Rethink the fight against cocaine
Drug use is up, and Colombian farmers are unfairly targeted. Let's overhaul counternarcotics.
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Law enforcement and interdiction are essential to control drug trafficking, but not sufficient. A massive increase in rural development would provide a far better chance of reducing the drug supply flowing from the Andean ridge countries than eradication alone.Skip to next paragraph
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Colombia is faced with a continuing insurgency, which finances itself from drug revenues, and the Peruvian and Bolivian coca growers are among the continent's most impoverished indigenous communities. That's why it's so important for Washington to support a massive increase in rural infrastructure investment, rural governance, and public service extension into those communities now.
Congress made a good start last year by voting to shift Plan Colombia funding away from military to economic development and rule of law.
Unfortunately, the administration opposed it. Now Congress needs to go one step further and push this administration, and the next one, to rethink a counterdrug policy that has not achieved its goals. Fundamental changes are needed in both supply and demand policies if there is going to be a decline in cocaine trafficking into the US.
In 2002, just under 9 percent of the US population from 12 to 25 years of age admitted to using cocaine the previous year. In 2006, the same percentage said they snorted cocaine. Since the population has grown, simple math shows that in absolute terms many more used cocaine.
A one-size-fits-all demand reduction policy essentially aims to put everyone who touches cocaine in jail – whether they are one-time or weekend users, addicts or traffickers.
Certainly for traffickers, the only option is more effective law enforcement that works closely with other nations to go after their money, their assets, and their structures.
For cocaine users, it is time to build on the best models of dealing with addicts through a public health lens, with hospitals, clinics, and treatment replacing jails. And a massive public service effort should be launched to target recreational users that equates cocaine use with drunken driving – unacceptable destructive behavior. Their weekend fun kills young people in Colombia and Los Angeles and Miami. It has to stop.
Producers and consumers in the Andes, the US, Europe, and the Southern Cone must come together and admit that the Emperor's counterdrug wardrobe is threadbare. It needs new fabric and a new design – a top to bottom overhaul of counternarcotics thinking.