Drug Producers

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Drug Producers

At least 80 percent of all illegal drugs used in the United States, measured by U.S. dollar value, start out in other countries. This includes all of the cocaine and heroin, and much of the marijuana, used in America. The plants from which these drugs are made are a source of cash for many parts of the world, especially isolated and impoverished areas in Latin America and Asia. To some extent, they provide support for poor farmers and political refugees living in these regions. However, they also provide a source of income for terrorist groups and organized crime networks.

Foreign Assistance Act

The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 requires the president to draw up a list each year of the major illegal drug-producing or drug- transit countries, nicknamed the majors list. The act requires that most kinds of U.S. government foreign aid to any country on the list be severely cut. Under the law, a major drug-producing country is defined as one in which a sizable amount of illegal opium, coca, or cannabis is grown or harvested each year. Opium is the source of morphine and heroin; coca, of cocaine; and cannabis, of marijuana and hashish. In the case of opium and coca, the cutoff amount of cultivated area is 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) or more. In the case of cannabis, it is 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) or more, unless it is found that cannabis products from a particular country are not affecting the United States.

In 2001 President George W. Bush named twenty-three countries to the majors list: Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma (Myanmar), China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Thailand, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

The limits on aid under the Foreign Assistance Act continue until the president certifies that a country on the list has cooperated fully with the United States, or taken adequate steps on its own, to prevent illegal production and drug trafficking . Nations also are expected to take action against drug-related corruption and money laundering, which is the transfer of illegally obtained money through an outside party to conceal its true source.

Every year, the U.S. Department of State prepares an International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. This report provides the facts upon which the president decides whether or not to certify countries on the majors list. However, the decision about whether a country has "cooperated fully," "taken adequate steps," or made "maximum achievable reductions" is subjective. It often leads to spirited debate between the White House and Congress about which countries really are doing as much as they can to fight illegal drugs. The process also creates tension between the United States and the countries in question.

There are four possible outcomes to the certification process: (1) full certification; (2) qualified certification for countries that would not otherwise qualify on the grounds that U.S. national interest requires giving the country foreign aid; (3) denial of certification; or (4) congressional disapproval of a presidential certification.

The Global Picture

Despite efforts by the United States and other countries, drug production continues to flourish in several regions around the world. In 1999, according to the United Nations (UN), worldwide production of opium reached a record of 5,778 metric tons (6,367 U.S. tons), derived from 217,000 hectares (535,990 acres) of opium poppies. Global production of coca leaf reached 290,000 metric tons (319,580 U.S. tons) from 183,000 hectares (452,010 acres) of coca.

In recent years, there has been a shift toward the concentration of opium poppies and coca in fewer and fewer countries. In fact, the UN estimates that well over 90 percent of illegal opium comes from Afghanistan, Laos, and Burma (also called Myanmar), while a similarly high percentage of cocaine comes from Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru.

Nevertheless, several other countries play a role in drug production as well. Other source countries for heroin include Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia, while Ecuador is another supplier of cocaine. Major producers of marijuana include Mexico, Colombia, and Jamaica. However, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), enough of the marijuana used in this country is grown here to make the United States a significant source country as well. Among the largest producers of hashish are Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Morocco.

One problem in the past was that information about worldwide drug production came from a confusing, and not always reliable, patch- work of sources. In response, the UN has set up a Global Monitoring Programme of Illicit Crops. The program, which started in 2000, will keep track of opium and coca production by ground and air monitoring, as well as through satellite tracking. Feedback from the program should help drug-producing countries better gauge their progress in reducing drug crops. It also should help governments assess the impact of projects that aim to help farmers switch to other crops as a source of income. In addition, it should lead to faster detection of new growing trends, since the decrease of a drug crop in one area often triggers the start-up of the same crop in another region.

The rising popularity of drugs made from chemicals in a lab, rather than from plants, is expanding illegal drug production into developed nations as well. The major foreign source of methamphetamine is Mexico, but much also is made in underground labs within the United States itself. The vast majority of ecstasy (MDMA) used in the United States is produced in Europe, especially in the Netherlands and Belgium. Russia is a key producer of chemicals that are needed to convert the morphine made from opium into heroin.

Cocaine Production

Coca, the raw material from which cocaine is made, is grown only in the Andean region of South America. In the 1990s, the governments of Bolivia and Peru made big strides in reducing coca growing within their countries. However, this success was tempered by a surge in coca growing in Colombia. In the early twenty-first century, 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States starts out in or passes through Colombia, where the cultivation of coca has more than tripled since 1992. Terrorist groups and organized crime networks largely run this drug trade. In recent years, government conflict with these groups has reached crisis proportions.

In 2000 the U.S. government passed a law that provided $1.3 billion in financial aid to help Colombia with its plan to fight illegal drugs, reform its justice system, rebuild its economy, and foster peace and social development. In addition, Operation New Generation is a joint effort between the Colombian national police, the Colombian national prosecutor's office, and the U.S. DEA. The project is targeting some of the nation's largest drug traffickers. At this point, however, it remains to be seen how well these efforts will work.

Actions by GovernmentsCriminalized Drug Money LaunderingRecord Large TransactionsFinancial Intelligence UnitSystem for Identifying/Forfeiting AssetInternational Transportation of CurrencyMutual Legal AssistanceNon-Bank Financial InstitutionsDisclosure Protection "Safe Harbor"Offshore Financial CentersStates Parties to 88 UN Convention
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source: Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State. <http://www.state.gov/g/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2000/1038.htm>.

A major obstacle to eliminating the Colombian coca fields is the strength of the terrorist and criminal groups who control the growing areas. These groups make vast sums of money from the drug trade, so they are ready to go to great lengths to protect it. Often, they resort to violence. In 2000 for example, there were fifty-six ground-fire attacks on government planes spraying the coca fields to kill the plants growing there. The challenge ahead for the Colombian government is to regain control of its own land from these armed groups.

Heroin Production

Unlike cocaine, heroin production is scattered around the world. Historically, most of the world's illegal opium for heroin has been grown in southern Asia. Recently, however, Latin America also has become an important supplier of heroin to the United States. Worldwide, opium production has doubled since the mid-1980s. Greater availability and lower prices, coupled with rising purity, have helped boost the popularity of heroin. As a result, there has been a worldwide increase in heroin-related health problems and criminal activity.

In 2000 the largest supplier of illegal opium was Afghanistan, which controlled over 96 percent of the world's opium-producing land. While the United States got only about 5 percent of its heroin from this source, Afghanistan still had a huge hold on the world market. In 2001 the Taliban government of Afghanistan imposed a ban that drastically cut opium production that year. However, large shipments of opium products from Afghanistan continued to be seized in Pakistan and other neighboring countries. This indicated that drug traffickers were able to draw upon stockpiles built up over the previous years. U.S. officials noted that the ban may have been nothing more than a ploy to drive up opium prices by limiting the supply. Since the fall of the Taliban from power, it is unclear what stockpiles remain or how the situation in Afghanistan may change in the future.

In 2001 Burma and Laos ranked as the world's leading opium producers. In Burma, the drug trade finances the efforts of the United Wa State Army, a group seeking independence from the country's central government. At present, the government of Burma is largely powerless in the opium-producing areas controlled by this group.

While Asian heroin continues to rule the world market, Colombian heroin now makes up 60 percent of the heroin seized in the United States. Mexican heroin accounts for another 24 percent of the U.S. supply. Since the early 1990s, Colombian crime networks have dramatically increased their share of the heroin trade here by producing a high-grade drug and undercutting the price of their competition. The heroin from Colombia, like that from Asia, is sold in a white powder form. On the other hand, Mexican black tar heroin, the type most available in the U.S. west and southwest, is sold in a tar-like state.

Both Colombia and Mexico have heroin-control programs. In 2001 Colombia sprayed 1,800 hectares (4,446 acres) of land in an effort to wipe out the opium poppies growing there, while Mexico has destroyed from 60 to 70 percent of its opium crop each year for the past several years. Similar programs have lowered illegal opium production successfully in Guatemala, Pakistan, Thailand, and Turkey. However, the profitability of the crop makes it very appealing to Latin American crime groups, and the rugged terrain of growing areas, along with the lack of roads there, make it hard for authorities to find and destroy poppy fields. The United States is trying to help source countries fight these problems through better law enforcement training, more information sharing, and tougher antidrug laws.

Marijuana Production

Mexico is the biggest supplier of marijuana to the United States. In recent years, Mexican fields have yielded about 6,700 to 8,600 metric tons (7,383 to 9,477 U.S. tons) of marijuana per year. The price of this marijuana has stayed fairly stable since the early 1990s, while its strength has increased. As a result, seizures along the southwestern U.S. border have reached record levels. The United States and Mexico have long worked together to fight illegal drugs. Unfortunately, weakness and corruption within the Mexican government have been a major obstacle to success. Lately, however, there have been signs of improvement, including the arrests of several drug kingpins and greater cooperation with U.S. efforts.

Meanwhile, Canada is fast becoming a source of indoor-grown, high-strength marijuana, much of which makes its way to the U.S. market. In fact, Canadian officials estimate that cannabis growing is already a billion-dollar-a-year industry in British Columbia. The marijuana, nicknamed "BC bud," is produced with hydroponics. In this type of farming, plants are grown without soil—only water containing the necessary nutrients is utilized. Canadian growers use high- tech equipment to electronically control the nutrients, temperature, and light so that they can produce up to six crops per year. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active chemical in cannabis, makes up 15 to 25 percent of this potent marijuana. By contrast, the average THC content of naturally grown marijuana from Mexico is about 6 percent. Canada, like other countries before it, is discovering that shutting down a profitable drug trade is no easy matter.

Along with coca and opium poppies, cannabis also is grown in Colombia. Jamaica is yet another source of marijuana destined for the United States. Within this country, the leading states for indoor growing are California, Florida, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. The top states for outdoor growing are California, Hawaii, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Around the globe, the production of illegal drugs remains a stubborn problem. Some critics argue that U.S. money spent on stopping the supply of drugs from other countries might better be spent on curbing the demand for drugs within this one. Nevertheless, the U.S. government remains committed to a policy that targets illegal drugs not only where they are sold or used, but also where they are grown or produced.

see also Drug Traffickers; Law and Policy: Controls on Drug Trafficking; Law and Policy: Foreign Policy and Drugs; Terrorism and Drugs.

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Drug Producers

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