30 March 2012

The high cost of drug enforcement

An item in Open Medicine, Vol 6, No. 1 (2012), entitled Improving community health and safety in Canada through evidence-based policies on illegal drugs, contains some remarkable data from North America on the high cost of drug law enforcement and the failure to extract anything that might reasonably be called value for money.

Two quotable quotes will suffice:

When the Office of the Auditor General of Canada last reviewed the country’s drug strategy, in 2001, it estimated that of the $454 million spent annually on efforts to control illicit drugs, $426 million (93.8%) was devoted to law enforcement. The report further concluded, “Of particular concern is the almost complete absence of basic management information on spending of resources, on expectations, and on results of an activity that accounts for almost $500 million each year.”

United States
Remarkably, despite an estimated US$1 trillion spent since former US president Richard Nixon first declared his country’s “war on drugs,” the effort to reduce drug supply and drive up drug prices through aggressive drug law enforcement appears to have been ineffective. Instead, in recent decades, the prices of the more commonly used illegal drugs (e.g., cannabis and cocaine) have actually gone down, while potency has risen dramatically.

The costs of drug law enforcement come in other forms than financial outlays by the taxpayer. In Australia just this week we have seen two stories relating to the corrupting effects of drug law enforcement splashed across our front pages, and the story of a high profile ex-AFL player who looks to be in a lot of trouble of a kind that will benefit no-one:

Operation Dayu
Read here Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker, $10 million trap nets drug ring from the 24 March edition of The Age and access an edited extract from The Sting: Australia’s plot to trap a global drug empire. The article refers to a multibillion dollar drug and money laundering network which is responsible for the importation into Australia of $1.2 billion worth of drugs annually, some of it distributed by outlaw motorcycle gangs.

The article says that the syndicate has achieved "high-level infiltration of government in both law enforcement agencies and political circles" across much of Asia, including China, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

In addition to the article in The Age, read here a transcript of Mark Colvin’s interview with Nick McKenzie on Radio National’s PM program, Monday 26 March 2012.

Investigation of customs officials
Four days later, in the 28 March edition of The Age, under the headline Customs officers probed, the same two authors write (see here):

Australian border security officials are helping organised crime syndicates smuggle multimillion-dollar shipments of illicit drugs and other contraband into Australia.

Australian law enforcement agencies are investigating more than 24 Customs and Border Protection officials for corruption or misconduct - suspected offences include drug trafficking and leaking sensitive information.

Ben Cousins
Then there is today’s story in The Age about Brownlow medallist Ben Cousins, one of AFL’s most talented players, on bail after his arrest with drugs allegedly hidden in his rectum. A foolish young man no doubt, but who will benefit from his criminalisation if that is what occurs?

As for the impact on Mexico of drug prohibition in the United States, see my earlier post Declare war on the war on drugs.

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