Antidrug Efforts and Their Criticisms

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Antidrug Efforts and Their Criticisms

The Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914 (PL 63-223), which outlawed opiates and cocaine, was the first legislation aimed at prohibiting the possession and use of mood-altering drugs. Following that act, laws were passed or amended at intervals, but the war on drugs did not begin in earnest until the early 1970s with the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1970 (PL 91-513). The phrase "war on drugs" was coined in 1971 during the first Nixon administration. A national effort was launched after that to bring illicit drug use under control, and it is still very much under way.

Not everyone agrees with governmental efforts to control or prohibit the use of mood-altering substances. Prohibition came to an end because of massive public disobedience (see Chapter 2). Data from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which are published in Results from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (September 2006, by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), suggest a similar public response to laws that prohibit use of drugs. In 2005, 46.1% of people aged twelve or older, more than 112 million individuals, had used illicit drugs at some time in their lives. About thirty-five million had done so in the last twelve months, and nearly twenty million had used illicit drugs in the past thirty days. According to the SAMHSA, the percentage of lifetime users increased during the twenty-five preceding years; it was 31% of the age twelve-and-older population in 1979.

One criticism leveled at governmental efforts to control or prohibit the use of mood-altering substances is that they appear to be inconsistent with the public health issues they raise. Tobacco and alcohol, both legal substances, cause many more deaths per year than drugs do. In the fact sheet "Adult Cigarette Smoking in the United States: Current Estimates" (November 2006,, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 438,000 premature deaths occur each year as a result of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. Another CDC report, "Alcohol-Attributable Deaths and Years of Potential Life LostUnited States, 2001" (September 24, 2004,, indicates that approximately 75,000 people die prematurely each year because of excessive alcohol consumption. Another 40,933 die in car crashes and other accidents that are alcohol related. In comparison, drug abuse produced 19,102 deaths in 1999, according to the National Drug Control Strategy, 2002 (February 2002,, the most current data available. The most recent data on marijuana is in the report Mortality Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network 2002 (January 2004, by the SAMHSA. This report states that marijuana, which is preponderantly the drug used by most of those classified as illicit drug users, causes few fatalities and virtually none by itself. Such facts are behind efforts to legalize marijuana.


The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 (PL 100-690) established the creation of a drug-free America as a U.S. policy goal. As part of this initiative, Congress established the Office of National Drug Control Policy "to set priorities and objectives for national drug control, promulgate The National Drug Control Strategy yearly, and oversee the strategy's implementation" (February 11, 2005, To stress the importance of the issue, the director of the ONDCP was given a cabinet-level position. John P. Walters has been the ONDCP director and the George W. Bush administration's "drug czar" since his appointment in December 2001.

The first National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS) was submitted by President George H. W. Bush in 1989. It had been prepared under the reign of the nation's first drug czar, William J. Bennett. According to the White House Fact Sheet on the National Drug Control Strategy (September 5, 1989,, the NDCS's chief emphasis was on the "principle of user accountabilityin law enforcement efforts focused on individual users; in decisions regarding sentencing and parole; in school, college, and university policies regarding the use of drugs by students and employees; in the workplace; and in treatment." The strategy called for directing efforts at countries where cocaine originated, improving the targeting of interdiction (preventing or stopping smuggling and intercepting drugs), increasing the capacity of treatment providers, accelerating efforts aimed at drug prevention, and focusing on the education of youth. In its details, the drug strategy laid emphasis on law enforcement activities and the expansion of the criminal justice system.

Since that time the basic building blocks of the national strategy have remained the same, but the specific emphases taken by different administrations, or by the same administration in different years, have changed. Some presidents lean more toward enforcement, others more toward fighting drug traffiickers, and yet others more toward treatment and prevention. The Clinton administration's NDCS, 2000 (2000, emphasized:

  1. Empowering young people to reject drugs
  2. Treating drug offenders within the criminal justice system
  3. Increasing treatment resources for those who need them
  4. Interdicting (stopping) the flow of drugs across the nation's borders
  5. Aiding other democracies to help them fight traffickers

President Bill Clinton adopted the view that the war on drugs was the wrong model because wars could be expected to end and the effort to control drugs could not. Therefore, drugs should be seen as a disease, such as cancer, requiring long-term strategies (NDCS, 2001 2001, President George W. Bush adopted the view that drug use was akin to cholera and should be fought on public health principles (NDCS, 2003 February 2003, Whatever the model, all strategies to date have had the same components: prevention and treatment (together constituting demand reduction) and law enforcement, interdiction, and international efforts (together constituting supply disruption). The emphasis given to each of these com-ponents has been reflected in federal budgets, which is discussed in the next section.

National Drug Control Strategy goals, 2005
Note: Progress toward youth goals is measured from the baseline established by the 2001 Monitoring the Future survey. Progress toward adult goals is measured from the baseline of the 2002 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health. All strategy goals seek to reduce current use of any illicit drug. Use of alcohol and tobacco products, although illegal for youths, is not captured by "any illicit drug."
Source: "National Drug Control Strategy Goals," in National Drug Control Strategy: Update, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy, February 2005, (accessed October 20, 2006)
Two-year goals:A 10 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.
A 10 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by adults age 18 and older
Five-year goals:A 25 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.
A 25 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by adults age 18 and older

Under Bush, the ONDCP established three priorities:

  • Stopping use before it starts through education and community action
  • Healing drug users by helping them get treatment resources where they are needed
  • Disrupting the market by attacking the economic base of the drug trade

The first two priorities are clearly aimed at demand reduction and the third at supply disruption. Each year since its first NDCS publication, the Bush administration has embraced these priorities. The NDCS, 2006 (February 2006, is organized by these three national priorities.

