Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

On November 3, 1999 the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation co-sponsored a press conference, releasing a letter to "drug czar" Gen. Barry McCaffrey by distinguished American and Latin-American leaders who reject U.S. export of the failed "war on drugs" to Latin-America.




November 3, 1999

What should we do about the crisis of drug abuse and addiction, of widespread drug corruption and violence? What should we do to prevent environmental destruction from illegal drug processors in the Amazon and the Andes? What should we do about leftist guerillas and rightist paramilitaries who are involved in the drug traffic and other terrible crimes? Have we learned anything from our successes and our failures?

The American government's anti-drug leadership, I suggest, has not learned. Either it does not see what is happening, or it is not truthful.

In the 1999 White House National Drug Control Strategy, the most important claim made by the White House drug czar, in big red letters is, "National Anti~Drug Policy is Working." This claim, which McCaffrey makes in every speech, and which he will repeat ad infinitum this week, is a fraud.

In common sense terms, there are four key measures of success or failure of this strategy. They are, in rough order of importance, the saving of lives. Making it harder for kids to get drugs. Hindering the drug traffickers. And, treating drug addicts, the most humane approach and the most effective strategy. Sadly, we are failing every one of these measures.

First, there are more deaths from drug abuse than ever. Deaths from drug-induced causes more than doubled, from 7,101 in 1979 to 14,843 in 1996, and the death rate has grown from 3.2 per 100,000 in 1979 to 5.6 in 1996. This data is included in Gen. McCaffrey's Strategy.

Second, heroin and marijuana were easier for high school seniors to obtain in 1998 than at any time since the government began its annual survey of students in 1975, and crack cocaine was easier to obtain in 1998 than at any time in a decade. That's the official government data released last winter.

Third, heroin and cocaine prices have fallen dramatically. The price of cocaine per pure gram at retail has plummeted from $379 in 1981 to $169 in 1998. The price of heroin per pure gram at retail has collapsed from $3115 in 1981 to $1800 in 1998. Heroin's price per pure gram at wholesale in U.S. cities has plummeted from $1194 in 1981 to only $318 in 1998. This data is also here in the Strategy. Traffickers are getting more efficient and evaluate their risks as dramatically smaller.

Tied to this data is the fact that drug purity has increased shockingly. Retail purity of cocaine has risen from 40% in 1981 to 71% in 1998. Heroin purity has risen more than five times, from 4.7% in 1981 to 24.5% in 1998. Besides creating much greater risks of overdose deaths to users, especially the vulnerable novace users, this means traffickers are competing aggressively in the marketplace. These are signs drug traffickers are thriving in America.

Fourth, we are not treating drug addicts in America, the most effective and cost-effective way of dealing with the problem. In 1996, 3.3 million hard core drug addicts were untreated, almost two-thirds of those who needed treatment -- greatest number in five years. That's what is reported here in the Strategy. The research shows that treatment of addicts is the most cost-effective way to reduce all of the problems associated with drugs -- here and overseas. Why aren't we providing this treatment? Because America is not committed to solving the drug problem -- it is committed to fighting the war on drugs. McCaffrey asked for $85 million for more drug treatment in FY 2000, only 11.5% of his total requested increase, a pittance for the approach the RAND Corporation says is 23 times more effective than trying to control crops in latin America.

Delegates to this week's drug policy conference should not be bamboozled into believing that U.S. is doing what it ought to do or that the U.S. has an effective strategy. During my nine years working on drug policy for the House Judiciary Committee, I saw that high-level policymakers would not recognize nor admit the truth about the failures of our strategy, and that is still true today.

Since 1983, when I traveled to five nations in South America accompanying a House Narcotics Committee fact-finding mission, there has been no net progress in our international strategy.

The proposed $1.5 billion in aid to Colombian security forces won't solve the problem -- it will enrich a corrupt military that violates human rights as a matter of course. The spraying of vast regions of the Andes with herbicides -- poisoning water souces, livestock, ruining crops and risking the poisoning of peasant families will not stop the continued cultivation of coca, opium and cannabis. Sending more weapons to Colombia will not end the civil war there. It won't stop the guerillas nor will it curb the paramilitaries. Sending U.S. advisors won't improve the Colombian military's conepetence. The deaths of American advisors already is more tragic lost lives in a futile eflort.

