Eternal hope: America's international narcotics efforts

by Peter Reuter

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Throughout the last 15 years, the U.S. Government has emphasized the role of export reduction programs in its efforts to reduce the consumption of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana in this nation. This paper argues that there is little reason to believe that the existing international programs aimed at accomplishing this will have significant effect on the long-term availability of these drugs in the United States. There are four major structural problems that limit the effectiveness of these programs: (1) The producer country governments lack the political motivation or capacity to enforce their drug treaty obligations. (2) The set of potential source countries is very large; success in any one country may be quickly negated by the development of new crops in other nations, as has occurred with Brazilian cocaine and domestic marijuana. (3) U.S. relations with source countries are so complex that it is not possible to make reduced drug output a high diplomatic priority. (4) The basic tool for crop reduction is both implausible and unproven. The existing programs serve an important symbolic purpose and should not be abandoned.

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