Table 9.1 presents the Bush administration's stated benchmarks for measuring the success of its strategy, and the administration has used these benchmarks from its first NDCS publication. NDCS, 2006 asserts that the president's strategy is working and has reduced teen drug use by more than 10% from 2001 to 2003. It notes that to foster continued success, the Bush administration will use television ads and Web-based outreach to urge youth to remain "above the influence." (Drugs and youth are discussed in Chapter 5.) In addition, the administration will expand drug treatment options for drug abusers and will work to rehabilitate people with drug abuse problems who are in jails and prisons. (Drug treatment is discussed in Chapter 6.) Finally, the administration will work to disrupt drug markets by eradication (killing drug crops), stopping the flow of drugs internationally, and seizing drugs domestically.

Distribution of federal drug control spending, by function, fiscal years 200007
[In millions]
Functional areaFY 2000 finalFY 2001 finalFY 2002 finalFY 2003 finalFY 2004 finalFY 2005 finalFY 2006 enactedFY 2007 request
Note: Consistent with the restructured drug budget, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has made historical corrections to the amounts reported for fiscal years 2000 to 2006 to add the Justice Department's Prescription Drug Monitoring and Community Oriented Policing Methamphetamine Programs.
Source: "Table 3. Historical Drug Control Funding by Function, FY 20002007 (Budget Authority in Millions)," in National Drug Control Strategy: FY 2007 Budget Summary, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy, February 2006, (accessed October 20, 2006)
Demand reduction
Drug abuse treatment$1,990.9$2,086.5$2,236.8$2,264.6$2,421.1$2,431.8$2,365.7$2,408.7
Drug abuse prevention1,445.81,540.81,629.01,553.61,543.51,530.11,408.01,058.9
Treatment research421.6489.0547.8611.4607.2621.2614.4605.4
Prevention research280.8326.8367.4382.9412.4422.0422.2418.6
    Total demand reduction4,139.14,443.14,781.04,812.44,984.25,005.14,810.44,491.6
Domestic law enforcement2,274.02,511.22,867.23,018.33,189.83,317.93,529.33,585.4


The national drug control budget is shown in Table 9.2. The data span fiscal year (FY) 2000 to the budget request for FY2007. The federal fiscal year begins October 1 and ends September 30, so that FY2006 dollars, for example, include funding for the last quarter of calendar year 2005 and the first three quarters of 2006. The budget has grown from $9.9 billion in FY2000 to $12.7 billion in FY2007, a 27% increase over those years.

The budget is divided into two broad components: reducing the demand for drugs and disrupting their supply. Reducing the demand for drugs includes funding for priorities 1 and 2. Priority 1 funding supports research and programs that help communities work toward a drug-free environment and encourage young people to reject drug use. In Table 9.2 these funding categories are "Drug Abuse Prevention" and "Prevention Research." Priority 2 funding supports research and treatment for drug abuse and abusers. In Table 9.2 these funding categories are "Drug Abuse Treatment" and "Treatment Research." Priority 3 funding supports efforts to keep individuals and organizations from profiting from trafficking in illicit drugs, both domestically and internationally. In Table 9.2 these funding categories are "Domestic Law Enforcement," "Interdiction," and "International." The FY2000 and FY2001 budgets shown were determined during the Clinton administration, whereas the remaining budgets are during the Bush administration (including one projected budget based on the 2007 request).

As shown in Table 9.2, a high degree of budgetary fluctuation over time has been associated with international programs. Funds ranged from 6.5% of the total budget (FY2001) to 16.3% (FY2000). Significant portions of the international budget are spent on supporting international eradication efforts that, in turn, depend on the cooperation of other countries and on the U.S. drug certification program, which may temporarily deny funding to certain regimes.

Table 9.3 shows the supply and demand proportions overall from FY2005 to FY2007. Approximately 35% to 40% of drug control spending each year is allocated to reducing the demand for drugs. A much larger proportionapproximately 60% to 65%is allocated to disrupting the drug supply. The trend in recent years has been to decrease funding for reducing the demand for drugs (prevention and treatment efforts) and to increase funding for disrupting the drug supply (law enforcement and interdiction).

Table 9.4 summarizes the drug control budget by agency. The agencies that work to reduce the demand for drugs are the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Transportation (the latter indicated under "other presidential priorities"), and the U.S. Small Business Administration (also listed under "other presidential priorities"). The agencies that work to disrupt the drug supply are the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, State, Treasury, and Defense.

Most domestic law enforcement funds are spent by the U.S. Department of Justice, or on its behalf, and underwrite the operations of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the chief domestic drug control agency. Interdiction funds are managed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which now oversees all border-control functions and the U.S. Coast Guard. International funds are divided roughly equally between the Departments of State and Defense. The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) is the lead agency managing international programs. The U.S. Department of Defense is involved in supporting anti-insurgency programs in the Andean region and elsewhere. (Insurgencies are organized, armed rebellions against governments.)

