10/01/2013 12:28 EDT

War On Drugs Catastrophic Failure, BMJ Open Study Finds


Cocaine, heroin and weed have never been cheaper — or more potent.

Congratulations, global drug policy.

A new report from the medical journal BMJ Open finds the street price of illegal drugs has fallen since 1990, while their purity has surged.

In what researchers are touting as the 'first global snapshot' of where we stand after decades of fighting illegal drugs, the verdict is decidedly grim.

"By every metric, the war on drugs — which is estimated to have cost North Americans over the last 40 years over a trillion dollars — has really been hugely ineffective,” the study's senior author and University of British Columbia professor, Evan Wood said in the Toronto Star.

“Drugs are more freely and easily available in our society than they’ve ever been.”

For the study, Vancouver-based researchers looked at data from seven international government-funded drug surveillance systems — having a minimum requirement of 10 years tracking the price and purity of cannabis, cocaine and opiates.

They also reviewed the number of seizures of illegal drugs in drug production regions and rates of consumption in markets where demand for illegal drugs is high.

The report also found there had been a substantial increase in most parts of the world in the amount of cocaine, heroin and cannabis seized by law enforcement agencies since 1990.

And a tidy drop in prices.

BBC News reports that in Europe, the average price of cocaine, adjusted for inflation and purity, dropped by 51 per cent between 1990 and 2010.

In the United States, president Richard Nixon formally declared a 'war on drugs' in 1972, announcing "I am convinced that the only way to fight this menace is by attacking it on many fronts."

Since then, the size and presence of federal drug agencies in the U.S. has ballooned, the Drug Policy Alliance reports.

Another U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, appeared to up the ante, as incarcerations of drug offenders reached wholesale levels.

Nonviolent drug law offenses, the Drug Policy Alliance reports, increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997.

Meanwhile, American audiences found themselves carpet-bombed by dramatic public service ads, declaiming the evils of drugs.

There's reason for optimism in U.S. and Europe though, Wood told The Canadian Press, thanks to an increasing sense that the so-called 'war' is fighting on the wrong front.

And maybe even Canada.

“In Canada, with our federal government it oftentimes feels like things are going in the opposite direction," Wood said. "But I think there’s just a growing recognition that we need to begin exploring alternatives and greater openness to do so."

Doubtless, it's been a long campaign. And a gaudy one — with images of drug seizures plastering newspaper pages for decades — and one that has borne little fruit.

Actually, depending on how you look at it, the war on drugs may have borne a lot of fruit.

“Our potencies here are off the scale,” Todd Ellison, co-founder of Colorado Marijuana Marketing, told Slate earlier this year. “I have a guy who taught me to grow, who has been growing since the ’60s. And this stuff blows him away.”

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