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May 2009

Congratulations to Danny Kushlik of Transform. He  brilliantly exposed a vacuous claim by the Serious Crime Agency (SOCA).  The report claims that it has increased the wholesale price of cocaine and that street purity has fallen.

As the evidence has shown over the long term, illegal drugs have become increasingly cheap and available. However, short term reversals in these trends are often proclaimed by prohibitionist governments and the enforcement agencies charged with fighting the war on drugs, and this is a prime case in point. Taken at face value, these reversals in fortune will be used to signal imminent victory in the wider war. This is clumsy piece of PR that fell falt on its face. As Danny pointed out:

"For those of us who have seen entire enforcement agencies come and go, this is more of the same in the propaganda war. Cherry picking statistics is bread and butter for those who have to show success in an ocean of failure. President Obama is on the record in 2005 describing the war on drugs as an "utter failure".

The global war on drugs has gifted a trade to organised criminals, valued at £4-6 billion a year in the UK alone and £160 billion globally. One has to ask who benefits from hiking the price and lowering the purity of cocaine - even if this can be achieved or is the result of enforcement efforts? The answer is twofold:

One of the more pertinent policy outcomes that SOCA have notbeen trumpeting is that cocaine use has more than doubled in the last ten years (and is still rising) and part of this explosion has been the disastrous epidemic of crack cocaine use that has emerged over the same period. It is likely that this explosion in demand is driving any recent decrease in cocaine purity rather than supply side enforcement impacts. Clearly there is considerably more cocaine entering the country than their was when SOCA was set up. And this has nothing to do with how effectively SOCA do their duties; the economics of a totally unregulated multi-billion pound market (in which demand is high and rising) controlled by flexible, cunning and often violent criminal profiteers make SOCAs task one that is doomed from the outset.

If SOCA are so sure that this recent evidence is supportive of their work, I'm sure that they will back Transform's call for an independent impact assessment of the current regime of prohibition and a genuine exploration of alternatives, including the legal regulation of currently prohibited drugs. David Cameron supported a call as a backbencher, for the UK to initiate just such a debate at the UN in 2002.

So, what should we believe? Decades of history, or the agency that has to show that its work isn't futile and counterproductive? You decide..."