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Published: Sun, 22 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

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The Drug War Graph Is Embarrassing. So Is Believing Obama's Promises of Reform.

Thu, 30 May 2013 16:41:00 -0400

Washington Post blogger Harold Pollack presents what he calls "the most embarrassing graph in American policy," showing that the mass incaraceration of drug offenders since the early 1980s has been accompanied by declines in the retail prices of cocaine and heroin. That's embarrassing because drug law enforcement aims to reduce consumption of illegal drugs by increasing the risk and cost of supplying them, an effort that if successful should be reflected in rising retail prices. Instead we have seen just the opposite during the last few decades as the number of drug offenders behind bars has increased dramatically, peaking at 562,000 in 2007. The ineffectiveness of supply-control measures is rooted in the economics of the black market. Illegal drugs acquire most of their value after arriving in the United States. Attempts to destroy drug crops or intercept shipments on their way to the U.S. therefore do not cost traffickers much and do not have much of an impact on retail prices. Nor does busting drug dealers in the U.S. and seizing the relatively small quantities they are apt to be holding. Both the dealers and the drugs are easily replaced. And to the extent that police succeed over the short term in raising prices by raising the risks involved in selling drugs, they also raise the returns from the business, attracting new participants and boosting the supply. A study cited by Pollack suggests how these dynamics conspire to frustrate drug warriors:  Examining a period when cocaine prices were actually plummeting, these authors estimated that a 15-fold increase in the number of incarcerated drug offenders raised street cocaine prices in the range of 5 percent to 15 percent, compared with what otherwise would have been the case. That's not much. Joining an assortment of drug-war critics who accept at face value the current president's avowed commitment to changing course, Pollack claims "drug policy has improved during the Obama years." You know his case is weak when you see that his first reason for believing this is that "the president and his key drug policy advisers have largely abandoned the harsh war-on-drugs rhetoric of previous administrations." Obama may be allowing thousands of federal drug offenders whose sentences he admits are unjust to languish in prison, but at least he does not call the crackdown that put them there a "war." His actual policy regarding medical marijuana may be more aggressively intolerant than his predecessor's, despite promises to the contrary, but at least his rhetoric is milder. He may defend marijuana's rationally indefensible Schedule I status, but at least he claims to be doing so in the name of science. Pollack also notes that "the number of incarcerated drug offenders has declined for the first time in decades." But according to the figures displayed in the graph, the number of drug offenders behind bars (in prisons and jails) peaked in 2007, two years before Obama took office. Furthermore, state prisons account for most incarcerated drug offenders. The number of drug offenders in federal prison increased from 95,205 in 2009 to 97,472 in 2010 before falling to 94,600 in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available. Yay? Finally, Pollack praises Obama for expanding access to drug treatment through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Thus does Obama gain credibility as a drug policy reformer by taking a page from Richard Nixon's playbook.[...]

Our Stalwart Iranian Allies in the War on Drugs

Fri, 12 Oct 2012 10:45:00 -0400

(image) In what is supposed to be a man-bites-dog story, The New York Times reports that (as the headline puts it) "Iran (Yes, That Iran)" is "the West's Stalwart Ally in the War on Drugs." It's true! Drugs (including alcohol) are illegal in Iran, where dealers (including liquor sellers) are routinely executed. Toward the end of the story, which is mostly about brave Iranian narcs fighting heavily armed opium and heroin smugglers, the Times notes that the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, whose local representative "showered the Iranians with praise—'because they really deserve it,'" is "under pressure from Western activist groups like Human Rights Watch, which have expressed alarm over the sharp increase in hangings of convicted drug dealers." The Times adds that "hundreds have been executed in recent years, making Iran the second leading country in the world in death sentences, after China."  

That's not the only way our stalwart Iranian allies go a little overboard. Here are some other things that are banned in Iran: blasphemy, romantic movie scenesbooks deemed religiously offensiveSimpsons dollstrendy hairstyles, coed squirt gun fights, dancing by kindergarteners, "improper" dresses, skiing by unchaperoned women, and female undergraduates studying English literature, computer science, or 75 other subjects. The determination to police people's bloodstreams and brains is not a way in which Iran is like the U.S. It is a way in which the U.S. is like Iran.

