one kilo of the powder can bring a coca farmer $1 IO. After the first stages of crude and inexpensive processing, three kilograms of coca paste will sell for $470. One kilogram of the slightly more refined cocaine base will earn between $500 and $850. And a kilo of finished cocaine will sell for be- tween $I,900 and $2,500 in the Andes. Once it arrives in Miami, that kilo (assuming 80 percent purity) will bring between $16,000 and $25,000 at the wholesale level.16 These extraordinary profits, particularly at the later stages, confound drug warriors who are fighting to cut supply. Production costs are so low« that traffickers can easily pay more to refiners—who can easily pay more to growers—when needed, in order to keep the profitable supply flow- ing. The inflated profits mean that “the average drug organization can afford to lose 70 percent to 80 percent of its product and still be prof- itable,” explains one former official of the Drug Enforcement Adminis- tration (DEA). “How do you intend to put that group out of business with a basic policy of trying to suppress its product?”17 The incentives produced by the drug war’s profit paradox are con- siderable even at the lowest levels of the trade; From thew/perspective of anA rin sman times the ric ' A coca farmer in the Bolivian Chapare region could net up to $1,600 per Confronting Denial hectare (roughly 2.5 acres) annually from coca production in the late 19805, more than four times what he could earn from cultivating or- anges or avocados, the two most profitable legal crops traditionally grown in the region.18 What is more, coca is easy to grow on poor soil and inexpensive to process. The market is virtually assured: traffickers fly into remote areas and pay peasants up front. Lacking viable legal eco- nomic alternatives, growers and processors have little incentive to aban-A don it. And U.S. efforts to eunc0urage the substitution of other crops for coca bump up against the high profits; no legal crop can compete given the “price supports” the‘U.S. drug war offers the coca producers. The profit paradox, hgwever, does more than influence the actions of drug producers and processors. It also shapes the incentives and deci- sions of entire governments—with devastating implications for the U.S. drug war. T e U.S. strate on local overnments militaries and police forces possessing the will and ability to fight the U.S. drug war. But our would—be allies do not share U.S. interests in fighting the drug war, because their other priorities are simply overwhelming. m dezwmempmggsumed “with‘issues of economic and political survivalfmwhichcocajmplaysamtmlefTh-am nues generated by the cocaine trade help maintain the Bolivian and Pe- ruvian economies. The drug economy in Bolivia employs roughly 500,000 people, about 20 percent of the workforce.19 When Bolivia’s . . ./ President Jaime Paz Zamora met Pre51dent Bush at the Cartagena drug I i summit in February I 990, he ointed Out that more half of his coun— .>( tr ’5 i the -' aine traffic and t at 70 per— cent of real gross national product (GNP) was cocaine related.20 Ac— ' cording to Flavio Machicado, Bolivia’s former finance minister, “If narcotics were to disappear overriight, we would have rampant unem- ployment. There would be open protest and violence.”21. In Peru, where the legal economy is extremely weak and official unemployment has sky- rocketed, thercoc industr provides hundreds of thou 'obs and is th try’s largest source 0 ‘ —exc ange revenues.22 . e . Struggling to comp y ' netary Fund (IMF) austerity guidelines and international debt-payment schedules, Andean countries are understandably hesitant to adopt economically risky drug policies. Indeed, they have created mechanisms to allow their financial systems to absorb as much foreign exchange from the drug industry as ‘ possible. Given their desperate need for foreign exchange, Andean gov- ernments have little choice but to tolerate revenue .from any source, le- F aws in r e War On rugs 17 gal or illegal. A successful crackdown on the trade, in short, would threaten the immediate economic viability of both Peru and Bolivia— and the political survival of their leaders. . Likewise, the Latin American security forces charged with carrying out the U.S. drug strategy have little real interest in joining the antidrug campaign. They may want U.S. equipment and aid, but if they have any real military objective, it is in battling leftist insurgents, not drugs.23 And for many soldiers and policemen the drug war simply serves as a way to supplement their often meager incomes: they can trade their enforcement ' capability for a share of the profits. ' The endemic corruption that undermines the drug war is rooted in the high profits that make it a rational choice for government officials and police and military officers whose low salaries cannot compete with traffickers’ bribes.