Illegal drugs in the US
Illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine, crystal meth and heroin are a global problem - you don't need me to tell you that. Most of us have a general idea where they come from, the general supply routes, how they are sold and the effect they have on the lives of those who choose (or chose) to indulge. Drugs are big business. Billions of dollars worth of big business, which means competition between gangs vying to get a piece of the lucrative pie can spill over into violence, intimidation and ultimately, murder.
There is a reason violence has spewed out so forcefully onto the streets. Despite its tough anti-drug laws, the US still has the highest level of illegal drug use across the world. A new report has shown that Americans were four times more likely to use cocaine in their lifetime than the next closest country, New Zealand. (16 percent vs. 4 percent.)
You can argue that the intensity and volume of drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine (crystal meth) that enters America has a knock-on effect on its suppliers. In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, there were more than 2600 drug-related deaths in 2009, a staggering average of seven drug-related murders a day. Reynosa, a Mexican city bordering Texas with a population of around half a million people has, by-and-large, avoided violent drug crime before. But now the crumbling alliance of two Mexican drug gangs has plunged the 200-mile stretch of border into violence, raising fears of a new front in the drug war.
Where there is increased demand there is added incentive for suppliers, and it is this battle for trading of illegal substances that has spilled onto the streets. So what are the most commonly purchased substances, and which countries are the major producers?
Numbers from The World Drug Report for 2009 show the major countries responsible for the growth and spread of cocaine is Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, with a combined harvest of around 175,000 hectares in 2009. Despite small increases in Bolivia (6 percent) and Peru (4 percent), the total area under coca cultivation decreased by 8 percent in 2008, largely due to an eighteen percent decrease in Colombia. In spite of this year’s decrease, Colombia remained the world’s largest cultivator of coca bush, with 81,000 hectares. In weight, this accounts for around 800 metric tons.
Up to 80 percent of US street meth now originates in Mexico. It was in 2003 that Mexican drug lords in the border town of Tijuana moved their meth factories north to start churning out cheap supplies to California, funneling it throughout America along established drug routes like Interstate 5, the main motorway north to the Canadian border.
Imports of the substance in cold medicines have jumped from 66 to 224 tons in the past five years - roughly double what Mexico needs to meet the legitimate demands of cold and allergy sufferers.
Cannabis' versatility makes it a difficult narcotic to record accurately. It can be grown indoor and out, and can be grown essentially anywhere. The 2008 World Drug Report estimates the total area for outdoor production of cannabis to be between 200,000 hectares to 642,000 hectares. Total cannabis herb production is estimated to range from 13,300 metric tons to 66,100 metric tons. The total number of users in the Americas far outweighs other substances, with users estimated at 190 million.
Mexico is responsible for producing 15,800 metric tons of Cannabis, being topped only by Paraguay, (16,500 metric tons).
Unlike cocaine, which is largely concentrated in South America, opium production occurs in three source regions; Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, and Latin America, creating a worldwide problem. While an undetermined amount of the opium is consumed in the producing regions, a significant amount of the drug is converted to heroin and sent to Europe, Russia, Central Asia, China, and North America. The routes, volume, and methods for the transshipment of heroin vary between the producing regions. Heroin from all three regions reaches America using all forms of air, maritime, and overland conveyances.
Over the last decade, opium production in the Golden Triangle (an opium producing region in Southeast Asia) has declined by over 87 percent while cultivation rates in Southwest Asia have increased. In 2007, Afghanistan was the world's largest opium supplier (accounting for 93 percent of the world's opium, according to UN estimates). Also during the 1990's, Latin America evolved as the primary supplier of heroin to the United States, with Mexican heroin most prevalent in the west and Colombian heroin most prevalent in the east. With long-established trafficking and distribution networks and exclusive markets for black tar, brown powder and white heroin, Mexico and Colombia's hold on the U.S. heroin market seems to be secure but cross-regional trafficking is gaining in importance.
Seizure and shortage
The amount of "quality" illegal drugs is decreasing, and the percentage of successful seizures has increased. Following five years of expansion, the quantity of cocaine seized fell in 2006 and remained at the lower level in 2007 (5 percent over the 2005-07 period). This is consistent with a levelling off of production. In 2008, there was a significant decline in trafficking towards America. As a result, cocaine prices rose steeply and purity levels fell dramatically.
Globally, 711 metric tons of cocaine was seized in 2008, over 300 percent more than the 152 metric tons seized in 1987. Relatively, 400 metric tons were seized in South America, accounting for over half of its total production.
From the increase in drug violence it would be shortsighted not to see a correlation with the falling production of certain illegal drugs, to the increase in policing and seizures. Where demand increases and supply is shortened, there will always be conflict. Similarly, where there is too much supply, as is in the case of crystal meth, then violence also ensues.
Ultimately, the battle in illegal drugs is a financial one, and like the recent killings in Mexico, the innocent bystander will ultimately be the loser.
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