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War on Drugs

Is the War on Drugs Being Waged From the Wrong Battlefront?


Just consider me Mary Poppins this morning: a little sweet Prince William to help the War on Drugs go down. The Prince is on the front lines of the battle — the warship the Prince is serving on just seized $80 million worth (almost two tons) of cocaine from a speedboat just north of Barbados.

William's ship is patrolling the waters of the West Indies looking for drug runners, and this score came early on in their mission. The ship's commanding officer said, "to have had a direct impact on the flow of cocaine into Europe just four days after we arrived in theatre shows the benefit the Royal Navy can have in the area of maritime security and counter drug operations."

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Sounds like Prince William is saving the world from drugs, right? Well, the war is a little more complicated than that — and we may be focusing efforts at the wrong stage of drug production to make any difference. To see what I mean, read more.

Though Prince William's seizure, and the White House both tout big coke scores as evidence the war is being won, other numbers paint a different picture.

A more expanded look at the data shows that cocaine use in the US isn't falling: the same percentage of Americans used coke in 2006 as they did in 2002, the number of high-school seniors using is growing, and drug shipments are up. Shipments have grown 39 percent from 2006 — that's enough to film a scene in Scarface for sure. Not to mention that drug related violence is sweeping through Mexico and Latin America; drug cartels are not scared of this "seize the powder" battle plan.

How could the war be fought more effectively? With less focus on the product (sorry William) and more focus on who's making it, and who's consuming it.

Spending more money on programs to wean coca farmers from the crop and while improving their lives is a start. By shelling out less money for security and policing, and more for economic development and a strengthening Mexico's judicial system, we could turn off the faucet at the tap, instead of bailing out the bathtub.

Where else? Focusing on the people in the tub. By expending more effort into curbing demand, emphasizing the treatment portion of the punishment for offenders, increasing education, and treating drug addiction more of public health problem than a law enforcement problem the customer base can be curbed.

Hey, I've seen The Wire and Nancy Reagan's guest appearance on Diff'rent Strokes — this War on Drugs thing is complicated. But focusing with a laser-intensity on the beginning of the supply, and the end user of the demand — we could make that giant pile of coke in the middle, just disappear.

What do you think? Is this war winnable?

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