Federal drug control spending, by function, fiscal years 200507
[In millions]
FY 2005 finalFY 2006 enactedFY 2007 request0607 change
Source: "Table 1. Federal Drug Control Spending by Function, FY 2005FY 2007 (Budget Authority in Millions)," in National Drug Control Strategy: FY 2007 Budget Summary, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy, February 2006, (accessed October 20, 2006)
Treatment (w/research) $3,053.0 $2,980.2 $3,014.1  $34.0  1.1%
     Percent     24.1%     23.7%     23.8%
Prevention (w/research) $1,952.1 $1,830.3 $1,477.5($352.8)(19.3%)
     Percent     15.4%     14.6%     11.7%
Domestic law enforcement $3,317.9 $3,529.3 $3,585.4  $56.1  1.6%
     Percent     26.2%     28.1%     28.3%
International $2,927.9 $2,909.4 $3,117.4 $208.0  7.1%
     Percent     23.2%     23.1%     24.6%
Interdiction $1,393.3 $1,326.0 $1,461.4 $135.4 10.2%
     Percent     11.0%     10.5%     11.5%
     Total$12,644.3$12,575.1$12,655.8  $80.6  0.6%
Supply/demand split
Supply $7,639.2 $7,764.7 $8,164.2 $399.5  5.1%
     Percent     60.4%     61.7%     64.5%
Demand $5,005.1 $4,810.4 $4,491.6($318.8) (6.6%)
     Percent     39.6%     38.3%     35.5%
Total$12,644.3$12,575.1$12,655.8  $80.6  0.6%


The linkages among drugs, organized crime, and insurgencies outside the United States have long been known. A connection to terrorism is a contemporary emphasis that arose in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 (9/11), terrorist attacks on the United States. In its Fiscal Year 2004 Budget: Congressional Justification (, the INL made a case for the convergence between the war on drugs and the war on terror:

The September 11 attacks and their aftermath highlight the close connections and overlap among terrorists, drug traffickers, and organized crime groups. The nexus is far-reaching. In many instances, such as Colombia, the groups are the same. Drug traffickers benefit from terrorists' military skills, weapons supply, and access to clandestine organizations. Terrorists gain a source of revenue and expertise in the illicit transfer and laundering of money for their operations. All three groups seek out weak states with feeble justice and regulatory sectors where they can corrupt and even dominate the government. September 11 demonstrated graphically the direct threat to the United States by a narcoterrorist state such as Afghanistan where such groups once operated with impunity. Although the political and security situation in Colombia is different from the Taliban period in Afghanistanthe central government is not allied with such groups but rather is engaged in a major effort to destroy themthe narcoterrorist linkage there poses perhaps the single greatest threat to the stability of Latin America and the Western Hemisphere and potentially threatens the security of the United States in the event of a victory by the insurgent groups. The bottom line is that such groups invariably jeopardize international peace and freedom, undermine the rule of law, menace local and regional stability, and threaten both the United States and our friends and allies.

Key to the international war on drugs is disruption of the drug supply. As the NDCS, 2006 states, market disruption:

contributes to the Global War on Terrorism, severing the links between drug traffickers and terrorist organizations in countries such as Afghanistan and Colombia, among others. It renders support to allies such as the courageous administration of President Alvaro Uribe in Colombia. Market disruption initiatives remove some of the most violent criminals from society, from kingpins such as the remnants of the Cali Cartel to common thugs such as the vicious MS-13 street gang.

Distribution of federal drug control spending, by agency, fiscal years 200507
[In millions]
FY 2005 finalFY 2006 enactedFY 2007 request
aIn FY 2005, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force funds for the Departments of Treasury and Homeland Security were appropriated in the Department of Justice Interagency Crime and Drug Enforcement (ICDE) accounts. Beginning in FY 2006, the Departments of Homeland Security and treasury ICDE funds are displayed as separate accounts in their respective departments.
bBeginning in FY 2007, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program is transferred to Justice and incorporated into the Interagency Crime and Drug Enforcement account.
cIncludes the Small Business Administration's Drug-Free Workplace grants and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Drug Impaired Driving program.
Source: "Table 2. Drug Control Funding: Agency Summary, FY 2005FY 2007 (Budget Authority in Millions)," in National Drug Control Strategy: FY 2007 Budget Summary, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy, February 2006, (accessed October 20, 2006)
Department of Defense
Counternarcotics central transfer account$905.8$936.1$926.9
Supplemental appropriations$242.0
Department of Education590.5490.9165.9
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
National Institute on Drug Abuse1,006.41,000.0994.8
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration2,490.52,442.52,411.1
    Total HHS3,496.93,442.53,405.9
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Customs and border protection1,429.01,591.01,796.5
Immigration and customs enforcementa361.5436.5477.9
U.S. Coast Guarda871.91,032.41,030.1
    Total DHS2,662.43,059.93,304.6
Department of Justice
Bureau of Prisons48.649.151.0
Drug Enforcement Administration1,793.01,876.61,948.6
Interagency Crime and Drug Enforcement553.5483.2706.1
Office of Justice programs281.1237.4248.7
     Total Department of Justice2,676.22,646.32,954.3
Counterdrug technology assessment center41.729.79.6
High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Programb226.5224.7
Other federal drug control programs212.0193.0212.2
    Total ONDCP507.0474.0245.1
Department of State
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs905.11,056.71,166.7
Supplemental appropriations260.0
Department of Treasury
Internal Revenue Servicea55.055.6
Department of Veterans Affairs
Veterans Health Administration396.1412.6428.3
Other Presidential Priorities c2.21.02.5
    Total federal drug budget$12,644.3$12,575.1$12,655.8


Internationally, the federal effort is concentrated on what the INL calls the Andean ridge, the northwestern part of South America where Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, running north to south, touch the Pacific and where land-locked Bolivia lies east of Peru. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), in Drug Control: Aviation Program Safety Concerns in Colombia Are Being Addressed, but State's Planning and Budgeting Process Can Be Improved (July 2004,, estimates that 90% of all cocaine and 40% of heroin entering the United States comes from Colombia. The remaining cocaine comes from Bolivia and Peru. Besides focusing on Columbia and Mexico, the INL also concentrates on Mexico, not only because the country is a major transmission route of drugs to the United States but also because Mexico is a significant source of heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine. The centerpiece of the effort is eradication of coca and poppy by providing airplanes and funds for spraying herbicides that kill the plants. Efforts also include assisting law enforcement and financial support provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for planting legal crops and improving infrastructure (roads and bridges) for delivering farm goods to market. The later measures are necessary because many of the people involved in cultivating drug-producing plants do so because it is the only source of income in the remote and undeveloped regions where they live. The USAID programs are intended to give them alternatives.

