Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Clutching at Straws - SOCA Claims it is Winning the War on Cocaine

In a report released today the Serious Organised Crime Agency, (SOCA) 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.

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:
  1. Governments and agencies who want to dupe the public into maintaining support for the futile and counterproductive war on drugs and,
  2. Organised criminals who can take advantage of rising demand and absorb the price hike by making up weights by adding adulterants at retail level, sure in the knowledge that the illegal market will be theirs to exploit for years to come.
One of the more pertinent policy outcomes that SOCA have not been trumpeting is that cocaine use has more than doubled in the last ten years (and is still rising) and part of this phenomenon has been the disastrous emergence of widespread crack cocaine use 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...

Media coverage:

See also previous Transform blog:

Playing SOCA with drugs policy (Jan 2007)


Anonymous said...

Craig also notes: "Cocaine comes from South America and is a commodity priced in dollars. In dollar terms the price per kilo in London has stayed almost perfectly constant on the figures given, at around 67,000 dollars."

john-boi said...

well done to Steve and Danny for your appearances throughout the media yesterday.

Derek said...

Yeah well done both.

As regards the price: The Pound/Dollar rate has dropped by about 25% over the time period SOCA claimed to have seen the price rise. What we're seeing there is no more than the exchange rate variations between the pound and the dollar.

Second, street purity: The problem with statistics concerning illegal drugs is the sampling used to collect the data. Simply, they rely on police seizures. What's happening with cocaine is that the dealer network is growing, meaning more lower level dealers. Each dealer will cut his product a little and low level dealers are no exception. Thus the more low level deals you pick up, the lower will be the apparent purity levels.

If the trade were to be poperly sampled the story would be very different.

Of particular interest to me is the way they present high levels of contamination - which is what low purity levels are - are regarded as a measure of success. I'm hard pushed to think of any other public health policy which would do that.

Lies, damn lies and SOCA stats.


Robert Carnegie rja.carnegie@excite.com said...

Are the "contaminants", adulterations, more harmful than cocaine itself, which there is less of in it? The current public health message is not to take the stuff at all, rather than making sure you get the good stuff. Having said that, a BBC web site report showed the trade marks used by producers who want to maintain their reputation for a good product - and I suppose they take a dim view of counterfeiters.

Steve Rolles said...

robert - if people are consuming cocaine, and they obviously are, then they should know what is in it - from a practical and consumer rights perspective, both potency and purity, as they would for consumption of any legal drug.

That some cutting agents may be more or less toxic than cocaine is beside the point. Its the lack of knowing intrinsic in illicit supply that is the point. Obviously non-use is the only way to avoid risk and should be part of any public health message, as should how increasing use increases risk - but the health risks of illicit supply also need to be included, however unpredicatable.