Cocaine Subs: More Government-Driven Innovation

Mon, 10 Sep 2012 11:52:00 -0400

(image) In yet another illustration of the "balloon effect," The New York Times reports that cocaine smugglers are commissioning diesel-powered submarines that "would be the envy of all but a few nations" from "machine shops operating under cover of South America's triple-canopy jungles." These vessels, which can travel underwater "all the way from Ecuador to Los Angeles," carry up to 10 tons of cocaine, compared to the one-ton capacity of a more easily detected "fast boat." The Times highlights the intelligence gathering and surveillance technology that the Joint Interagency Task Force-South, based in Key West, uses to help the Coat Guard intercept the occasional cocaine-laden sub. But it notes toward the end of the story that "three-quarters of potential drug shipments identified by the task force are not interdicted, simply because there are not enough ships and aircraft available for the missions." So drug warriors miss 75 percent of the shipments they know about, plus 100 percent of the shipments they don't know about. Depending on the relative sizes of those two categories, the actual interception rate may be infinitesimal. Add to this abysmal failure the fact that illegal drugs acquire most of their value after they arrive in this country, and it is not suprising that interdiction efforts have no observable impact on drug consumption. The Times reports that  whenever it helps seize a big shipment the task force raises a flag bearing "a large image of a cocaine snowflake with a larger red 'X' across the center." A plain white flag might be more appropriate.

Prohibition Is an Awful Flop; We Like It: The Mexican Edition

Wed, 11 Jul 2012 09:16:00 -0400

In my column today, I argue that last week's presidential election results in Mexico, where the candidate of President Felipe Calderon's National Action Party (PAN) finished a distant third, reflect growing disenchantment with the war on drugs. I did not have the space to discuss polling data that back up that claim, which are, I have to admit, mixed and somewhat puzzling. Last year, for instance, a Gallup poll found that Mexicans were less likely to feel safe walking alone at night than they had been in 2007, one year into Calderon's military crackdown on the drug cartels, even though they were also less likely to report gang activity or drug trafficking in their neighborhoods. The percentages expressing confidence in the national government, the military, and the police fell from 2007 to 2011, with the police seeing the biggest drop in confidence. In the Citizenship, Democracy, and Drug-Related Violence Survey, also conducted last year, 54 percent of respondents "somewhat" or "entirely" approved of "the government's actions in fighting drug trafficking." At the same time, 53 percent said the government was not "winning the war on drugs," while an additional 18 percent said it was "neither winning nor losing," and 3 percent expressed no opinion. In other words, only a quarter of respondents thought "the government's actions in fighting drug trafficking" (of which a majority approved) were meeting with success. People living in states with higher levels of violence were more likely both to support the government's anti-drug efforts and to think they were working. That correlation is counterintuitive if you see prohibition and its enforcement as the main sources of the "drug-related" violence, which has claimed more than 50,000 lives since Calderon launched his crackdown in December 2006. But if you blame the violence on drug trafficking, overlooking the government-created environment in which it operates, you might welcome a bigger military presence and its promise of security. Reassuringly, large majorities of respondents, no matter where they lived, rejected suggestions that "it is necessary to lose some rights and freedoms to fight drug traffic," that "government should use physical abuse to obtain information from people [suspected] of belonging to drug cartels," and that the government should "arrest people even if there is no evidence against them." But the respondents also overwhelmingly rejected the idea of electing candidates who would make peace with the cartels, with most preferring "candidates that fight drug cartels even if it generates more violence and insecurity." That last finding makes the election of Enrique Pena Nieto, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), even more striking, since drug warriors feared that he would revert to PRI tradition by turning a blind eye to trafficking in exchange for less violence. Then again, all three leading presidential candidates, including PAN's, promised that controlling violence, as opposed to catching traffickers or seizing drugs, would be their top law enforcement priority. All three also said they would take the army out of the fight, replacing it with specially trained police officers. If everyone had not taken the latter position, it might be considered politically courageous, given that Mexican voters put more trust in the military than in politicians, the courts, or the notoriously corrupt and abusive police. In fact, a survey conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project a few months before the presidential election found that 80 percent of Mexicans supported "using the Mexican army to fight drug traffickers." That's not so surprising when you consider that 73 percent said the military was having a "very good" or "somewhat good" influence on "the way things are going in Mexico"; the corresponding rating was 65 percent for the national government, 60 percent for the media, 57 percent for Cal[...]