“ Retired Special Forces Commander General Robert C. Kingston described a conversation with a U.S. Border Patrol agent at a checkpoint in Peru: “A colonel from Lima said, ‘I have the opportunity while I’m here to make $70,000 by looking the other way at certain times. You have a family, they are protected in the United States, you have a proper pension plan. My family is not protected and I don’t have the proper pension plan and I will never have the opportunity to make $70,000 as long as I live. I am going to make it.”’25 i A DEA official confirmed that corruption similarly “permeates all l levels of the anti—narcotics forces” in Bolivia.26 Antidrug officials, more- ' over, may go beyond simply overlooking drug activity and actively as- sist the drug traffickers: “We know as a fact that the Peruvian Army gets payments for letting traffickers use airstrips,” a U.S. Special Forces com- mander reported.27 Colombian traffickerjosé Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha made multimillion-dollar payoffs to entire brigades ofthe army.151n mid- I995 more than a dozen Colombian congressmen, the comptroller, the attorney general, and the president’s campaign advisor were indicted for accepting payoffs from the Cali cartel.29,_I~n, somw extensiv resident, uses state ower to participate in the drug trade—as in the case of Panama under Manuel Noriega throughout the I98os and Bolivia under Luis Garcia Meza from 138?) to 1982..30 The United States can sometimes use pressure to force the removal of a corrupt official; Andean government officials will occasionally yield in order to secure continued U.S. assistance. But such steps do not address the systemic problem of drug-related corruption. Further, the more on rontmg that US. training and equipment makes local enforcement agencies into efficient drug fighters, the more incentive there is on the part of traffickers to bribe them, and the greater the opportunity for widespread corruption. Ironically, then, the more aggressive the antidrug campaign, the more corruption may spread. “As long as the trade is illicit,” ex- plained Colombia’s Prosecutor General Gustavo De Greiff in 1994, “the narcotraficantes will continue to receive these immense profits that al- low them to corrupt everyone.”31 The hydra effect heightens the obstacles created by the profit paradox! to curbing drug production at the source. Crop eradication has simplyi, led peasants to replant elsewhere, often in new and more remote areas. l The profit incentive and the ease of growing coca create conditions for almost infinite supply. In the late 19805 the U.S. Department of Agri- culture estimated that z. 5 million square miles in South America alone were suitable for coca production, of which a mere 700 square miles were used for growing coca. What is more, peasant coca producers have organized to protest government eradication and have developed so- phisticated counterstrategies to circumvent enforcement efforts. Grow- ers scale down and hide crops. Sometimes they finance new coca fields with subsidies given to them by the government to eradicate their exist- ing fields. Processors downsize, camouflage, or relocate laboratories.32 As the trade disperses in response to the drug war, it becomes less de- tectable and more impervious to the efforts of enforcers. A congressional report concluded that increased law enforcement in the Andes has ‘ “helped lead to alironic and undesirable result: the dispersion of the drug trade to other mam States and Latin America put the problem more succinctly: “It’s like hit— ting mercury with a hammer,” said one State Department expert.34 A Mexican official explained, “The more we seem to get rid of the prob- lem, the greater it seems to grow. . . . It’s like a water balloon. We squeeze one side and it goes out the other.”35 The same counterproductive results characterize U.S. efforts against major foreign traffickers and cartels. According to the Department of‘ Justice, the cartels have an ability to tap alternative sources of supply and to adapt readily to chang- ing conditions. Thus Colombian cartels can buy their coca leaf or paste in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, or in Colombia itself. When Turkish authorities clamped down on the illicit cultivation of opium-producing poppies, drug or— ganizations shifted production to the Golden Triangle region‘ of Southeast Asia and to the mountainous regions on both sides of the Afghanistan— \ \v/e Flaws in the War on Drugs 19 Pakistan border. This flexibility enables the major traffickers to regroup and to redirect a part of their operations without disrupting the whole.“ Success against 0ne trafficking organization simply guarantees more market share for others. Enforcement efforts against Colombia’s major traffickers, for example, have shown periodic signs of success—but these have been short-lived. In the months following the U.S.-backed crack- down by the Colombian government on the Medellin cartel in the fall of 1989, cocaine processing and trafficking dropped significantly. But the disruption was temporary: production quickly recovered, nearly reaching previous levels within six months. The weakening of the Medel- lin cartel allowed the competing Cali cartel to boost its share of the co- caine market. When the government cracked down on the Cali cartel in 199 5, younger and more violent trafficking groups began to replace it in the cocaine and heroin trades. Senior Colombian officials, pleased at th' I - 5 against the Cali drug lords, nevertheless predicted that the would lead to a more dispersed-and deadlier drug trade and to éater problems for neighboring countries.37 , U.S. efforts to curb marijuana and poppy cultivation have generated similar hydralike responses. Drug-control campaigns against Turkish heroin production in the early r9705 helped stimulate the growth of the Mexican heroin industry, which subsequently became a major supplier to the US. market. Pressure on foreign marijuana producers in the late' 19705, especially in Mexico, succeeded only in causing