I helped write the 1988 American law to control processing and precursor chemicals. That law hasn't stopped the manufacture of drugs. I helped write the 1988 law prohibiting environmental destruction on Federal lands while growing or cultivating drugs. These laws have not stopped the spread of toxic chemicals spewing from amphetamine labs here in the U.S.

I urge the delegates to this week's conference to reject the imposition on their societies of failed strategies. Use the techniques that have been effective, that respect human rights, that provide jobs and agricultural income, and that do not endanger the environment. Ask yourself how many generations of your nation will be sacrificed to a failed strategy?

Eric E. Sterling, an attorney, has been President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation since 1989. From 1979 to 1989, he was council to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, responsible for anti-drug matters, gun control, organized crime, pornography and other issues.


A Message to the Hemisphere's Drug Policy Makers

This letter was released at a press conference on November 3, 1999.

As you meet to develop a hemispheric drug strategy, it is time to admit that after two decades the U.S. war on drugs -- both in Latin America and in the United States - is a failure. Despite a 17-fold increase in U.S. drug war spending since 1980, record seizures, arrests, and incarcerations at home, and destruction abroad of hundreds of drug labs and coca and poppy crops, today in the U.S., illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent, and more easily available than two decades ago.

Under the banner of fighting drugs, U.S. military aid to Colombia has skyrocketed: today Colombia is by far the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the hemisphere --and the third largest in the world after Israel and Egypt. Yet, over the last decade, total drug production in Colombia has risen 260 percent. The escalation of a militarized drug war in Colombia and elsewhere in the Americas threatens regional stability, undermines efforts towards demilitarization and democracy, and has put U.S. arms and money into the hands of corrupt officials and military, police and intelligence units involved in human rights abuses.

Before escalating the war on drugs even further, an honest evaluation of the strategy is needed. Drug problems have not been solved because the approach taken -- prohibition enforced by a militarized drug war -- is fundamentally flawed:

U.S. drug policy disproportionately targets peasant farmers and fails to address the poverty and inequality, widespread throughout the Americas, which are at the root of drug cultivation.

The U.N. estimates that at least 75% of international drug shipments would need to be intercepted to substantially reduce the profitability of drug trafficking. Yet interdiction efforts intercept only 10-15% of the heroin and 30% of the cocaine, according to the most optimistic estimates.

Continued demand in the U.S. ensures that even if drug cultivation, processing and shipment are controlled in one area, they emerge in another.

U.S. prisons are overflowing with more than 400,000 drug offenders. The vast majority of those behind bars are low-level dealers; for example, only 5 percent of those jailed for crack are high-level dealers.

Current drug strategy can never work given the magnitude of profits from illicit drugs -- according to the U.S. goverment, $57 billion annually in the U.S. alone. According to the United Nations, drug trafficking is a $400 billion per year industry, equaling 8% of the world's trade.

Has the policy of doing more of the same produced a better result? Clearly the answer is no.

The problem is not insufficient funds, firepower or prisons. Rather, a totally new approach is needed. To be effective, U.S. drug control strategy must shift from militarized eradication and interdiction in latin America and a law- enforcement dominated approach at home. As you meet to discuss the future direction of drug control, we urge you to consider the following points:

When it comes to reducing cocaine consumption, drug treatment is 7 times more cost effective than domestic law enforcement, 10 times more effective than interdiction and 23 times more effective than eradication, according to a RAND Corporation study.

Expanding the U.S. drug war to other countries will merely further expand the failure of drug control throughout the hemisphere while escalating killings and environmental destruction.

Emphasis should be placed on public health, economic development, protecting human rights and pragmatic approaches to reducing drug-related problems.

A long-term solution to the drug market needs to be developed by engaging in a dialogue with the countries and non-governmental organizations in this hemisphere that examines all options to the drug war.


Antonio Aranibar, Former Foreign Minister of Bolivia Oscar Arias, Former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Harry Belafonte, Entertainer and Activist

Belisario Betancur, Former President of Colombia

Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary, National Council of Churches

Jorge Castaneda, Professor of Politics, New York University

Violeta Chamorro, Former President of Nicaragua

Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentine Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Shirley Fingerhood, Former Justice of the New York State Supreme Court

James P. Gray, Judge of the Superior Court, Orange County, Califurnia

Dr. Howard Hiatt, Former Dean, Harvard School of Public Health

Cruz Reynoso, Former Justice of the California State Supreme Court

Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian writer and Politician

Robert E. White, President, Center for International Policy (former Ambassador to El Salvador and Paraguay)