Violence Is Not Victory

Wed, 11 Jul 2012 07:00:00 -0400

Early last year, when the death toll from Mexican President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on the cartels stood at 35,000 or so, Michele Leonhart, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, told reporters in Cancun "the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs." The results of last week's presidential election, in which the candidate of Calderon's National Action Party (PAN) finished a distant third, suggest Mexican voters are no longer buying that counterintuitive argument, if they ever did. Even if "the fight against drugs" were winnable, it would be an outrageous imposition. Why should Mexicans tolerate murder and mayhem on an appalling scale (more than 50,000 deaths since Calderon launched his assault in December 2006), not to mention the rampant corruption associated with prohibition, all in the name of stopping Americans from obtaining psychoactive substances that their government has arbitrarily decreed they should not consume? That sort of arrogant expectation is becoming increasingly untenable. Mexico's incoming president, Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has promised continued cooperation with U.S. drug warriors. But during the campaign, he and the other two leading candidates all said controlling violence, as opposed to seizing drugs or arresting traffickers, would be their top law enforcement priority. Pena Nieto has reiterated that commitment since the election, saying his success should be measured by the homicide rate. At the same time, Pena Nieto has declared the current approach to drugs a failure and called for a "broad debate," including the possibility of legalization, while emphasizing that he personally opposes that option. The president-elect's mixed signals of continuity and change were reflected in a whipsawing Bloomberg headline: "Pena Nieto to Expand Drug War, Debate Drug Legalization." Pena Nieto's lip service to reform might not amount to much on its own, but it takes on added significance in the context of recent rumblings from other politicians. Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, who as president supported decriminalizing simple possession of drugs (a policy approved under Calderon), three years ago declared that "it's time to open the debate over legalizing drugs," adding that "it can't be that the only way is for the state to use force." Last year Calderon himself expressed a similar frustration. "If [the Americans] are determined and resigned to consume drugs," he said in an eyebrow-raising speech, "then they should seek market alternatives in order to cancel the criminals' stratospheric profits, or establish clear points of access [to drugs]. But this situation can't go on." In recent years that sentiment has been expressed by a growing number of Latin American leaders, beginning with Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2008. The following year, a commission convened by three former Latin American presidents—Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico—concluded that "prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the expected results." Furthermore, Cardoso et al. observed, the war on drugs has been accompanied by "a rise in organized crime," "a growth in unacceptable levels of drug-related violence," "the criminalization of politics and the politicization of crime," and "the corruption of public servants." They called for a "paradigm shift," including marijuana decriminalization. Since then we have heard similar talk from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, and Uruguayan President José Mujica. Is America listening? At last April's Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, President Barack Obama, who as a U.S. Senate candidate in 2004 called [...]

Mexico's President-Elect Wants a 'Broad Debate' About Drug Policy

Wed, 04 Jul 2012 03:09:00 -0400

On Monday, Scott Shackford warned critics of the war on drugs not to expect much from Mexico's president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Peña Nieto, like the other two leading presidential candidates, promised voters a change of course aimed at reducing the violence that has left some 50,000 people dead since the outgoing president, Felipe Calderón, began his anti-drug crackdown at the end of 2006. But at the same time, Peña Nieto reassured U.S. officials that he would continue to enthusiastically participate in the vain struggle to stop Americans from obtaining the psychoactive substances they want. Yesterday, in an interview with PBS, he sent a somewhat different signal, saying: I'm in favor of opening a new debate in the strategy in the way we fight drug trafficking. It is quite clear that after several years of this fight against drug trafficking, we have more drug consumption, drug use and drug trafficking. That means we are not moving in the right direction. Things are not working. I'm not saying we should legalize. But we should debate in Congress, in the hemisphere and especially the U.S. should participate in this broad debate. Peña Nieto sounds a little more open to legalization than President Obama, who when he isn't laughing at the very idea calls it "an entirely legitimate topic for debate" but not a policy he would ever seriously consider. Peña Nieto's remarks take on added significance in the context of other Latin American leaders' weariness with the drug war and support for reforms such as decriminalization of possession and even legal distribution of marijuana (albeit through government-run outlets). But let's not get carried away. Calderón himself made similar noises a couple of years ago, and so did his predecessor, Vicente Fox, who as president supported decriminalization of possession (a stingy version of which was enacted under Calderón) and after leaving office went further, saying full legalization should be considered. These rumblings are significant but won't have much impact unless Latin American politicians are prepared to defy the U.S. government's pushy prohibitionists or (even less likely) those prohibitionists reconsider their never-ending, always-failing crusade for a drug-free society. More on the Mexican drug war here. [Thanks to Tom Angell at LEAP for the tip.][...]

