The most enlightening speech at the United Nations this week, I’m sorry to say, was the one by Evo Morales of Bolivia.That's right, the so called "war on drugs" is not only ineffective it's counter productive and aiding our enemies. So what about the dreaded coca leaf.
I don’t mean it was a good or even a coherent speech. That would be too much to expect from the world leaders’ annual gasathon. The rhetorical bar is extremely low. Morales, like his friend Hugo Chávez, spent much of his time ranting about a new world order based on the economic policies that have worked such wonders in Cuba.
But Morales at least brought a visual aid — and thank God, it wasn’t a book by Noam Chomsky. Unlike Chávez, he didn’t assign reading homework to the U.N. Instead, he held up a small green coca leaf, and when he talked about international drug policies, he made more sense than anyone in the United States government.
We’ve sacrificed soldiers’ lives and spent billions of dollars trying to stop peasants from growing coca in the Andes and opium in Afghanistan and other countries. But the crops have kept flourishing, and in America the street price of cocaine and heroin has plummeted in the past two decades.
Meanwhile, we’ve been helping terrorists and other enemies abroad. The Senate has voted to send Afghanistan more money for programs to harass opium growers, whose discontent is already being exploited by the resurgent Taliban. In the Andes, American drug policies made Bolivians so mad that they elected Morales, a former leader of the coca growers, who campaigned for president on the kind of anti-American rhetoric he spouted this week.
At the U.N., he denounced “the colonization of the Andean peoples” by imperialists intent on criminalizing coca. “It has been demonstrated that the coca leaf does no harm to human health," he said, a statement that’s much closer to the truth than Washington’s take on these leaves. The white powder sold on the streets of America is dangerous because it’s such a concentrated form of cocaine, but just about any substance can be perilous at a high enough dose.So what does Tierney think we should do? What any good common sense Libertarian thinks we should do - make it legal.
South Americans routinely drink coca tea and chew coca leaves. The tiny amount of cocaine in the leaves is a mild stimulant and appetite suppressant that isn’t more frightening than coffee or colas — in fact, it might be less addictive than caffeine, and on balance it might even be good for you. When the World Health Organization asked scientists to investigate coca in the 1990’s, they said it didn’t seem to cause health problems and might yield health benefits.
But American officials fought against the publication of the report and against the loosening of restrictions on coca products, just as they’ve resisted proposals to let Afghan farmers sell opium to pharmaceutical companies instead of to narco-traffickers allied with the Taliban. The American policy is to keep attacking the crops, even if that impoverishes peasants — or, more typically, turns them into criminals.
Drug prohibition in Bolivia and Afghanistan has done exactly what alcohol prohibition did in America: it has financed organized crime.
The only workable solution is to repeal prohibition. Give Afghan poppy growers a chance to sell opium for legal painkilling medicines; give Andean peasants a legal international market for their crops in products like gum, lozenges, tea and other drinks. As Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance proposes, “Put the coca back in Coca-Cola.”Of course it won't happen. Those in power need every metaphorical war they can get to hang onto power and big pharma fears the competition.
But good try John, I'm with you.
John Tierney, War on Drugs
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