Over the coming and months and years, with the presidential race now underway (if only in its infancy) we are sure to hear stump speech after stump speech about futile policy, failed initiatives, and government waste in general. Perhaps no policy embodies all of these more than the War on Drugs. A recent article in the Economist begins, “Seldom can such a laborious public policy have been devoted to such a futile end.” I would offer one amendment to this statement – this laborious policy has not been devoted to a futile end, but rather to a futile dragging on.
The article goes on to cite a couple of key statistics. “For the past 15 years or so Colombia has used crop-dusting planes operated by American contractors to spray around 130,000 hectares (321,000 acres) a year of its land with glyphosate, a powerful weedkiller, in an attempt to wipe out the coca crop that provides the raw material for cocaine.” 321,000 acres sounds like a very large area, especially when one considers the following – “harvested coca accounts for less than 10% of the value of cocaine exports (and much less of retail value in foreign markets).” The problems here are clear – this is incredibly wasteful and the target is wrong, not to mention the potential health risks of spraying this chemical over populated areas.
So what needs to happen, especially in the case of Colombia and Peru? “Many, including [The Economist], believe that legalising cocaine is the least bad option.” “Least bad” is the key. The other options truly are less appealing. Further waste should, obviously, be halted as soon as possible, as should arrests of consumers and small time dealers. Perhaps more focus could be put on those involved in trafficking, but this still comes with no guarantees of success. One thing that is a guarantee, though, is that if coca were legalised, a big part of the Drug War would be halted, which would be another step toward the end of this futile and wasteful policy. In the upcoming election season, the writer of one of the aforementioned stump speeches that clearly stated support for such an initiative might be surprised by the amount of support they would find.