The War on Drugs Needs a Timeout

By Rafael Pardo; Juan Gabriel Tokatlian | The Christian Science Monitor, August 11, 2009 | Go to article overview
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The War on Drugs Needs a Timeout


Rafael Pardo; Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, The Christian Science Monitor


On Monday, President Obama restated his support for Mexican President Felipe Calderon's aggressive tactics in the fight against drug trafficking. He also reiterated his support for a drug security plan with Mexico that is similar to the failed drug plans of past administrations.

Before Washington ramps up yet another losing war on drugs, it should take a clear-eyed look at how its current strategies are affecting the supply and demand of drugs. Congressman Eliot Engel (D) of New York has introduced a bill to do just that.

Washington would be wise to back Congressman Engel's initiative because there has not been a thorough, frank evaluation of the fight against drugs in decades. The drug czar office's annual report is not enough. Recommendations by an independent commission, however, could generate the consensus and strategy we sorely need.

The cornerstone of US drug policy at home and abroad is to reduce the drug supply (from crop eradication to border seizures) in order to increase the domestic price of drugs. The idea is to deter both potential consumers and producers from entering the drug market.

It hasn't.

Since May 1971, when President Richard Nixon proclaimed a "war on drugs," Washington and the Western Hemisphere have been unable to win it. Every claimed victory has turned out to be, in the end, a fiasco.

Consider Mexico and Jamaica in the 1970s and early '80s. Mexico cracked down on marijuana production. But that simply shifted production to Colombia and then to the US, while allowing heroin production and cocaine trafficking to rise. Jamaica's effort against marijuana similarly backfired and today, drug-related violence is at a high.

Colombia has been the most high-profile, high-stakes test case of the hemisphere's struggle against drugs.

A decade ago, the Clinton administration launched the multiyear, billion-dollar Plan Colombia.

The Bush administration then expanded Plan Colombia and provided even more funding.

With those funds, Bogota has spent the past 10 years eradicating illicit crops over an area that is 2-1/2 times the size of the state of Delaware.

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