Mexican Voters Don't See Drug War Violence As a Sign of Success

Mon, 11 Jun 2012 03:26:00 -0400

(image) Mexico's three leading presidential candidates all seem inclined to de-escalate a literalized drug war that has killed some 50,000 people since the end of 2006. President Felipe Calderón, like U.S. officials, has argued that the horrific violence is a sign of success, but that idea "has lost resonance with the public," The New York Times reports. The crackdown demanded by a U.S. government intent on stopping Americans from getting the psychoactive substances they want has had no discernible impact on drug consumption here, but it has destabilized the black market, leading to an entirely predictable increase in violence:

The focus on arresting top traffickers and extraditing them to the United States has weakened several organizations, the Mexican and American authorities have insisted, but the bloodshed caused by newly emergent and splintering groups has overwhelmed the local and state authorities and left the impression that the antidrug forces are losing ground.

"They can get some of the guys at the top, but now you've got all these other guys running around doing whatever they want, and the state and local police can't handle it," said an American official who requested anonymity because of the political sensitivities.

Not surprisingly, Mexicans resent the idea that they should accept mass murder and mayhem in their country as the price of a vain crusade to protect American drug users from themselves, and the presidential candidates recognize that political reality. Enrique Peña Nieto, the nominee of the Instititutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), says "the task of the state, what should be its priority from my point of view, and what I have called for in this campaign, is to reduce the levels of violence." Josefina Vázquez Mota, the nominee of Calderón's National Action Party, says "results will be measured not by how many criminals are captured, but by how stable and secure the communities are." Democratic Revolution Party candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador—whose slogan is "abrazos, no balazos" ("hugs, not bullets")—joins Peña Nieto and Vázquez Mota in promising to stop using the Mexican Army for drug law enforcement. A foreign policy analyst at the Mexican think tank CIDE tells the Times,  "You go ask the majority of people about a drug lab in the city, they are going to say, 'As long as they don’t kill or rob me, it doesn't matter.'" Those priorities seem pretty sensible to me. American drug warriors, of course, are alarmed.

More on Mexico's drug war violence here.

