By Oliver Tang
Amid all the tragic deaths from brutal cartel violence, the huge monetary costs that taxpayers shoulder, and all the arguments of our constant blunders, it can be all too easy to lose faith in our country’s so-called War on Drugs. The only thing we’ve been hearing on the media about this struggle has been failure after failure and public opinion reflects this. Ramussen Reports finds in a poll within the past 6 months that an abysmal 7% of Americans believe we are winning the drug war. A later poll found that for the first time in history, support for the legalization of marijuana surpassed opposition. In light of reports of both harms to Americans and Latin Americans, a deeper look can help show you new developments in our struggle and possibly show you how we’re slowly winning this “losing war.”
Let’s start off by looking at how American policies have affected the supply of drugs to Americans. It can be all too easy to get caught up in arguments over how American involvement has only inadvertently helped cartels or is only displacing the problem. When we look to statistics demonstrating the exploding supply of drugs, it is important to look at a University of Miami study which reports that before the US got involved in Latin America, drug production “more than doubled” every year; essentially, the US can not be fully blamed for the skyrocketing drug supply. With that in mind, let’s look at two ways the US is making the situation better in Latin America. First, the US is solving the problem at its roots by dealing with the cultivation of drugs. USAID found that in the past few years, areas sprayed by herbicides to kill psychoactive plants has increased from 43,000 to 137,000 hectares. Eradication of these plants by hand has multiplied ten fold. Long term yield of drugs like cocaine has been reduced by nearly 40 tons per hectare because of such policies. Second, whatever drugs survive eradication are prevented from being trafficked thanks to American aid. USAID elaborates that seizures in the past few years have increased from 64 tons to 188 tons. With both of these policies in mind, cocaine production is projected to decrease in the region by an astonishing 82% over the next four years. With these two policies, the US is preemptively stopping the problem.
However, we have to face the fact that the drug war is not 100% winnable. Drugs are always going to find their way into the United States and that’s where the US government’s third solution comes into play. According to the United Nations, cocaine availability in our country is two-thirds of what it was a decade ago because of US policies. With reduced supply, comes increased prices. The United Nations elaborates since then that price per gram for cocaine has increased by $80. What that means is that we’re less likely to see new users trying out cocaine. In fact, a study by Carnegie Mellon finds that a 1% percent increase in prices is correlated with a 2.5% decrease in consumption in drugs. With both of these figures, it is no surprise that the UN finds that cocaine-positive have decreased 68% over the past 4 years. At the point where the Global Commission on Drugs finds that 6,000 people die from cocaine related deaths a year – making it the most dangerous psychoactive drug – this 68% decrease saves approximately 4,200 American lives annually. But we can’t forget about the monetary cost to accomplish this: a Yale University analysis finds that America spends around $12,000 each time it successfully prevents 1 kilogram of cocaine from entering the country. However, when you factor in the potential hospital stays, crime, lost productivity, and other negative factors caused by that 1 kilogram of cocaine, it would cost society about $360,000 dollars. What that means for us is that the policy saves about 30 times more than it costs. When it comes to our domestic situation, we are saving more lives and money.
But finally, we can’t forget about the situation of Latin America. After all, this is the birthplace of both the psychoactive drugs and the cartels that give us so much trouble. Are we leaving these people in the dust with our policies and just allowing the problem reemerge stronger than before? Or are we taking steps to ensure long-term stability and self-sufficiency for the Latin Americans? The reality is the latter. Let’s start by looking at alternative development programs in Latin America. Three alternative development programs have already affected 250,000 Latin American families, allowing them to exchange illicit drugs…for legal crops. As a result we have seen sales of legal crops experience an outstanding 70% increase. We are moving families away from illegal and potentially self-destructive lifestyles and providing them with a stable one. But it doesn’t end there. A report from Time Magazine actually finds that farmers actually earn twice their normal income with this new lifestyle, bringing themselves up from the near state of poverty they found selling psychoactive plants. We’re enriching and improving the quality of life for these farmers. Additionally, for regions plagued by cartel violence, crime is an extremely important issue. Cartels hold a significant influence in Latin America and the US has worked to reduce that stranglehold. Thanks to $4.8 billion of US Aid, the Colombian Army’s membership has nearly quadrupled. This surge in power of the Colombian corresponds with a hit to the membership of cartel gangs, with the LA Times reporting that demobilization of FARC combatants has dropped membership from 17,000 to 5,000. This leaves crime rates at a new low. The Brookings Institution reports that homicides have dropped 40% in Colombia alone, saving 14,000 lives per year. The study also finds that kidnapping has declined even more impressively by 80%. By helping the Latin Americans by providing them with a solid lifestyle instead of growing drugs and suppressing violence, American aid has resulted in a win-win for both countries.
In retrospect, we should rethink how we view our War Against its Drugs and its ambiguous continuation. While our policies in Latin America are not perfect, there failed to produce many negative externalities. Contrary to what we hear everyday, we are indeed slowly and recently winning the War of Drugs.