production to ex- pand into Colombia—and to increase in the United States. Marijuana is now a major cash crop in the United States, with 100,000 to 200,000 commercial growers and industry earnings estimated at billions of dol~ lars annually.38 Search-and-destroy missions against domestic marijuana cultivation confront the same obstacles as do Andean enforcement ef- forts. Farmers intercrop marijuana with corn in order to avoid detection by overflights. In response to DEA eradication campaigns launched in 1 982., many growers have moved their marijuana cultivation indoors, or underground into large subterranean bunkers, to avoid discovery. As a result of this war on supply in the United States, indoor growers have developed high-technology techniques, permitting them to harvest greater yields of a more potent product.39 A U.S. military official trying to curb drug production and trafficking in South America summed up the problem: “There’s an increasing sense that this is a holding action. We’re not stopping drug supply because it moves. And we could never get the resources to shut down the whole —_—-————-—-———-— s? 2 Confronting Denial hemisphere. The evidence is that we haven’t affected price or supply. Is this the way we want to spend U.S. dollars? I think not.”0 At the Borders: The Interdiction War On 20 May I 991 the cargo ship President Truman clocked in Oakland, California. Customs agents‘checking out minor inconsistencies in the ship’s manifest found and seized 1,071 pounds of heroin from Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle; it would have sold for about $2. 5 billion on the street.41 Despite such victories, the United States continues to lose the drug-interdiction war. The interdiction program is impressive. The DEA, the U.S. Customs Service, the Border Patrol, and other forces have joined with the U.S. mil- itary and have enlisted radar-equipped Navy warships, Air Force fighter planes, and AWACS radar aircraft in the effort. But consider what inter- dictors are up against. Each year 574,000 airplanes, 177,000 ships and boats, I I 8 million automobiles, and 422 million people cross our I 2,000 miles of coastal and 7,500 miles of land borders. Each could be carrying well-hidden illicit drugs. Now consider this: four Boeing 747 cargo planes or thirteen trailer trucks loaded with cocaine could satisfy American demand for a year.42 The problem of interdiction is further deepened by the fact that drugs such as cocaine and heroin are extremely difficult to detect. Because there are many ways to package and conceal drug sup- plies, interdiction is the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. Not surprisingly, Customs and the DEA interdict no more than a small per- centage of the drugs smuggled in every year. The profit paradox undermines any effort to cope with this problem. Think back to the kilo of cocaine we traced above. Thati kilo will sell for between $1,900 and $2,500 in the Andes. Once it arrives in Miami, the same kilo will bring between $ I 6,000 and $25,000 at the wholesale level, a 700—900 percent markup. Thus a Ioo-kilo shipment (220 pounds) will gross $1.6 to $2.5 million. At these profit levels, traffickers can afford to pay enormous sums to those who transport drugs: a cargo pilot can earn an estimated $250,000 for a 2.50-kilo shipment.43 “Somebody is al- ways going to take a chance for that kind of money,” said one convicted smuggler. “We didn’t care if we lost a bag or two. Even if we lost a whole load, it didn’t mean anything.“4 The consequences for the interdiction war are sobering. As one top analyst in Congress’s General Accounting Office (GAO) put it, “The enormous profits in cocaine trafficking make interdiction losses relatively inconsequential. . . . Given this huge profit I S? weary—71¢ r, 12,-} ..~=.: c-x’: ~13. 2 .‘s-‘i'mr: *9 -*~¢'..~;;-‘ Flaws in the War on Drugs 2-1 margin, it appears unlikely that interdiction will be a significant cost de- terrent to traffickers, regardless of the surveillance support that DOD [Department of Defense] provides.”45 Even successful interdiction efforts are undermined by the hydra ef-"( fect: new smuggling routes simply spring up elsewhere. In Southeast Asia, for example, the success of antinarcotics efforts in discouraging heroin trafficking from Burma through Thailand en route to the United States encouraged the development of at least three major new routes, according to State Department officials; the routes lead through Laos and then through southern China, Cambodia, or Vietnam. “Trafficking routes have spread like a cancer to all these countries,” said Assistant Secretary of State Robert Gelbard in 199 5. Closer to home, U.S. officials were proud of the significant drop in smuggling after intense cocaine- interdiction efforts in southern Florida in the 19805. But before long, traffickers responded by shifting to air drops over the Caribbean Sea for pickup by boat. When enforcers caught up with this tactic, traffickers switched to new shipping routes through northern Mexico.46 Successes in marijuana interdiction have also triggered the hydra ef- fect. By raising the cost of foreign marijuana, the drug war created the equivalent of a tariff barrier. Protected from cheaper foreign imports, do- mestic producers dramatically expanded their operations. The success of interdiction efforts also encouraged marijuana smugglers to switch from shipping marijuana to transporting cocaine, which is less bulky per dol- lar value and therefore easier to conceal, as well as more profitable—and far more dangerous to U.S. consumers." Equally maddening is the progressive innovation in smuggling tech- niques that has made detection increasingly difficult. In response to inten- sified air interdiction, for example, traffickers switched to containerized cargo shipping, a form of transport that makes smuggling far more diffi- cult to detect. Almost 9 million cargo containers enter the United States each year through legitimate commercial channels. By one estimate, it would take more than 6 5 million agent days to inspect them all, at a prob- able cost of $27 billion a year (without calculating the added costs of dis- rupting international trade).