The ever-evolving drugs trade

Drugs trafficking is a critical issue that Latin America and the US can only begin to get a handle on if they work together and have an honest debate about the various component parts of this system, such as production, transport and of course demand.

Nick Miroff’s smart piece in yesterday’s Washington Post demonstrates that many producers and traffickers respond to market forces and consumer tastes. Put another way, those involved in the drugs trade must be viewed as business people who assess consumer demand, market share, profitability, and risk.

So, yes, as more US states move to legalize marijuana consumption, farmers in Culiacan, Mexico will cultivate opium poppy and traffickers in Mexico will increasingly shift to heroin and meth. For their part, Colombian cocaine traffickers have already begun the process to shift their products to markets in the UK, Spain, and China. The shift to European markets has led to traffickers using West African nations as transit points and, increasingly, markets for their product.

From a policy perspective, a well calibrated set of policies must be formulated at an international level and, for instance, must focus on efforts to decriminalize use, emphasizing instead treatment for addicts. The Global Commission on Drug Policy is an important voice in this regard, and continues to offer smart ideas in tackling this issue. There is some momentum for prison sentence reform for non-violent drug offenders, but elected officials must push it through.

Nevertheless, enterprising traffickers will continue to respond to market changes, and it will remain a formidable challenge for the US, Latin America and the Caribbean.

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