Bush Asks for Funding to Escalate Mexico's Drug War


Bush Asks for Funding to Escalate Mexico’s Drug War
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Last week President Bush asked Congress to approve $500 million in aid for Mexico, the first chunk of a $1.4 billion drug war aid package. The money would go for police training, helicopters, surveillance planes, and other military and security endeavors.

This package would continue a failed pattern in which the U.S. responds to domestic demand for illicit drugs by trying to stop them in other countries. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent on supply-side drug control efforts over the last 30 years, yet illegal drugs remain readily available in the U.S.

Bill Piper, director of DPA’s office of national affairs, said, “Supply-side strategies have failed for cocaine, heroin, marijuana and virtually every drug to which they have been applied–including alcohol during Prohibition. Fundamental economic principles demonstrate why: as long as a strong demand for drugs exists, there will be a supply to meet it.”

If the Mexico aid plan succeeds in reducing supply in the short term, the result will be to make cocaine more valuable, increasing profits for drug cartels and expanding the black market. Even if the aid package brings cartel leaders to justice, they will simply be replaced. There are already violent power struggles taking place in Mexico’s drug cartels in the wake of the extradition of several major leaders to face trial in the U.S.

Instead of trying to control supply, the U.S. could make a bigger impact on drug abuse by making treatment more available. According to a RAND Corporation study, treatment is ten times more effective at reducing cocaine abuse than interdiction and 23 times more effective than attempting to eradicate cocaine at its source.

Piper said, “An estimated 20 percent of cocaine users account for 80 percent of the quantities consumed. Providing treatment to everyone who needs it–without threat of imprisonment or fear of criminal sanctions–could significantly reduce demand and make drug selling less profitable.”

Lower profit margins would translate to less power for drug cartels.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of DPA, urged both the U.S. and Mexico to examine the link between their drug war policies and organized crime and corruption. He wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed this week, “Leaders in both countries would do well to provoke a discussion about the failures of drug prohibition and the damage it is causing. … Until policymakers start rethinking failed drug-war policies, the violence and corruption inherent in prohibition will continue.”

For more on the economics of the drug trade, see a recent piece by Bill Piper on AlterNet.

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