“8 Moreover, traffickers have developed a range of creative Ways to conceal drugs. Cocaine supplies have been discovered inside such imported items as batteries, mannequins, sneakers, surfboards, fence posts, and even live animals, from boa constrictors to racehorses.” The results, not surprisingly, confirm that interdiction has had little impact on reducing availability or on raising the price of drugs in the United States. In I 99 3, for example, the GAO found that “the portion Confronting Denial of the federal drug budget allocated to military surveillance has nearly quadrupled over the last 5 years, without measurable goals or results to show that the increases were warranted. . . . The fact is that adding mil- itary surveillance to the nation’s interdiction efforts has not made a dif- ference in our ability to reduce the flow of cocaine to American streets. ”50 Government leaders occasionally have acknowledged the limits of in- terdiction. “With borders like ours, [interdiction] as the main method of halting the drug problem in America is virtually impossible,” President Reagan stated in I98 1. “It’s like carrying water in a sieve,” he concluded, before adding that even so, it was important to continue the effort.5l The failures of the war on supply at the source and through interdic— tion are thus a product of two inherent flaws in the drug strategy. The profit paradox ensures that the same drug war strategies that seek to drive suppliers out of business also give these suppliers the profit incen- tives to keep the drugs flowing. And the hydra effect guarantees that the trade will move and adapt to escalating enforcement in ways that con- tinue to confound drug warriors. ' An even simpler economic logic damns the entire effort abroad and at the U.S. borders. In the final analysis, what matters is whether the drug ; war can raise the street price of drugs in the United States enough to dis- courage use. The basic economics of the drug market makes this impos- l sible, as economist Peter Reuter has shown. Even unimaginable drug war successes at the source and at the borders, Reuter demonstrates, would not significantly affect drug prices on the streets—because most of the value added to the drugs (roughly 90 percent of the street price, 'i’n the case of cocaine) is imposed after the product arriv’es in the United States, reflecting the risks and costs created by domestic law enforcement. Reuter has estimated that even an inconceivable 50 percent reduction in the Latin American cocaine supply destined for the United States would raise the street price by a paltry 3 percent. Significant successes in interdicting this cocaine on its way to the United States would also have a negligible impact, because smuggling costs account for less than 5 per— cent of the retail price. The bottom line is as inescapable as it is dis- tressing: even dramatic increases in the amount of cocaine eradicated or interdicted would have at best a minimal effect on the final street price.52 On the Streets: The War at Home In 1989 federal and local police followed up on a complaint by a Syl- mar, California, resident about heavy late-night traffic at a warehouse in 2—» Flaws in the War on Drugs [4 Lu his neighborhood. They found the warehouse unguarded and protected with only a $6 lock. Inside was almost fourteen tons of cocaine, worth $6 to $7 billion on the street.53 Major drug busts are reported regularly in newspapers across the country. Yet the United States continues to lose ground in the war against supply at home. ln hundreds of cities nationwide, police comb neighborhoods for bid- den drug supplies and interrogate and arrest thousands of suspected deal- ers. Treasury Department agents work to prevent drug dealers from hid- ing their profits in shell companies and banks.“ Homes, automobiles, and other assets are seized under forfeiture laws. Convictions mean jail time, under stiff mandatory sentencing laws. But the task is enormous. Each year tens of thousands of drug importers, wholesalers, distrib- utors, and dealers engage in hundreds of thousands of transactions. The effort to locate and catch domestic suppliers is further complicated by the skill of many of the professional crime organizations and gangs in- volved and by the fact that it is a collusive crime, in which both buyers and sellers have an interest in keeping the transaction secret.