For decades the ‘war on drugs’ has been claiming lives and leaving countries riven with violence and corruption. A look at the figures shows that the stakes are incredibly high; UN estimates state that at retail level the illegal drugs trade is worth $332bn, making it one of the biggest commodity markets in the world.
Up to 272 million people used illicit substances in 2010 and in turn governments across the globe annually spend $100bn in fighting the ‘war on drugs’.
The scale of the human cost is equally high. Central and South America have respectively the second and third-highest homicide rates in world, the Mexican government claims its war on drugs has claimed the lives of almost 50,000 people.
In this special edition of Counting the Cost we ask whether those fighting the 'war on drugs' are seeing any benefit from their investment. With demand and consumption as high as they are, we question if this 'war on drugs' has actually been worth it - or at the least if it has been working.
We speak to Otto Peres Molina, the Guatemalan president, who has broken rank by calling for the legalisation of drugs, saying: “we have spent billions over the last 40 years in a drug war that has solved nothing”.
Molina told us that he is proposing, “a debate, dialogue, where we have statistics, studies and serious analysis of the subject. Based on the results we must come up with alternatives rather than keep doing the same things we’ve been doing that have clearly shown that we are not winning the war against drugs."
The desire for fresh debate is one which is currently not shared by the US. So much so that it is currently illegal to pay for research into legalisation.
The "Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998" states that the director of the ONDCP "shall ensure that no federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalisation (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance… listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act…"
We speak to those on both sides of the debate, including Dr. Kevin Sabet who advises the state department on drugs policy, and Danny Kushlick, the founder of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. We look at Peru's coca farmers and the poverty that keeps them in the drugs trade; and looking at Mexico's drug cartels, we ask: How are the billions integrated back into the Mexican economy?
Armando Santacruz of the Mexican NGO, Mexico United Against Crime, describes the effect of the drug cartels on the Mexican economy: “A lot of drug money has entered the economy and the competition is totally unfair, it is not a level playing field. Certain business endeavors are suffering while the associates of the drug cartels are doing a brisk business in the cleaning and laundering of money.”
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