I bumped into this article from Ioan Grillo in the New York Times today (I read his book a while back. It was very informative but I don’t really like disjointed narratives, I’m more of a linear thinker):

“As we enter 2014, we are in the midst of a fundamental shift in thinking on drug policy across the Americas. It’s the biggest change in direction since the region started down the road to prohibition with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. That U.S. law kickstarted the Latin American drug trade in the form of traffickers smuggling opium poppies north from Mexico’s Sierra Madre.

As the American drug market grew through the hippie Summer of Love and the cocaine disco generation, the U.S. war on drugs became more intense, as did the pressure on Latin American governments to fight supply. Subsequent generations of cartels became ever more violent; we went from talking about a war on drugs to drug wars, culminating in Mexico’s bloodbath, which is perhaps the most costly drug war in world history.

But the discussions on the issue are shifting course at breakneck speed. For decades, any talk of drug legalization was viewed by politicians across the hemisphere as a toxic vote-loser, pooh-poohed by pundits as a nonstarter. Now, active or former presidents of Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico are all calling for a rethink of prohibitionist policies.”

Which may have to do with this (from an earlier article):

“The International Centre for Science in Drug Policy said its report suggested the war on drugs had failed.

The report, published in the British Medical Journal Open, looked at data from seven international government-funded drug surveillance systems.

Its researchers said it was time to consider drug use a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.

The seven drug surveillance systems the study looked at had at least 10 years of information on the price and purity of cannabis, cocaine and opiates, including heroin.

The report said street prices of drugs had fallen in real terms between 1990 and 2010, while their purity and potency had increased.”

The report is here. Some of their results below.


Heroin purity


Cocaine purity

I find it interesting that there is an uptick in price right when the recession started in the US.


Cannabis purity

And finally:

Illegal drug price timeline

And as I discussed a while back, Portugal seems to be leading the way in terms of decriminalization (unless imposed austerity messes it all up).

And for the deleterious social effects of the war on drugs, see this older post as well.

Now, as I always tell my students, when a public policy seems to be a failure and yet, discussing this failure and potential policy changes is out of bounds, ask yourselves, who benefits. Who were the main beneficiaries of the war on drugs (and still are), and if one finds groups with big political clout, this is the answer to why failing policies are not changed or repealed. In this case, the beneficiaries are rather obvious: the prison-industrial complex (especially private prisons), various law enforcement agencies (which is reminiscent of the way these same agencies went from enforcing prohibition to creating a moral panic about marijuana, including, the awesomely awful old film, Reefer Madness), politicians (both federal and state), as well as anyone whose job is connected to the enforcement of the war on drugs, such as probation officers, etc.

But it is certainly interesting to see an ever-so-subtle tide changing.