We Had to Kill the Villagers to Save Americans From the Cocaine They Want

Fri, 18 May 2012 11:33:00 -0400

Lucio Baquedano, the mayor of Ahuas, Honduras, says a U.S.-assisted anti-drug operation there last week left four innocent people dead, including two pregnant women. He says police mistook a fishing canoe for a boat carrying cocaine traffickers and fired on it from a helicopter. Villagers rioted in protest, burning down government buildings and demanding that agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), who participated in the operation as part of a commando-style Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST), leave the area and stay out. An unnamed "U.S. official" said the DEA agents did not fire any rounds during the raid, which seized about 1,000 pounds of cocaine, and he questioned Baquedano's account: The US official briefed on the matter expressed doubts that villagers would be out fishing in the middle of the night, near where helicopters carrying armed police had landed nearly an hour earlier. The large number of people unloading the plane in the video, the official said, was evidence that many members of the impoverished community of Ahuas were involved in lucrative narcotics trafficking. “There is nothing in the local village that was unknown, a surprise, or a mystery about this,"’ the official said. "What happened was that, for the first time in the history of Ahuas, Honduran law enforcement interfered with narcotics smuggling." The logic here seems to be that everyone in the town was complicit in the cocaine trade, so there is no such thing as an innocent victim. Even if Honduran police, who said they were returning fire from a boat that arrived as they were seizing the cocaine, did kill some villagers who were out fishing, they and their unborn children pretty much had it coming. Thus the literalized War on Drugs takes a step beyond regrettable "collateral damage" with the argument that anyone close enough to the action to get hurt probably was aiding the enemy. As Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann notes, even the concept of collateral damage is inappropriate in this situation: The basic distinction between the criminal justice system and a war is that the former does not tolerate "collateral casualties," whereas the latter regards them as an inevitable cost of military conflict. DEA agents are never permitted to be involved in the killing of innocent people, whether or not they are in pursuit of criminal suspects. What happened in Honduras appears to have crossed the line...  Neither the drug czar nor anyone else in the Obama administration, or even in the Bush administration before that, likes to use the phrase "the war on drugs." But what happened in Honduras last week suggests that U.S. drug policy abroad—and often in the U.S.—increasingly resembles a real war, despite U.S. officials’ efforts to abandon that rhetoric. Worse, it is a never-ending war with the unattainable (and undesirable) goal of achieving "a drug-free society." Even in this context, measures like last week's raid stand out as worse than futile. Seizing those 1,000 pounds of cocaine was not worth risking a single person's life, since it accomplished absolutely nothing of consequence, even as measured by the drug warriors' goal of reducing the supply of cocaine or raising its price. Governments can create black markets by fiat, but they cannot control the ever-adaptable operation of those markets, which will always override attempts to disrupt production or block supply routes. Is it any wonder that Latin American leaders are increasingly angry about arrogant U.S. demands that they participate in the vain crusade to stop Americans from getting the drugs they want?  Addendum: Mike Riggs noted the allegations about the Honduras raid yesterday. [...]

Stratfor on the Futility of the War on Meth

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 18:16:00 -0400

(image) A new Stratfor primer on the illicit methamphetamine market cites some numbers that illustrate the risk premium associated with prohibition, which delivers big profits to murderous thugs all over the world:

Depending on the price of chemicals used—determined by the quantity of chemicals purchased and the legitimacy of the supplier—the cost of manufacturing 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of meth comes to anywhere between $150 and $4,000....According to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Illicit Drug Prices Mid-Year 2009 report, the wholesale market price for meth is $19,720 per kilogram while its street value is $87,717 per kilogram. Needless to say, this is a huge markup.

Indeed. Based on Stratfor's range of estimates, meth sells for between 20 and 600 times as much as it costs to make, and almost all of that value is added after the drug has been broken down into relatively small quantities—one reason interdiction has little impact on retail price. Stratfor also notes that "since the product can be made anywhere and can be fabricated into a variety of forms, it is very easily transported." Nor is Stratfor sanguine about the prospect of shutting down the market by controlling precursor chemicals such as pseudoephedrine and methylamine:

For meth manufacturers, lawmakers' attempts to stop meth production and regulate the drug's requisite precursor chemicals are at best temporary obstacles. For example, meth manufacturers in the United States have begun mixing methanol and anhydrous ammonia to circumvent regulations on methylamine. These chemicals can be purchased at a variety of locations, such as hardware stores.

Regulatory measures are reactive and have failed to stop manufacturers from finding ways around the law, giving manufacturers a distinct tactical advantage....

As of May 2011 the United States was home to 1.4 million known meth users—certainly a massive market on which criminal manufacturers can capitalize. Due to the drug's popularity and high profit margins, methamphetamine will continue to be manufactured, distributed and used regardless of regulation.

There's the prohibitionist conundrum in a nutshell: Banning a product people want creates the very incentives that ensure the ban will be ineffective.

[Thanks to Victor McDonald for the tip.]

Biden Opens His Government Aperture and Says Something Puzzling About Drug Legalization

Tue, 06 Mar 2012 15:21:00 -0500

(image) Visiting Mexico yesterday, Vice President Joseph Biden was asked about drug legalization as a response to prohibition-related violence, which has killed nearly 50,000 people in that country since the end of 2006:

"It's worth discussing, but there is no possibility the Obama/Biden administration will change its policy on [drug] legalization," he said after meeting with President Felipe Calderon....

Biden's trip [to Mexico and Honduras] takes place amid unprecedented pressure from political and business leaders to talk about decriminalizing drugs. The presidents of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico have said in recent weeks they'd like to open up the discussion of legalizing drugs.