“ The sheer size and character of the trade thus make the domestic law-enforcement task daunting. The profit paradox and the hydra effect make long-term success impossible. - If the high profits generated by the drug war have a paradoxical ef- : fect on the war on supply abroad, they have equally self‘defeating effects 3 at home. Consider again the kilo of cocaine we have tracked across the various stages of production and trafficking. Once it arrives in a city like Miami, that kilo (assuming 80 percent purity) can be bought at whole- sale for between $I6,000 and $25,000. It is then transported by couri- ers to regional wholesalers in other cities. They divide the kilos into pounds to sell to dealers, who then divide these into grams for, sale to smaller dealers and so on to the ultimate consumer. At each stage prof- its are multiplied, so that the value of this kilo by the time it is diluted and sold on the street is between $70,000 and $3 00,000. A $25,000 kilo, for example, might be sold in two transactions of roughly one pound for $I 5,000 each, yielding a gross profit of 20 percent, or $5,000. The pound dealer might cut his pound to half purity by adding cheap diluents such as inositol or mannitol, and sell 32 ounces at $750 per ounce, grossing $24,000, a 60 percent profit. This ounce will yield about I4 grams, and ifthe gram dealers sell a gram for $ 100, they make $ 1,400 on each ounce, a gross profit of about 87 percent.56 Not only are the gross profits high, but the costs of doing business are relatively low. It costs very little to enter the local supply business—a 2.4 Confronting Denial small loan (which a larger dealer may provide), a beeper, maybe a gun, and a car. These low barriers to entry and the promise of quick profits draw a steady stream of new small-time dealers. Although the earnings for those at the bottom of the hierarchy are less than is generally assumed in the popular mythology of the street (the median weekly incomes for crack dealers in Washington, D.C., may only be as high as $700, ac- cording to a I 990 RAND report”), they are alluring, particularly in a context of poverty and low social mobility. It is not surprising that many . inner-city young people, faced with dead—end, low-paying service-sector jobs, have joined the drug trade. As one drug dealer in the Bronx put it, “Hey, there’s no work. You go looking for a job, they want to pay you $3. 50 an hour. New York’s expensive, man. You can’t live on the breeze. That’s why we’re selling drugs.”58 The obstacles confronting drug-control effOrts are heightened by the 1 domestic hydra effect: as soon as one supplier is picked up, others emerge to take his or her place. Police sweeps designed to clear streets and neigh— i borhoods of drug dealers and to break up organized gangs in local areas thus have limited effects. Such efforts often make a real difference in the quality of life of those who live in the area; breaking up criminal organizations and clearing the streets can also give local residents a chance to organize themselves and develop ways to keep the violent, overt forms of trafficking out of their neighborhoods. But these en- forcement successes are severely limited by their localized and tempo- rary character: they often spread street dealing to other areas and lead to greater sophistication among dealers who are determined to reap the high profits of the drug trade. Frequently, dealers return once the police move on to another area. - ' u. Robert Stutman, for example, oversaw a major crackdown on co- caine dealing in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood while he was head of the DEA’s New York office. Despite impressive arrest figures, he concedes that the operation had little long-term impact on the availability of crack in the area. “There is no way for law enforce— ment to keep up the kind of pressure that we applied to Washington Heights,” he says.59 Even in cases where local enforcement succeeds on a larger scale—in reducing the number of open-air drug markets citywide, for example—- the impact of this success is limited because drug dealing may continue at the same levels but in new (and often less detectable) locations. “We put all these uniformed persons on the street. lt’s driven the people in- side,” claims Capt. Collin L. Younger, head of the narcotics division in against users. Flaws in the War on Drugs 2.5 Washington, D.C. “If you drove around the city, you’d say this stuff is gone. It’s not gone. It’s going underground.” In areas where small-time street dealing is diminishing, according to DEA spokesperson Camile Swanson, “there are more midlevel distributors selling multi-ounce and kilogram quantities. We are seeing more activity in the suburban areas.”50 Ultimately, law enforcement can do little to counter the do- mestic hydra effect that keeps agents chasing drug dealing from one area to the next. It is like “throwing sand against the tide,” commented Joseph McNamara, retired chief of police in San Jose, California.