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Common Cents

Drug Wars

Ralph Murphy

(1/7/2014) Narcotics have reportedly been used since Neanderthal experimenting predating modern man, but only recently has the practice enjoyed sophisticated application technology, and in some regions legal acceptance. Where have we come, and where are we headed as regards this spiraling malady?

The illegal drug trade is reported in a December 2009 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to have generated over 352 billion dollars in profits world wide that year. Profits are generally a small percentage of total production price, and the UN report does not indicate the associated contributory markets and benefits, but the total trade is realistically considered to be worth well over that number.

Most non medicinal narcotics are illegal worldwide, but there is a growing trend towards decriminalization of "soft" or non addictive drugs. Cannabis, while a hallucinogenic, is considered socially acceptable in many legal jurisdictions to the point of being legal or "effectively legal" in the Netherlands, North Korea, and the American states of Washington and Colorado. On 28 May, 2013 Colorado became "the first fully (legally) regulated market of Cannabis for adults."

Uruguay "one upped" them on 10 December, 2013 by becoming "the first country in the world to fully legalize the sale, production, and distribution of marijuana." Other South American nations to include Bolivia, allow for possession of unspecified "small" amounts of marijuana and even cocaine, for personal use, but can reportedly be quite strict on the dealers. The amount differentiating the two is not specified, and apparently up to the discretion of the prevailing judge if tried.

Medicinal marijuana is currently legal in twenty American states and the District of Columbia with varying degrees of eligibility and permissivity. It is used to treat a wide order of real or imagined afflictions to include pain, nausea, glaucoma, and movement disorders.

While narcotics have been used throughout human history the current onslaught in the United States is a "Baby Boomer" initiated response mushrooming from the 1960's counter culture and largely tolerated as a domestic anesthesia for the Vietnam War. The war ended, but the taste for that pacifier remained, and so inundated the American court system that most legal jurisdictions simply couldn't handle the case loads.

Syndicate suppliers from Latin American countries found the trade largely cost effective, but enormously bloody as cartels in Colombia and Mexico fought, and continue to fight with varying levels of government prevention or involvement depending on the nation and leadership orientation. The FBI estimated 5% of homicides in this nation were directly the result of narcotics violence in the 1990's. Mexico claimed 90% of their domestic killings could be traced to the trade during that same period.

The domestic drug lobby makes parallels to the 1920 to 1933 alcohol prohibition failure in justifying the legalization of their 21st century counterpart. While there is a certain resemblance in that both groupings are "drugs", alcohol as a depressant is a relatively grounded sensation. The ethereal high from even "soft" drugs provides a completely different mind set to the user, and one whose long term ramifications remains unclear.

Marijuana is not considered an addictive drug or one which changes body chemistry to the point where the user's behavior becomes accustomed and dependent on ever more amounts of the substance. Other narcotics to include cocaine and, of course, heroin will create that chemical imbalance and associated often desperate behavior to get money or otherwise obtain the drug.

A leaked United Kingdom study concluded the "cost of crime to support illegal cocaine and heroine habits amounts to 16 billion pounds a year." That figure more than the Home Office annual budget. The study claimed "85% of shoplifting, (up to) 80% of burglaries, and 54% of robberies" could be traced back to satisfying the insatiable desire. The behavior would persist even if the "hard" or addictive drugs were legal as those afflicted seek to satisfy their habit.

While small town municipalities far from detention centers and associated direct costs often continue to be quite strict in meting out sentences to even first time "soft" drug offenders, it is different in areas of more direct accountablility. Drug use, while closely monitored and severely punished by federal government employees doesn't always seem to stop them from regulating and thereby providing a modicum of control for the trade.

The Central Intelligence Agency, faced with government cut off of funds for desperately needed programs in South East Asia and Central America was widely rumored to have sold narcotics to address the budget shortfall. Given the enormous volume of narcotics imports domestically it seems far fetched to believe other agencies aren't involved as well. They don't have the direct oversight committees, and get less publicity.

Non addictive drugs such as marijuana appear to have gained widespread acceptance to the point where a January 2014, CNN poll found 67% of those under 34 years old believe the hallucinogenic should be legalized where it is not already. The addictive drugs will in all probability continue to be strongly fought at the federal level given the desperation and social problems they create. It seems unlikely that the clock can be turned back to a time when "White Lightening's still the biggest thrill of all", but sanity in legal jurisdictions will either eradicate the prevailing threat or prove our undoing.

Ralph Murphy is a former member of the CIA Headquarters Staff in Langley, VA.

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