Back to the Drug War: The Street Price of Cocaine
To build on my recent post on the drug war (as well as to a broader enterprise on this subject), I took a look at the 2009 World Drug Report to check out the stats on the street price of cocaine. This is a key metric, as one of the stated goals of US anti-drug policy is to force the street price of drugs upward so as to discourage purchase.
Further, it is a useful metric of drug war success as the expectations would be that increases military activity in producer and trafficking countries (like Colombia and Mexico) as well as increased attempts at both interdiction at the border and stricter law enforcement within the United States would crimp supply and therefore drive up price. It is basic market-based economics. However, despite an ever-increasing amount of pressure on cocaine producers, traffickers, pushers, and users, the trend line for almost two full decades in clearly in the wrong direction if one is looking for success from US drug policies. It hardly bespeaks of good return on investments for American taxpayers. Further, one should keep in mind that the timeframe reflected below is an era of ever-increasing anti-drug spending. For example, 1998 into the 2000s is the period of Plan Colombia, an intense increase in anti-drug spending in Colombia by the United States.
The data are from page 220 of the 2009 World Drug Report [PDF] and I plugged them into Excel and produced the above.
Now, my point is quite simple: we are spending billions of dollars a year to try and stop cocaine production and the trafficking of said substance into the United States. We are not getting what we are paying for. The numbers above clearly demonstrate that even with increased crop eradication and constant “record seizures” of the drug by land and at sea are not accomplishing the stated goals of the policies and therefore calls into serious question whether they are worth the expenditures in question. Indeed, it is quite clear that the ability of coca famers to produce enough coca leaf to overtake whatever successes that are accomplished in crop eradication and cocaine seizures is quite clear. Such overproduction is simply the cost of doing business. This is a lesson, by the way, that we need to keep in mind in Afghanistan, where the policy direction it towards crop eradication of opium poppies. I predict now that even if thousands upon thousands of hectares or opium poppies are eradicated, that the poppy farmers will be able to out produce the eradicators.
Recognizing fully that these are complex issues, it seems to me that one of the first things that have to be made clear to the public (and it is highly unpopular message) is the simply fact that we are not getting what we are paying for in the drug war. People think that we are getting security and success from the process, but in point of fact the policies are utter failures.
We need a radical reassessment of what we are doing here instead of pretending like the policies are worth the billions spent annually on this failed policy. The problem is that we typically look at this issue wholly from a position of fear (fear that our kids will become addicts, for example) rather than logic and an actual cost/benefit analysis. Indeed, our entire drug policy is built on irrational fears (see, e.g., the movie Reefer Madness).
Some of my previous writings on the subject by topic are listed below:
- Afghanistan the Narco-State/Thoughts on the Drug War
- Colombia: the Sequel (a.k.a., Afghanistan)
- Afghanistan’s Opium
- Applying the “Lessons” of Colombia to Afghanistan
- Crop Eradication and the War on Drugs
- Shocker! Coca Production Up
- More Tales from the Drug War
- Drug War Cycle Continues
- More Drug War Rhetoric
- Continued Drug War Failure
- World Cocaine Market “in retreat”?
- Yet More Tales from the Drug War: Cheap Cocaine
- More Drug War Rhetoric
- This Just in: Anti-Drug Policies Not Affecting the Price of Cocaine (in Other News, Water is Wet)
- Cocaine Prices Rise
- UN: Cocaine Prices Set to Rise
- Street Prices of Cocaine and Heroin Hit 20-Year Lows
- Yet Another “Record Cocaine Seizure” in Mexico
- Drug Seizures at Record Levels on US-Mexican Border
- Record Cocaine Seizure by the Colombian Navy
- 2005: a Record Year for Cocaine Seizures in Colombia
- New Record Seizure of Cocaine at Sea
- 2.7 Tones of Coke Seized in Colombia
- 5.5 Tons of Cocaine Seized
War on Drugs (General)