The Facts

new internationalist
issue 224 - October 1991


The Intelligence Report
Propaganda is a weapon in war. The NI sifts through the evidence,
rejecting all but the most sober claims, and the most conservative statistics,
to assess the state of battle in the struggle against illicit drugs.
Victory for anti-drug warriors would be a drug-free society -
yet that looks like a more distant prospect than ever.

Operation Peasant Storm
Objective: to eradicate supply.
: supply increasing.

More illicit drugs are being produced now than ever before. Production often increases when the war hots up - to make up for supplies lost to enforcement agencies.

Source: US Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics Matters, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1989. 'Minimum estimate' used.

[image, unknown]


Operation Clean Streets
Objective: to make drugs harder to obtain.
: they are easier to obtain.

When asked the question: 'How difficult do you think it would be for you to get each of the following types of drugs, if you wanted some?' this is how American 16-18 year olds responded - the higher the score (out of 100), the easier they were to find. Cocaine and heroin were easier to obtain in 1988 than they had been in 1975; marijuana slightly more difficult.

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services, National Survey Results, 1989.

[image, unknown]


Operation Big Buck
Objective: to cut profits on the trade.
: trade more profitable than ever.

The value of trade in illicit drugs exceeds that of world trade in oil and is surpassed only by arms dealings. For cocaine alone this amounts to $76 billion, which equals the total national incomes of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia put together.

Sources: Latin American Newsletters, Informe Confidencial 1: Tráfico de Drogas, London 1991 (min. estimates of profits); World Bank, World Development Report 1990; UNDP, Human Development Report 1990.

[image, unknown]


Operation Hot Pursuit
Objective: to enforce the law.
: increasing financial and human costs.

Estimates of the cost of the drug offensive in the US alone vary from $15 to $20 billion per year:

Financial costs
. Costs of US Federal Government enforcement (Drug Enforcement Administration, Coast Guard, FBI, Customs, Bureau of Prisons): 1981 less than $1 billion, 1988 $3 billion plus.

. Cost of enforcement by US local police: $5 billion in 1986.

Human Costs
. By the end of the century drug-law violations will account for at least 50% of the US federal prison population. And the total number of prisoners will have doubled.

. US police make approximately 750,000 arrests every year for drug-law violations. More than 75% are for possession, typically of marijuana.

Source: Prof Ethan A Nadelmann, 'The Case for Legalization', in James A Inciardi, The Drug Legalization Debate, Sage, Newbury Park, California, 1991.


Operation Intercept
Objective: to seize supplies.
Assessment: clear success.

Seizures have increased sharply. However, they are usually said to represent 10% of the total trade. So the trade itself may have grown by a similar proportion.

Source: UN Division of Narcotic Drugs, Vienna

[image, unknown]


Drug Trade Routes
This map shows the main international routes taken by the
traffic in cocaine, heroin and marijuana. They are very similar to the
routes taken by traditional commodity exports from the Third world
to the rich world - and to the net flow of resources between rich and poor.
Most of the profits of the drug trade remain in the rich world, too.

[image, unknown]
Click here or on the image above for a full size version

previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page next page

New Internationalist issue 224 magazine cover This article is from the October 1991 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Get a free trial »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop