Source Countries for Illicit Drugs

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The 1987 Omnibus Drug Bill requires the U.S. Department of State to develop a list of all major illicit drug-producing and drug-transit countries. Inclusion on the list has an immediate effect, because sanctions include cutting off foreign assistance, other than humanitarian and counternarcotics aid. In addition, the U.S. will block loans by the World Bank to countries that are included on the list.

Major illicit drug producing country

is defined in the statute as any country producing "during a fiscal year five (5) metric tons or more of Opium or opium derivative, 500 metric tons or more of coca, and 500 metric tons or more of Marijuana." (One metric ton equals 1.102 tons.)

The major source countries for Heroin are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Lebanon; Myanmar (formerly Burma), Thailand, and Laos; Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia. Heroin production rose dramatically in South America in the 1990s. Colombian and Mexican heroin have supplanted Southeast and Southwest Asian heroin in much of the United States. Major source countries for Cocaine are Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. However, in the 1990s, the governments of Bolivia and Peru substantially reduced those countries' cultivation of coca plants. Despite these efforts, drug traffickers shifted their production to Colombia, which by 2000 had become the dominant producer of cocaine. Major source countries for marijuana are Mexico, Belize, Colombia, and Jamaica. However, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that much of the marijuana consumed in the United States is grown domestically, qualifying the U.S. as a source country. Major source countries for Hashish are Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Morocco.

Measured in U.S. dollar value, at least 80 percent of all illegal drugs consumed in the United States are of foreign origin, including all the cocaine and heroin and significant amounts of marijuana. The opium poppy flower, coca bush, and marijuana plant represent cash crops for indigenous populationswho use the proceeds of sale for subsistence, improvements in lifestyle, and/or means to procure weapons to engage in antigovernment activities. The cultivation of illicit drug crops often represents the most viableat times the only viableeconomic alternative available to otherwise impoverished farmers and political refugees.


Chapter 8, Section 481 (h) of the Foreign Assistance Act, known as the Certification Law, links the provision of foreign aid to positive drug-control performance. The law also requires the president to certify whether major drug-producing and drugtransit countries have "cooperated fully" with the United States, or have taken adequate steps on their own, to prevent illicit drug production, drug trafficking, drug-related Money Laundering, and drug-related corruption. A later amendment to the act requires countries to take adequate steps to implement the 1988 United Nations Drug Convention. Four outcomes of the certification statute deliberation are possible: (1) full and unconditional certification; (2) qualified certification for countries that would not otherwise qualify on the grounds that the national interest of the United States requires the provision of foreign assistance; (3) denial of certification; or (4) congressional disapproval of a presidential certification, which causes statutory sanctions to be imposed.

The annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) is prepared by the U.S. Department of State and provides the factual basis for the president's decision on certification. The certification statute introduces the concept of variability, by using phrases such as "cooperated fully," "taken adequate steps," and "maximum achievable reductions." Judgments on a country's relative capability to perform are important factors in making certification decisions; each March, these generate spirited debate between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government. In addition, this very public decision-making produces tensions between the U.S. and the countries in question.

(See also: Drug Interdiction ; International Drug Supply Systems ; Transit Countries for Illicit Drugs )


Bureau of International Narcotics and Law, U.S. Department of State. (1999). International narcotics control strategy report (INCSR). Washington, DC: Author.

Foreign Assistance Act, as amended 1961, ch. 8, sec 481(h). Washington, DC: U.S. Congress.

Perl, R. F. (1989). Congress and international narcotics control. CRS Report for Congress (October 16). Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. (2000). National Drug Control Strategy: 2000 Annual Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

James Van Wert

Revised by Frederick K. Grittner