Elsewhere, the INL is concentrating on South Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan). In all, INL programs extend to 150 countries and involve assistance in law enforcement and in the fight against money laundering (making illegally acquired cash seem as though it was legally acquired). What follows is a brief encapsulation of the INL strategy in selected high-focus areas.


The primary effort to disrupt the drug supply in Colombia is coca eradication. The coca tree (Erythroxylon coca ) is a densely leafed plant native to the eastern slopes of the Andes mountains and is heavily cultivated in Columbia.

Figure 9.1 shows how many hectares of Colombian coca bushes were sprayed with herbicide from 2000 to 2005. The area sprayed nearly tripled during that time span, from 47,371 hectares in 2000 to 138,000 hectares in 2005. (A hectare is 2.47 acres.)

When the source of a drug such as cocaine is diminished, two things happen: the purity of the finished product (the drug) declines and the price of it rises. There is a lag time, however, between the eradication of source plants and the detection of the decline in purity and rise in price in the United States. Thus, the NDCS, 2006 notes that the retail price and purity data from February to September 2005 showed the results of coca eradication from years prior. During that time cocaine purity declined by 15%, whereas its price per gram increased 19%.

Poppy eradication takes place in Colombia as well, because this country supplies 40% of the heroin entering the United States. The NDCS, 2006 reports that there was a 68% reduction in Colombian opium poppy cultivation from 2001 to 2004. In 2004 Colombia sprayed 3,060 hectares of poppy and manually pulled up 496 hectares of the plants. These eradication measures have resulted in a 67% decline of potential production of pure Colombian heroin; potential production was 11.4 metric tons of pure heroin in 2001, and by 2004 the potential production of this drug was only 3.8 metric tons (a metric ton equals 1,000 kilograms or 2,204.6 pounds). (See Figure 9.2.)

Along with eradication, USAID has also been active in Colombia. This agency conducts what is known as the Alternative Livelihoods Program, which is aimed at providing drug farmers with alternative crops. USAID began operations in Colombia late in 2000, although this idea started in some areas more than thirty years ago.

Besides Colombia's aggressive seizure of drugs within its borders, the country is working with the United States in the resumption of the Air Bridge Denial (ABD) program. The ABD program works by forcing or shooting down aircraft that appear to be taking part in drug trafficking activities. The program was halted in 2001 when a civilian aircraft was downed in Peru and two U.S. citizens were killed. It was resumed in 2003. According to the NDCS, 2006, this program resulted in seven interdictions, five impounded aircraft, the destruction of two aircraft, and the seizure of 1.5 metric tons of cocaine in Colombia in 2005.

Colombia, however, illustrates some of the fundamental dilemmas of interdiction. The drug trade there is in part a symptom of a festering civil war. The Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook (December 12, 2006, provides this summary:

A 40-year conflict between government forces and anti-government insurgent groups and illegal paramilitary groupsboth heavily funded by the drug tradeescalated during the 1990s. The insurgents lack the military or popular support necessary to overthrow the government, and violence has been decreasing since about 2002, but insurgents continue attacks against civilians and large swaths of the countryside are under guerrilla influence. Paramilitary groups challenge the insurgents for control of territory and the drug trade. Most paramilitary members have demobilized since 2002 in an ongoing peace process, although their commitment to ceasing illicit activity is unclear. The Colombian Government has stepped up efforts to reassert government control throughout the country, and now has a presence in every one of its municipalities. However, neighboring countries worry about the violence spilling over their borders.

With an internal conflict that has lasted more than forty years, quite some time may pass before civil order is restored in Colombia and economic development has advanced enough to make drug-plant cultivation unattractive.

Bolivia and Peru

Similar problems have hampered efforts to bring coca production under control in Bolivia, the third-largest producer of cocaine. The country is poor and has had an unsettled history (nearly two hundred coups since its independence in 1825). The country has been under democratic rule since the 1980s, but successive governments have been reluctant to support eradication programs energetically. Coca is a traditional crop and the coca leaf is chewed by the inhabitants; eradication has resulted in a popular antiestablishment movement. The INL, in the fact sheet "Counternarcotics and Law Enforcement Country Program: Bolivia" (April 5, 2005,, notes that despite destroying eight thousand hectares of coca in 2004, coca cultivation in that year increased 6%. Eradication efforts are paralleled by replanting, and eradication is sometimes violently opposed by the population.

Peru, the second-largest producer of coca leaf and cocaine base, has organized bodies of cocaleros (coca growers) who enjoy sufficient popular support to hamper government action. For example, in 2002 cocaleros succeeded in briefly halting eradication efforts in several places, although by year's end some seven thousand hectares had been put out of commission. In Peru, as in Bolivia, replanting frequently follows eradication efforts. Nonetheless, the INL notes in "Country Program: Peru" (May 8, 2002,, the most recent report available on Peru, that Peruvian coca cultivation declined 70% from 1995 to 2001. In both Bolivia and Peru, USAID has active alternative development programs.


Mexico is one of the principal producers of marijuana and heroin that enters the United States. Under President Vicente Fox, the Mexican government was energetic both in the eradication of the marijuana and poppy crops and in the arrest and prosecution of members of drug cartels, though efforts were hampered by severe budget constraints, corruption, and inefficiencies within law enforcement and criminal justice institutions.