“ Abroad, on US. borders, and at home, the war to limit the drug sup- ply has failed on its own terms. Drug~control efforts have succeeded in - raising the black-market price for drugs far higher than the price would be in a legal market—but they are not able to raise the price high enough ' to discourage millions of drug users from shopping in that black mar- ket. The failure has not been for lack of trying or for'lack of increased skill and efficiency on the part of enforcement agents on the front lines. There have been many short-term successes in eradicating crops, seizing laboratories, interdicting shipments, and arresting and jailing dealers. But such improved efficiency does not add up to greater effectiveness in the drug war. It will never make a large enough dent in price and supply to significantly lower the current levels of abuse and addiction. The war on supply at home is doomed by the profit paradox and the hydra ef- fect, flaws that are built into the economics of the black market created by the drug war itself. As the DEA’s Stutman concluded from his expe- rience trying to suppress crack cocaine, all the dealers and cartel leaders are “easily replaceable if America continues to have an insatiable ap- petite for drugs. No cop with a gun will ever stop the craving, no occu- pying army can shut off the flow.”62 THE FLAW IN THE WAR AGAINST USERS Since its inception, the war on drugs has focused primarily on the bat- tles against growers, cartels, traffickers, and dealers described above. gut ' thMW 1 The war against users is sometimes obscured by a public rhetoric that contrasts the punitive “supply side” of the drug strategy with more be- ni n “deman ~ ' ” ‘olicies intended to di throu h prevention and treatment. This simple way of configuring the drug prob- lem and drug policies is popular in official and media circles, but it is de- ,l .e/ s( 26 Confronting Denial ceptive. Prevention and treatment programs indeed embody a vital, non- punitive response to problems of abuse and addiction, but their role in the larger drug strategy is limited63—and is often overshadowed by the harsh, punitive policies toward 'drug use and abuse that make up the “other war,” the demand—side war against users (see appendix 1). _ The logic of the war against users is straightforward: strategies to make drugs scarce and costly in order to discourage consumption should thus lead them to less use and abuse. The war against users has generally been a secondary front in the drug war, but it is an old and enduring one. The threat of punishment has been deployed against users since shortly after the 1914 Harrison Act, when addicts and others who possessed drugs were punished for buying or possessing cocaine or heroin without a prescription. Like the war on sup— ply, the war on users has escalated in recent years. Policies that target drug possession are in some ways a natural ex- tension of the war against supply. Counternarcotics agents often arrest suppliers for possession of the drugs they intend to sell. If they were lim— ited to catching dealers in the act of selling, enforcement would be even _ more difficult than it now is. During the 19808 only 7.5 to 30 percent of drug-violation arrests were for trafficking, whereas between 70 and 75 percent were for possession.64 I Picking up people on possession charges, however, nets 3 mix of offenders—dealers intending to sell for a profit, user-dealers seeking to earn money to buy drugs for themselves, and users possessing drugs for personal use only. Laws that seek to punish dealers for possession fail to distinguish between dealers who sell for a profit and user—dealers who sell to buy drugs themselves, often because they are addicted. Criminal— justice experts emphasize that the drug war’s failure to draw this dis- tinction and to systematically provide treatment to addicts arrested for drug dealing feeds the cycle of addiction—based crime. Laws against drug possession, moreover, have often targeted not only dealers but also the millions of Americans who possess drugs simply for personal use. Beginning in the early 19505 with the Boggs bill, the amounts subject to penalty have decreased as the penalties have increased—an escalation of the war not only on small dealers but on users themselves. Historically, certain policies have had the explicit aim of threatening and punishing users. In the early 19605, for example, Alfred Lindesmith reports being in court when a defendant “charged with hav- “a be backed by sanctions a ainst the consumers themselves. Fear of pun-‘fi ishment wil act as a deterrent y ismg e r15 5 0 drug use and Flaws in the War on Drugs 17 ing used and had in his possession one marijuana cigarette during the noon hour“ and with “no previous criminal record” was given a two—year sentence to “dry up his habit.”65 In the 19605 and 19705 the war against marijuana users became particularly intense; and by the end of the 19805 some 3 50,000 arrests were made each year for marijuana possession.“ In the late 19805 administration officials began to talk of zero tolerance—urging harsh measures against anyone who possessed even a small amount of drugs for personal use. In 1988 Republicans in Con- gress promoted user—accountability measures that directed strict pun- ishments at those who used drugs, including fines of up to $10,000 for possession of personal—use amounts. Others sought a marked expansion in mandatory drug testing by pushing legislation that demanded drug- free workplaces. The Bush administration’s national drug-control strate- gies confirmed the need to threaten and punish “casual users”——those with a “still-intact family, social, and work life” who are “likely to still ‘enjoy’” a “drug for the pleasure it.offers.” The argument was that users who enjoy the effects of a drug, in effect, proselytize drug use, tempting innocent nonusers.67 This view justified a range of proposed sanctions against drug users: including the withholding of certain federal benefits, publication of users’ names in local newspapers, suspension of drivers’ licenses, “em-' ployer notification, overnight or weekend detention, eviction from pub- lic housing, or forfeiture of the cars they drive while purchasing drugs.