"It is a totally legitimate debate and it's worth debating in order to lay to rest some of the myths that are associated with the notion of legalization," Biden said. "The debate always occurs, understandably, in the context of serious violence that occurs with the society, particularly in societies that don't have the institutional framework and the structure to deal with organized, illicit operations."

The vice president said, however, that legalization would be unworkable "unless you are going to not only legalize but you are going to provide a government apertures for the distribution of the drugs."

Really? After alcohol prohibition was repealed in 1933, the business was mostly taken over by private enterprise, and the remaining state monopolies seem to be on the way out. Why do the currently illicit intoxicants require "government apertures"? At least Biden did not claim that the drug trade cannot be legalized because there is too much money in it.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

Drug Warriors Encourage Mexican Meth Makers to Sharpen Their Chemistry Skills

Fri, 24 Feb 2012 15:00:00 -0500

(image) Seven years ago, before Congress tried to Combat Meth by imposing nationwide limits on sales of cold and allergy remedies containing pseudoephedrine, I noted that you don't need pseudoephedrine to make meth. Now The Texas Tribune reports that the crackdown on pseudoephedrine, which has helped Mexican cartels expand their share of the meth market, is encouraging them to use production methods based on other precursors:

"The Mexicans have moved to an old recipe that existed in the '70s and '80s that is called P2P [for phenyl-2-propanone]," said Jane C. Maxwell, a senior research scientist at the Addiction Research Institute at the Center for Social Work Research at the University of Texas at Austin.

"It uses precursors that have been banned in the U.S. since the 1980s, but the Mexicans have taken up making it,” Maxwell said of ingredients — including a substance called propanone — used to make the drug. "They are making it in mass quantities, and they are damn good chemists."

The old recipe became popular again after Mexico banned the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, the common ingredients that had been used to make the narcotic. But Mexicans have become increasingly adept at using the old recipe for the drug, which Maxwell likened to a weed in a garden that won’t go away.

In the second quarter of 2010, only 50 percent of Drug Enforcement Administration lab samples of seizures were from the P2P process. But that increased to 85 percent during the third quarter of 2011.

The prevalence of meth production in Mexico was driven home this month when authorities reportedly seized 15 tons of meth on the outskirts of the city of Guadalajara, a known stronghold of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

"This is a cyclical drug. If you pass a precursor bill it goes down, and then it comes back up again," Maxwell said. "The lesson on this is that we can’t congratulate ourselves for doing away with pseudoephedrine. People keep looking for other recipes."

The utterly predictable adaptability of the black market is, of course, one of the major arguments against prohibition. More narrowly, it shows the pointlessness of the cost imposed on American consumers by restricting access to a cheap, safe, and effective decongestant. Even if you accept the goals of the war on drugs as legitimate, treating cold and allergy sufferers like potential criminals has not advanced them at all and may in fact have increased the hazards associated with domestic meth production. The obvious solution: compound this gratuitous burden by requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine. 

I noted the record 15-ton meth seizure two weeks ago.

[Thanks to Vic McDonald for the tip.]

15 Tons and What Do You Get?

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 11:58:00 -0500

(image) This week Mexican drug warriors are bragging about a record seizure of methamphetamine. The New York Times describes it as "15 tons, found in pure powder form at a ranch outside Guadalajara." That supposedly amounts to "13 million doses worth $4 billion—more than double the size of all meth seizures at the Mexican border in 2011." Progress? Not really:

While the authorities proudly showed off the seizure to local reporters, the sheer size of the find set off alarm among experts and officials from the United States and the United Nations. It was a sign, they said, of just how organized, efficient at manufacturing and brazen Mexico’s traffickers had become even after expanded efforts to dismantle their industry.

"The big thing it shows is the sheer capacity that these superlabs have in Mexico," said Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. "When we see one lab with the capability to produce such a mass tonnage of meth, it begs a question: What else is out there?”...

"It's important to keep the seizure in perspective," said Eric Olson, a security expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "It's huge. Eye-popping. But seizures, even huge ones, don’t generally change the demand for the drug in the long run. If a seizure of this magnitude raises the street price, consumption may go down for a time, but it is only a matter of time until the market adjusts and the supply comes back up."