In the fact sheet "Counternarcotics and Law Enforcement Country Program: Mexico" (August 10, 2005,, the INL indicates that Mexico eradicated about 30,100 hectares of marijuana plants and 14,700 hectares of opium poppy in 2004. Figure 9.3 shows the annual marijuana eradication totals in Mexico from 1995 through 2005. Eradication of marijuana was up 43% in 2005 (30,883 hectares) from 1995 (21,573 hectares). Nevertheless, the climate and terrain of this country are such that up to three growing seasons are possible and capable of producing eleven tons of black tar heroin annually.

Mexico is also a major shipping thoroughfare for illicit drugs that are destined for the United States and Canada. Along with marijuana and heroin, one of the drugs that comes to the United States over the U.S.-Mexican border is methamphetamine, a synthetic drug that is made in illegal laboratories. This drug has become an increasing problem in the United States (see Chapter 4). U.S. law enforcement agencies have done much to combat the spread of this drug domestically, but they are also active in stopping the flow of methamphetamine and its precursors (other substances used to make methamphetamine) into the country. The INL reports in the NDCS, 2006 that "increasing production of methamphetamine within Mexico has been indicated by increased seizures at the US southwest border." Figure 9.4 shows that methamphetamine seizures nearly doubled from 2001 to 2004.


The INL indicates, in "United States Support for Afghanistan's Counternarcotics Campaign" (August 31, 2006,, that trafficking in narcotics provided over one-third of Afghanistan's gross domestic product in 2006. This country is the world's largest supplier of opium. While under control of the fanatically religious and conservative Taliban regime, cultivated poppy acreage dropped precipitously, from 64,510 hectares in 2000 to 1,685 hectares in 2001. (See Figure 8.9 in Chapter 8.) The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, in a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Taliban was driven from power. An unintended consequence of this was that poppy cultivation resumed, rising to 30,750 hectares in 2002. By 2004 poppy cultivation reached a staggering 206,700 hectares but then dropped by nearly half to 107,400 hectares in 2005. Recultivation of poppy was in part a response to the continuing drought in the region: opium poppy is hardy and can grow under adverse conditions. The Afghan drought conditions in 2004 were characterized as the worst in living memory. Thus, opium poppy was one crop that could be grown during the drought and supply income to farmers.

Drug-related seizure statistics in Afghanistan, fiscal year 2005
aOpium, morphine base, heroin.
bIncludes one extradition to United States.
Source: "Total FY 2005 Seizure Statistics," in National Drug Control Strategy, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy, February 2006, (accessed November 9, 2006)
Total FY 2005 seizure statistics
Opium 42.9 metric tons
Heroin  5.5 metric tons
Morphine base  220 kg
Hashish142.4 metric tons
Chemicals  9.4 metric tons
Clandestine conversion labsa 247
Heroin presses  44
Processing vats  49
Arrested/detained  32b

Afghanistan's post-9/11 government officially banned opium poppy cultivation and has pressured its regional governors to suppress the drug trade. Despite these efforts, the situation in Afghanistan was, in the immediate post-Taliban era, similar to the situation in Colombia, with a weak central government unable to assert itself in areas where autonomous warlords hold de facto power. Other countries and organizations have tried to help. For example, USAID has been active in establishing alternative development programs. The United Kingdom has conducted some eradication efforts and established a counter-narcotics mobile force; Germany has provided training and equipment to establish an Afghan security force; and Italy has been involved in strengthening the country's judicial system.

The DEA developed the Foreign-Deployed Advisory Support Teams (FAST) program in Afghanistan to identify, target, investigate, and disrupt or dismantle transnational drug trafficking operations in the region. A major goal of this program is to help develop Afghanistan's antidrug abilities. Training began in 2004 and operations began in 2005. The INL reports that the drug seizure statistics for 2005, shown in Table 9.5, are evidence of the FAST program's early success.


The United States uses the drug certification process to promote international cooperation in controlling drug production and trafficking. Section 490 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (PL 87-195), as amended, requires the president to annually submit to Congress a list of major drug-producing and drug-transiting countries. The president must also assess each country's performance in battling narcotics trade and trafficking based on the goals and objectives of the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Countries that have fully cooperated with the United States or that have taken adequate steps to reach the goals and objectives of the UN convention are "certified" by the president. U.S. aid is withheld to countries that are not certified. Even though many countries resent the process, most work toward certification.


Other countries not on the list are frequently reluctant to cooperate with the United States to stop drug traffickers. The Caribbean basin, for example, is a major transit zone for drug trafficking. The Caribbean basin countries are those that border, or lie in, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, such as the island nations of the West Indies, Mexico, Central American nations, and northern South American nations. Bermuda is also included, even though it is in the Atlantic Ocean. Even though most of the islands have bilateral agreements with the United States, these agreements are limited to maritime matters that permit U.S. ships to seize traffickers in the territorial waters of particular Caribbean islands. Few transit-zone countries permit U.S. planes to fly in their airspace to force suspected traffickers to land. Twelve transit-zone countries have no maritime agreements with the United States, including Ecuador and Mexico.

Bilateral agreements are not the same in each country, and some provide limited rights to U.S. law enforcement authorities. For example, a U.S.-Belize agreement allows the U.S. Coast Guard to board suspected Belizean vessels on the high seas without prior notification. The agreement with Panama requires U.S. Coast Guard vessels in Panamanian waters to be escorted by a Panamanian government ship.


The DEA is also at work within the United States to disrupt the drug supply. Table 9.6 shows drug seizures across the United States from 1989 to 2004. Seizures of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and cannabis have varied during the time span shown but, in general, have risen. For example, seizures of cocaine have ranged from a low of 96,085 kilograms in 1990 to a high of 164,537 kilograms in 2004. Table 9.7 shows domestic seizures of MDMA, or ecstasy. These seizures varied widely from the year 2000 through 2004 as well. The year in which domestic seizures were the greatest was 2001.

Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and cannabis seizures, 19892004
[In kilograms]
Data not available.
Source: "Table 49. Federal-wide Cocaine, Heroin, Methamphetamine, and Cannabis Seizures, 19892003 (Kilograms)," in 2005 National Drug Control Strategy: Data Supplement, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy, March 2005, (accessed October 19, 2006)
MDMA (ecstasy) seizures, 200004
YearReported in dosage unitsReported in kilogramsTotal in dosage unitsa
aConversion of seizures reported in kilograms to dosage units assumes 1 kilogram equals 3,400 impure dosage units, based DEA's MDMA Drug Intelligence Brief (June 1999).
bProvisional, based on reporting through March 2006.
Source: "Table 52. Domestic Seizures of MDMA, 20002004," in 2005 National Drug Control Strategy: Data Supplement, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy, March 2005, (accessed October 19, 2006)

Along with seizing and stopping the flow of methamphetamine at the U.S.-Mexican border, U.S. law enforcement agencies work to disrupt the supply of this drug within the United States. According to the INL in the NDCS, 2006, since 2005 thirty-five states have imposed new restrictions on the retail sale of the methamphetamine precursor pseudoephedrine. These restrictions have resulted in a significant national decline in methamphetamine lab seizures, because without this precursor drug the labs cannot manufacture methamphetamine. The INL also reports that the number of superlab seizuresthose labs capable of producing more than ten pounds of methamphetamine per production runhas decreased as well. Figure 9.5 shows that 245 superlabs were seized in 2001, compared with 55 in 2004.



Colombia's rise to being a major drug producer has drawn the attention of Congress. Congress requested that the GAO conduct a number of studies of developments in Colombia. The report Drug Control: U.S. Nonmilitary Assistance to Colombia Is Beginning to Show Intended Results, but Programs Are Not Readily Sustainable (July 2004, suggests that some antidrug headway is being made in Colombia but that the program is suffering from management and budget oversight problems that call its sustainability into doubt.

The report concludes that U.S. antidrug strategy, based on a combination of interdiction, aerial eradication, and alternative development, has "resulted in a 33 percent reduction in the amount of coca cultivated in Colombia over the last two yearsfrom 169,800 hectares in 2001 to 113,850 hectares in 2003and a 10 percent reduction in the amount of opium poppy cultivated in 2003. However, according to DEA officials and documents, cocaine prices nationwide remained relatively stableindicating that cocaine was still readily available."

Among the problems cited by the GAO were widespread corruption; human rights violations by the Colombian military, which have made it difficult for the United States to support Colombian military efforts; and control by insurgents (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army) of areas where coca and heroin poppy are grown.


The GAO also investigated counternarcotics work in Afghanistan and reported its results in Afghanistan Drug Control: Despite Improved Efforts, Deteriorating Security Threatens Success of U.S. Goals (November 2006, The GAO finds that poppy eradication in Afghanistan had increased in 2006, but the poppy crop still grew by 50%. "However," the GAO states, "many projects have not been in place long enough to assess progress toward the overall goal of significantly reducing drug cultivation, production, and trafficking. For example, projects to provide rural credit and to field teams to discourage poppy cultivation were not in place before the 20052006 growing season." The GAO also notes that the security situation in Afghanistan was worsening in 200506. Some personnel involved in eradication were attacked, and others involved in the Alternative Livelihoods Program were killed. The GAO concludes that significant reductions in poppy cultivation and drug trafficking in Afghanistan will likely take at least a decade.

Measurement Is Difficult

The United Nations (UN), in Global Illicit Drug Trends, 2003 (2003,, points out a problem with accurate reportingnamely that total production may be underestimated by governments reporting to the UN, thus potentially distorting data on the effect of interdiction programs. The UN states that in 2001 the amount of cocaine reported seized was equivalent to 44% of estimated world production. The amount of opiates (heroin and precursors) seized was 45% of supply, a much higher percentage than in previous years, but largely because of dramatically decreased production. The UN surmises that actual production of cocaine may have been well over what was reported by member states.

When estimates are too low, amounts seized can give the public a false sense of progress. In data reported by the INL for coca leaf production, Colombian production was omitted for 2001 through 2003 because measurement had changed from dry to fresh weight in Colombia. However, this omission causes a serious gap in statistical measurement in that Colombia is, by far, the largest producer of coca leaf in the world.

Another indication of the measurement problemin tracking the success of eradication programsis that no data have ever been produced for estimating marijuana production domestically in the United States against which U.S. eradication efforts can be measured. Furthermore, U.S. marijuana eradication is tallied by plant, whereas Mexican eradication is counted by hectare, so that U.S. and Mexican efforts cannot be compared effectively.


The goal of the international war on drugs is a difficult one. The United States and other countries are attempting to stop the flow of a product that is in high demand, generally cheap to produce, and offers enormous profits. In reference to the United States in particular, it is undeniably the case that a significant number of Americans want drugs, are affluent, and thus create a vast market for drug traffickers.

Production costs for drugs are so low and the profit so great that even if a trafficker loses most of his or her product, he or she can earn a huge amount of money on the remainder. When one drug policy is put in place, drug traffickers change their operations to circumvent it. When one route is blocked or one method of production shut down, traffickers change to another. When one drug trafficker or grower is captured, or even if a major trafficking group is shut down, others quickly arise to take their place.

Many nations where drugs are produced, and critics of the U.S. drug policy around the world, feel that so long as demand persists, suppliers will find a way to deliver the product. Even though they may, or may not, support eradication and interdiction efforts, these critics believe that ultimately the most successful policies are those that reduce the demand for drugs.