“8 In some areas enforcement in the war against users has been particul- I larly harsh. Police forces in a number of cities have launched programs that specifically target those who buy drugs. Stringent laws against drug use by pregnant women have led to many arrests, often of poorer, mi- nority women who are arrested when they seek medical attention at pub- lic hospitals or clinics.69 The results of the war against users are difficult to measure. Without question, Weed, it is tempting to'attri ute at east some of the decline in casual use of drugs to threats against users. But much of this decline may just as convinc- ineg be attributed to increased preventive-education efforts in schools, communities, and the media—or to factors entirely unrelated to drug policies, including the increased emphasis on health in American soci‘ ety, fears produced by the AIDS epidemic, and recent demographic trends that demonstrate a decrease in the number of young people at greatest risk for initiation into drug use.70 The downward trend in casual drug use, after all, was already evident in 1979, two to three years before the 7.8 Confronting 'Deiii'fail‘émgw=v Reagan drug war began in earnest; and in 1991, at the height of the re~ cent drug wars, indicators pointed to new increases in casual drug use."l Even more troubling, the persistence and increase in hard—core drug abuse and addiction since the late 19705 do not suggest great success in the war against users (see appendix 3). The inherent limits to the war against users become clear when we consider the two mechanisms through which it is presumed to work: the threat of punishment is supposed to deter an individual from using drugs; and once a user is caught, the infliction of punishment is supposed to If deter future use. The logic—based on behavior modification throug punishment—(is simple. Behavioral. psychologists have substantial evi~ dence for this in animals: if you put a rat in a box and offer it rewards (like food) for making one kind of movement and punishments (like elec- tric shocks) for another, you can train it to move the way you want. Neg- atively reinforcing human behavior through punishment or its threat can also alter some behaviors, if the severity of punishment is great enough and if the threat of punishment is certain enough.lBut such shock~the~ rat policies are severely limited by costs and moral decency. More im- portantly, such policies fail to reflect the ways in which humans are dlf~ behaviors. This punish-to-deter fallacy is the fatal flaw in the war against ‘ drug users. Practically speaking, the limits are severe. By the government’s esti- mates, nearly half of the 24 million Americans who used illicit drugs in 1993 did so at least once a month.72 To credibly threaten millions of Americans with jail in order to discourage use or encourage treatment would bankrupt our treasury and demand a draconian, authoritarian system of police and prisons that is politically unacceptable. Other moral implications are troubling, too: many users are suffering from addiction and need medical treatment and social support; casual users who have done no harm to others are suffering a punishment that does not fit the crime and are likely to be harmed by a prison experience that exposes them to serious and sometimes violent offenders. Another practical issue arises, here: how effectively does punishment deter use? Evidence indicates that its deterrent effect—particularly on addicted drug users—is dubiOus at best. The test case is prison: locking up people who use drugs is about as severe a punishment as our demo» cratic system is likely to impose. The record is not promising. Review~ ing the limited evidence available, Harry Wexler and his colleagues re— port that f‘t’wo-thirds or more of arrested heroin abusers return to /, ferent from rats and the ways drug use is different from other modifiablefi/ Flaws in the War on Drugs 'W - 29 heroin-cocaine use and their diverse criminal patterns within three months after release from detention.” Jeffrey Fagen’s study of thousands ofdrug offenders found not only that punishment failed to deter but also that “the probability of rearrest increased with the length of the sen- tence.” “Findings from a number of studies,” Patricia Erikson concludes, “consistently indicate that the perceived certainty arid severity of pun- ishment are insignificant factors in deterring use.”73 Although imprisonment seems to do little to deter use, there is evi- dence that intensive treatment of incarcerated offenders with substance- abuse problems (estimate a o o 0 percent of the one mi - “(Trim-s incarcerated) would cut drug abuse and dependence and lower recidivism. Only one in six inmates, however, receives any kind of treatment—and only 2. percent receive the serious and sustained atten- tion necessary to address their addictions.74 What is worse, the prison environment may actually encourage drug use. Drugs are readily avail- able in most prisons, and many people who enter prison as nondrug users end up using drugs by the time they leave. One survey of state-prison in— mates found that about half of the prisoners who had used illicit drugs did not consume drugs until after their first incarceration.” For hard-core users, it is not surprising that the threat of punishment will have a limited effect. Many are suffering from other serious prob— lems, and being punished is not an overriding concern for them. For ex~ ample, according to the government’s Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Men— tal