Thursday, May 22, 2008

Transform in the Guardian CIF: Coaker's line on Cocaine

Coaker's line

It is not coca growing per se that fuels the conflict in Colombia, but the fact that cocaine is illegal - a point lost on most policymakers

Emily Crick 7.00am May 22, 2008

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker announced a new anti-cocaine initiative yesterday. Coaker and the Colombian vice president, Francisco Santos, along with former Blur bassist Alex James, were in Trafalgar Square to attend an exhibition that aims to highlight the environmental and social destruction that cocaine causes.

Coaker's new initiative, backed with a £1m Frank campaign aimed at 15-18 year olds, is running in conjunction with the Colombian government's "shared responsibility" project that attempts to link consumption in the west with the carnage created by illicit markets in producer countries. The idea is to appeal to consumers' ethical conscience, rather than the more familiar health concerns. Alex James, the former blur drummer and bon viveur who once claimed he had personally spent a £1m on cocaine, has been recruited to the cause after visiting Colombia to see the problems with illicit cocaine firsthand.

Earlier this year Antonio Costa, head of the UN office on drugs and crime (UNODC), also got in on the act when he wrote an article in the Observer entitled "Every line of cocaine means a little part of Africa dies", highlighting the chaos caused by western consumption in emerging transit countries like Guinea Bissau, specifically pointing the finger at those "fashionistas", including Amy Winehouse and Kate Moss, who he accused of glamorising cocaine use.

This rather ludicrous argument ignores the general consensus that Amy Winehouse is at her least cool and sexy stumbling out of hotels in blood-stained slippers. More significantly what Costa, Coaker and Santos fail to make clear is that it is not actually the coca growing per se that fuels the conflict in Colombia but the fact that cocaine is illegal.

It is the massive untaxed profits on offer, created by the policy of prohibition, that attract the violent unregulated gangsters and are the real cause of the devastation that affects Colombia. The cocaine trade is estimated to be worth $56bn-$70bn globally and the UNODC estimates that 14 million people worldwide take it.

Furthermore, whilst use is falling in the US, it is still on the rise in Europe - particularly Britain and Spain. It has been suggested that the profit margin in cocaine is between 2,000%-3,000%. With profits like these, is it any wonder that the illegal drug trade attracts insurgents and paramilitaries, eager to find new ways the fund their war?

In 2001 Jaime Ruiz, senior advisor to the then president of Colombia, Andrés Pastrana said, "From a Colombian point of view ... just legalise it [cocaine] and we won't have any more problems. Probably in five years we wouldn't even have guerrillas." This may be somewhat simplistic but with depleted economic resources there would be more incentive for those involved in armed combat to negotiate for peace.

It is this fundamental issue that Coaker and his cohorts are failing to address when they call for a "boycott" on cocaine. It is their shared irresponsibility that gifts the cocaine trade to organised crime and those involved in violent conflict from Bogota to Brixton.

Add comments on the Guardian CIF website here (closes after 3 days)


Emily is Transform's new research associate

Related reading:

When all else fails: blame Amy Winehouse

Traditional coca use: caught in the cross fire

Section on crack cocaine in Transform's 'Tools for the debate' (p.41)

Other news (maybe the debate isn't as closed as some suggest?)

Colombian vice-president calls for debate on cocaine


chrisbx515 said...

Its’ all well and good the bass player from blur enjoying his days of being a rock star and spending a million quid on coke then repenting and changing his mind now he’s retired in luxury and plays at being a country gent farmer – hypocrite and now puppet of Croaker and government spin. Trying to make consumers think of the envirmental costs of cocaine use - how green! Why is there no similar high profile campaign highlighting the damage of corporate sponsored child labours in developing countries i.e. manufacture of certain branded clothing like Nike that people happily wear? How about destructive mining practices or state corruption in developing countries? There environmental cost of cocaine production and ‘narco states’ is as you have highlighted many times before the result of prohibition.
The only thing FRANK does for 15-18 years old is send them running off to the nearest mate that can get their hands on a gram of the finest Peruvian to see what all the fuss is about!

Paul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul said...

The only way to prevent use it to give people a reason not to use that they believe may affect them personally. If the every fourth person who did cocaine had their nose fall off, I dare say a lot less people would use the drug.

However, most people see others having a good time with cocaine, with little to no negative consequences, so what is the dis-incentive to use? There isn't one in this case, and vague arguments about creating strife in foreign countries is not going to change people's minds unless they see it first hand. And then only maybe. We are socialized not to care.

It's time to stop with the useless prevention schemes and take away the outrageous economic incentive in manufacturing and selling by ending prohibition.

Steve Rolles said...

I suspect the current UK fashion for cocaine will pass, as other drug trends have done, and as with the cocaine experience in the US (to some degree). This is part of a common pattern in patterns of drug use - specifically with cocaine, the culture grows in its understanding of the negative consequences. this can be informed by sensible public education but is almost certainly nothiing to do with enforcement policy or classification - cocaine has been class A all along. Whether what fills the void will be better or worse is moot.

Anonymous said...

I agree Steve that we must be going through a fashionable phase with cocaine in the UK. The disproportionate emphasis the likes of Coaker place on this is typical of drug warrior politicians. The biggest pity however is that binge drinking is, as we all know, steadily increasing popularity with no signs of slowing down: i think most (powder) cocaine users would agree that a few lines on the weekend is far less damaging than the 15+ unit binge-slaughter the average young Brit has become accustomed to. British people are too busy getting on with their meaningful lives to listen to a zombie like Coaker playing with his political train-set.

Steve Rolles said...

Actually I suspect there is some link between the rise in cocaine use and the rise in binge drinking. Cocaine (like other stimulants) allows users to drink more than they normally would/could - with often dangerous harmful consequences. There are also unique problems with mixing cocaine and alcohol, which taken together form a compound called Cocaethylene which is associated with an increased risk of liver damage and premature death. Its a big problem and (stuck record) enforcement responses don't offer any good solutions - they just seem to make things worse.

Anonymous said...

Tim Henman (Big Deal) already offered a solution to the Cocaine "problem" many years ago ; legalise it's production , manufacture commodities such as coca tea, coca lozenges etc., and set up legal trade routes. It won't happen of course, because UK, Europe and America WANT to keep other economies down so that ours stay strong.