Those Mexican superlabs got a boost from the U.S. government's restrictions on retail sales of cold and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine, a meth precursor. That policy inconvenienced people with colds and allergies, hurt domestic mom-and-pop labs, shipped meth jobs across the border, and encouraged a shift to a more dangerous production method here in the U.S. But it had no discernible impact on meth consumption. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, meth use by Americans 12 or older has been flat or falling since 2002, with the exception of a spike in 2006, the year the federal restrictions took effect. Numbers for high school seniors from the Monitoring the Future Study show a similar pattern, but with no uptick in 2006. Yet back in 2008 Bush administration drug czar John Walters was claiming (per A.P.'s paraphrase) that "laws restricting the sale of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine...and  efforts to thwart drug trafficking from Mexico have disrupted the market for meth."

No matter. Ever-bigger seizures, indicating utter failure, only mean drug warriors must redouble their efforts.

Ending the Global Drug War: Voices from the Front Lines

Tue, 13 Dec 2011 11:05:00 -0500

"Ever since the War on Drugs, everything has hit the fan," says Romesh Bhattacharji, former Narcotics Commissioner of India. Rather than continue the unnecessary and costly drug war, Bhattacharji advises the United States to simply "Relax, take it easy, [and] tolerate."

Last month, at the Cato Institute's "Ending the Global War on Drugs" conference, Bhattacharji's sentiments were echoed by ex-drug czars, cops, politicians, intellectuals, liberal and conservative journalists, and even the former President of Brazil. attended the event and spoke with a number of the featured speakers, including:

Glenn Greenwald,

Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Wall Street Journal

Tucker Carlson, The Daily Caller

Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Speaker of the House of Deputies, Uruguay

Leigh Maddox, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; University of Maryland School of Law

Enrique Gomez Hurtado, former Senator, Colombia

Larry Campbell, Senator, Canada

Romesh Bhattacharji, former Narcotics Commissioner, India

Eric Sterling, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

Harry G. Levine, Queens College (N.Y.)

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Cato Institute

About 6.15 minutes.

 Produced and Edited by Anthony L. Fisher. Camera by Joshua Swain, with help from Seth McKelvey.

 Graphics by Meredith Bragg.

For more Reason coverage on the Drug War, go here. 

For Cato Institute Drug War coverage and research, go here.

Scroll down for downloadable versions, and subscribe to's YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

Colombia's President: 'I Would Talk About Legalizing...More Than Just Marijuana'

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 17:24:00 -0500

(image) In an interview with The Observer, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a leading drug warrior, elaborates on his openness to legalization:

A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking… If that means legalizing, and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it. I'm not against it....

I would talk about legalizing marijuana and more than just marijuana. If the world thinks that this is the correct approach, because for example in our case we used to be exporters, but we were replaced by the producers of California. And there even was a referendum in California to legalize it and they lost it but they could have won. I ask myself how would you explain marijuana being legalized in California and cocaine consumption being penalized in Idaho? It's a contradiction. So it's a difficult problem where you set the limits. It's a difficult decision. For example, I would never legalize very hard drugs like morphine or heroin because in fact they are suicidal drugs. I might consider legalizing cocaine if there is a world consensus because this drug has affected us most here in Colombia. I don't know what is more harmful, cocaine or marijuana. That's a health discussion. But again, only if there is a consensus.

I noted Santos' departure from prohibitionist orthodoxy last month.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

The Best Way to Fight Mexico's Drug Cartels

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 15:49:00 -0500

Today the Cato Institute, which tomorrow is holding a conference on "Ending the Global War on Drugs," released a paper analyzing Mexico's part in that war, which has been spectacularly bloody in recent years, killing more than 40,000 people since President Felipe Calderon launched a military assault on the cartels at the end of 2006. Cato Senior Fellow Ted Galen Carpenter concludes:

The only lasting, effective strategy is to defund the Mexican drug cartels. Reducing their billions of dollars in revenue requires the United States, as the principal consumer market for illegal drugs, to abandon its failed prohibition policy. That move would eliminate the lucrative black-market premium and greatly reduce the financial resources the cartels have available to bribe officials or hire enforcers to kill competitors and law enforcement personnel and intimidate the Mexican people. A refusal to abandon prohibition means that Mexico’s agony will likely worsen and pose a significant security problem for the United States.

More on the Cato conference here.