In the United States legalization of drugs almost invariably refers to the legalization of marijuana rather than, for instance, heroin and cocaine. Use of "hard drugs" such as these is relatively limited, and most Americans consider them to be highly addictive and damaging to one's physical and mental health. Marijuana's situation is different. According to the SAMHSA, in 2005 nearly three-quarters of all current drug users (74.1%) were using marijuana, and more than half of all current drug users (54.5%) used only marijuana and no other drugs. (See Figure 4.2 in Chapter 4.) Some studies suggest significant harm from marijuana use, including effects on the heart, lungs, brain, and social and learning capabilities. Others find little or no harm from moderate marijuana use. Regardless of what the research says, marijuana is generally thought of as a relatively mild drug, an opinion supported in Canada by those who introduced repeated initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession, or in the Netherlands, where marijuana sales are tolerated in "coffee shops."

Public Opinion

Gallup polling data for selected years from 1969 to 2005 show public opinion increasingly favoring the legalization of marijuana. (See Figure 9.6.) In 1969, 84% of the public opposed legalization and 12% favored it. By 2005 those opposed had declined to 60% of the public, whereas 36% were in favor.

It is with the support of this population that a number of initiatives and referenda attempting to legalize marijuana for medical purposes or to decriminalize possession of modest quantities have appeared on state ballots. The pro-legalization constituencies express themselves through activist organizations, such as the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Hemp Evolution, and state-level organizations. Some legal reform organizations, notably the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), advocate reform. A number of groups specialize in advocacy for the medical uses of marijuana. By contrast there are no large organizations that promote the legalization of drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

Arguments for and against Legalization


Most of those who favor legalization in some form (for medical use, decriminalization, or regulation) use two arguments in combination. The first is that an approach to drugs based on prohibition and criminalization does not work, produces excessive rates of incarceration, and costs a lot of money that could be more productively spent on treatment and prevention. The second is that drug use is an activity arbitrarily called a crime. It is imposed by law on some drugs and not on others, and can be seen as criminal at one time but perhaps not at another. Murder, rape, and robbery have always been considered inherently criminal acts, but drug use is just a consumption of substances; its control is arbitrary and follows fashions. Alcohol consumption was once prohibited but is now legal. Likewise, in the early 1900s opiates were sold in pharmacies and Coca-Cola contained small quantities of cocaine.

Some who advocate legalization of drugs believe that the government has no right telling people what they may and may not ingest. However, most legalization proponents recognize that many drugs can be harmful (though many dispute the degree), but they do not see this as a reason to make their use illegal. They point out that tobacco use and alcohol abuse are harmfulpossibly more harmful or addictive than some drugs that are illicitbut their use is legal. The policy these legalization advocates recommend is based on educational and public health approaches like those used for tobacco and alcohol. They feel that a greater harm is imposed on society by prohibiting such substances, as evidenced by the consequence of the Prohibition period of the early twentieth century, during which alcohol was banned and crime, racketeering, and homicide rates soared.

The general policy as advocated by most mainstream proponents of legalization is sometimes summed up in the phrase "harm reduction." The "Testimony of Executive Director Ira Glasser on National Drug Policy" (June 16, 1999, outlines the following issues:

There are two kinds of harms associated with the use of drugs. One set of harms may be caused by the drugs themselves, and varies widely, depending on the particular drug, its potency, its purity, its dosage, and the circumstances and frequency of its use. Distinctions must be made between the harms caused by heavy, compulsive use (e.g., alcoholism) and occasional, controlled use (e.g., a glass of wine each night with dinner). Distinctions must also be made between medical use (e.g., heavy dosages of morphine prescribed by doctors over a two-week period in a hospital setting or methadone prescribed daily on an outpatient basis as maintenance) and uncontrolled use (e.g., by addicts on the street using unregulated heroin and unclean needles). Distinctions must be made as well between relatively benign drugs (e.g., marijuana) and drugs with more extreme short-term effects (e.g., LSD) or more severe long-term effects (e.g., nicotine when delivered by smoking tobacco).

The second kind of harm associated with the use of drugs is the harm caused not by the drugs themselves but by dysfunctional laws designed to control the availability of the drug. These harms include massive incarceration, much of it racially disparate, and the violation of a wide range of constitutional rights so severe that it has led one Supreme Court justice to speak of a "drug exception" to the Constitution. Dysfunctional laws have also led to reduced availability of treatment by those who desire it (e.g., methadone maintenance), as well as a number of harms created by uncontrolled and unregulated illegal markets (e.g., untaxed and exaggerated subsidies for organized criminals; street crime caused by the settling of commercial disputes with automatic weapons; unregulated dosages and impurities; unclean needles and the spread of disease, etc.)

All laws that address the issue of drugs ought to be evaluated by assessing whether or not they reduce or enhance such harms.

Many proponents argue that legalization will result in decreased crime from trafficking, gang wars, and crimes committed to obtain drugs; lower incarceration rates and associated cost savings; and more funds available for treatment from savings and from taxes on legally distributed drugs. Legalization of drugs is also seen as making available marijuana in medical applications, such as relieving the suffering of cancer and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) patients.

Top ten facts on legalization of drugs cited by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 2003
Source: "Summary of the Top Ten Facts on Legalization," in Speaking Out against Drug Legalization, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, May 2003, (accessed October 20, 2006)
 Fact 1:We have made significant progress in fighting drug use and drug trafficking in America. Now is not the time to abandon our efforts.
 Fact 2:A balanced approach of prevention, enforcement, and treatment is the key in the fight against drugs.
 Fact 3:Illegal drugs are illegal because they are harmful.
 Fact 4:Smoked marijuana is not scientifically approved medicine. Marinol, the legal version of medical marijuana, is approved by science.
 Fact 5:Drug control spending is a minor portion of the U.S. budget. Compared to the social costs of drug abuse and addiction, government spending on drug control is minimal.
 Fact 6:Legalization of drugs will lead to increased use and increased levels of addiction. Legalization has been tried before, and failed miserably.
 Fact 7:Crime, violence, and drug use go hand-in-hand.
 Fact 8:Alcohol has caused significant health, social, and crime problems in this country, and legalized drugs would only make the situation worse.
 Fact 9:Europe's more liberal drug policies are not the right model for America.
Fact 10:Most nonviolent drug users get treatment, not jail time.


