Making the war on drugs trafficking tougher

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Politicians often escalate drug war rhetoric to show voters that they are doing something. But it is rare to ignore generations of lessons to support the execution of drug traffickers.

This idea is insane. But the war on drugs must be made rigid. Executing a few individual smugglers will do little to stop others because there is no high command of the international drug trade to target, no generals who can order a coordinated surrender of farmers, traffickers, money launderers, dealers or users. The drug trade is diffuse and can span thousands of miles from producer to consumer.

People enter the drug economy for all sorts of reasons — poverty, greed, addiction — and because they believe they will get away with it. Most people do. The death penalty only hurts the small portion of people who are caught.

Indeed, on the ground, the threat of execution will even help those who aren’t caught because they can charge an increased risk premium to the next person in the smuggling chain. The risk of capture and punishment increases as drugs move from farm to processing lab, traversing jungles, through cities, across oceans, past borders, distributed by dealers and purchased by consumers. The greater the risk to smugglers in this chain, the more they can demand in payment.

Without the drug war, substances like cocaine, heroin, marijuana and meth are minimally processed agricultural and chemical commodities that cost pennies per dose to manufacture. But lawmakers have invented a modern alchemy called drug prohibition, which transforms relatively worthless products into priceless commodities for which people are willing to kill or die.

The kind of get-tough measures that may give one country leverage against another have little effect among individual actors who need only to move drugs through their own segment of the supply chain. Indeed, by making the drugs ever more valuable, they have only amplified the motivational feedback loop of the very people lawmakers are trying to stop.

A Guest Editorial