Health Administration, 53 percent of drug abusers have a diagnosable mental disorder.76 Many hard-core users in inner cities are already lead- ing such high—risk lives on the streets that prison is not perceived as a - much riskier or more‘threatening alternative. The limits of punishment as a deterrent are underlined by research on the factors that have led heavy users to quit without having been at- rested or imprisoned. Evidence suggests that'many have been led to con- trol or give up their drug use because the toll on their personal relation- ships and home and work lives was too high, and the rewards for quitting were attractive. A study in the early 19705 by Barry S. Brown explored the reasons heroin addicts started and stopped their drug use. It found that not one of the adult men and women mentioned concern about punishment as the reason for their first attempt to stop using heroin, and only 13 per- cent of the juvenile users did. Drug-related physical or family problems, the desire to change a life pattern, or the expense of maintaining a habit were much more commonly cited reasons/7 <.»v ,_ p ,. . .., “a W * ‘fi w . 1 pro )— ’ ’a- lems, , pro lems at work, and pressure from a spouse or lover. Most importantly, the authors observed that “what keeps many heavy users from falling into the abyss of abuse, and what helps pull back those who do fall, is [a] stake in conventional life. jobs, families, friends—the ingredients of a normal identity—turned out to be the bal- last that allowed many users to control their use or to return from abuse to occasional, controlled use.”78 \ The evidence does not indict punishment per se. The threat of pun-2 ishment may be one useful tool in helping resolve problems of drug abuse and addiction. Someone whose job performance is suffering because of substance abuse or who is caught driving while intoxicated may only come to acknowledge a drug problem and to seek treatment when con- fronted with the loss ofa job or a license. Similarly, someone ordered by- ' a court to enter treatment after committing an addiction-based crime may be motivated to kick a drug habit by the fear of time behind bars. Such sanctions, penalties, and incentive systems are in some cases a le- gitimate and effective means of preventing or reducing crime and ad— dressing drug abuse. But there is little evidence to su nest that )unish— AV ment can ever succeed 21W gu seM/ The deep flaw in the war against users is its conception of what mo- 1’ tivates and constrains human action. The market model that underlies much of the war against users (with its imperative to reduce demand) often leads policymakers to think of people as little more than individ- ual consumers with a particular want or desire-to satisfy a craving for illicit drugs. Taking this desire as a given, they ask: how can we make filling that desire so costly that this individual will not consume? Rais- ing the price and increasing the risk of punishment will, it is hoped, dis— courage consumption despite the desire. But this notion of a person as primarily an individual consumer in the drug marketplace leads policy- makers to avoid more important, if difficult, questions. Why do people want to take drugs in the first place? How are these desires created and sustained? What leads people to moderate their use or to quit? What those behind the war on drug users miss is that people are much more than isolated, atomistic consumers responding to risks, prices, and E other forces Of the marketplace—just as they are far more than isolated rats in cages responding to rewards and shocks. They are social beings E's:- - _ W51 . Ai.‘ ‘ who are shaped above all by a context of families, friends, neighbor- hoods, peer groups, jobs, and often ethnic or religious communities. As researchers have observed, this context deeply affects when, how, and where people use drugs. their ability to moderate drug use, andtheir abil- ity to overcome abuse and addiction.‘9 ' Any strategy that makes fear, threats, and punishment its prinfi- \' weapons in a war a tainst drug use is thus doomed to fail. The and dim! similarly undercut the war against supply. ’ ogethcr, these three fatal flaws ensure that the war on drugs can never succeed. _ Not acknowledging the fundamental flaws in the drug war leads many policymakers. law-enforcement officials, and members of the public down one of two blind alleys: they may conclude either that more effort (increases in resources, political will, efficiency) or that programmatic changes at the margins (a little more focus on local police, a little less on foreign supply) will make the critical difference, finally reversing the record of failure. Either conclusion, however, leads around a vicious cir- cle, fueling the cycle of escalation and failure in the fight against drugs. A politics of sustaining or escalating the same basic policies in the face of a fatally flawed strategy is a politics of denial. The mistaken belief that the failing drug strategy is somehow fixable j) is not the only myth that feeds the drug war. Another well—intended but misguided response to failure is also common: we may not be winning the war on drugs, but we have to do something about the drug problem. so why not keep trying a little longer—at least we are not doing any dam- age. Buried in this argument is another dangerous myth—that the drug war itself does little or no harm. ...
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