The government's case against legalization is summarized in the DEA brochure Speaking Out against Drug Legalization (May 2003, The ten arguments presented by the DEA are shown in Table 9.8.

Like legalization proponents, the DEA's position is organized around the concept of harm. Certain drugs are illegal or controlled because they cause harm. In the DEA's view, legalization of drugseven if only marijuanawill increase the harm already suffered by the drug-using public by spreading use to ever larger numbers of people. The agency cites Alaska's experience. Marijuana was legalized there in the 1970s and the DEA states that the Alaskan teenage consumption of marijuana at more than twice the rate of teenagers elsewhere was a direct consequence of the Alaska Supreme Court ruling. In 1990 there was a voter initiative in Alaska that criminalized any possession of marijuana.

Despite the DEA's opinion, on August 29, 2003, a state appellate court affirmed the right of Alaskans to possess a small amount of marijuana in their homes; anything under four ounces is deemed "for personal use." Anything over that amount is illegal because it is assumed the person is dealing drugs.

The DEA points to National Institute on Drug Abuse studies that show that smoking a marijuana joint introduces four times as much tar into the lungs as a filtered cigarette. The agency makes the point that drugs are much more addictive than alcohol and invites the public to contemplate a situation in which commercial interests might be enabled to promote the sale of presently illicit substances.

The DEA counters the "criminalization" charge by pointing out that only 5% of drug offenders in federal prisons and 27% of drug offenders in state prisons are held for possession, the rest for trafficking. The agency points out that even these numbers are deceptive because those imprisoned for possession are usually imprisoned after repeated offenses, and many of those serving a sentence for possession were arrested for trafficking but reached plea bargains permitting them to plead guilty to the lesser offense of possession.

Would legalization reduce crime? The DEA does not believe it would. Under a regulated drug-use system, age restrictions would apply. A criminal enterprise would continue to supply those under age. If marijuana were legalized, trade in heroin and cocaine would continue. If all three of the major drugs were permitted to be sold legally, other substances, such as phencyclidine and methamphetamine, would still support a criminal trade. The DEA does not envision that a black market in drugs could be eliminated entirely, because health authorities would never permit potent drugs to be sold freely on the open market.

For all these reasons, the DEA advocates the continuation of a balanced approach to the control of drugs including prevention, enforcement, and treatment.

Contradictions and Inconsistencies

Proponents of legalization sometimes find the question of where to draw the legal line problematic. How harmful must a drug be before it should be made illegal? In an environment where public pressures are mounting against the use of tobacco, legalization of marijuana has a contradictory aspect. Funds expended now on incarcerating drug offenders may have to be expended in some future time on public health programs to treat ills caused by newly legalized drugs, though whether or how much the use of drugs such as marijuana would increase if it were legal remains entirely unknown.

Opponents of legalization have similar difficulties in addressing the issues of alcohol and tobacco. How can their legality be justified when the use of comparably harmful substances is not legal and can yield long prison sentences?

Arguments claiming that the war on drugs is succeeding because drug use is down as measured against some point in the past ignore the fact that drug use is a cyclical phenomenon with ebbs and flows. For example, in Speaking Out the DEA presents a chart comparing overall drug use between 1979 and 2001, showing a decline in current users from 25.4 to 15.9 million people. In that period, however, current drug use first declined to 12 million people in 1992 and then rose again to 15.9 million by 2001 while the same policies were being pursued. If the DEA had used 1992 as its base year, it would have had to concede that its programs are not working.


The medicinal value of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana, has long been known to the medical community. The drug has been shown to alleviate the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, which is used to treat many forms of cancer. Marijuana has also been found useful in alleviating pressure on the eye in glaucoma patients. Furthermore, the drug has been found effective in helping to fight the physical wasting that usually accompanies AIDS. AIDS patients lose their appetites and can slowly waste away because they do not eat. Marijuana has been found effective in restoring the appetites of some AIDS patients. Many of the newer AIDS remedies must be taken on a full stomach. This is not to say that all scientists agree that marijuana is healthy or useful. For example, other studies find that marijuana suppresses the immune system and contains a number of lung-damaging chemicals. Still, the potentially beneficial uses of marijuana as a medicine have led to a movement for it to be made legally available by prescription.

Opponents of the medical legalization of marijuana often point to Marinol as a superior alternative. Marinol is a medication that contains the active ingredient dronabinol, a laboratory-made form of THC found in marijuana. Marinol provides a standardized THC content and does not contain impurities, such as leaves, mold spores, and bacteria, which are generally found in marijuana. However, many patients do not respond to Marinol, and the determination of the right dose is variable from patient to patient. Nonresponding patients claim that smoking marijuana allows them to control the dosage they get.

Marijuana has been used illegally by an unknown number of cancer and AIDS patients on the recommendation of doctors. Nonetheless, the medical use of marijuana is not without risk. The primary negative effect is diminished control over movement. In some cases users may experience unpleasant emotional states or feelings. In addition, the usefulness of medical marijuana is limited by the harmful effects of smoking, which can increase a person's risk of cancer, lung damage, and problems (such as low birth weight) with pregnancies. However, these risks are usually not important for terminally ill patients or those with debilitating symptoms.