Lessons from the frontline of America’s failing drugs war

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From Mr Thomas Bandy.

Sir, I read with interest George Soros’ comments on the state of the “war on drugs” (May 6).

Having spent over seven years as the chief analyst who prepared the “Drug Threat Assessment” for San Diego and Imperial counties for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, I would like to make the following comments on America’s drug war, at least as far as it impacts the Southwest.

Historically, specialised federal agencies such as the DEA and the FBI have concerned themselves with the drugs war. So have the likes of the Border Patrol (BP) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

These “counter drug” operations account for a lot of the financial bottom line for both the BP and CBP. I noted over the years an ever increasing number of drug seizures through and between the various ports of entry in the counties. This increase in seizures was looked on by policy makers as a marker of success when it comes to “winning” the drug war. Of course, there never was (and never will be) any sort of baseline for any of this, but I can tell you that despite the increased amounts of drugs seized, prices remained steady and purity levels increased.

There are very effective lobbying efforts within the US in favour of maintaining the status quo vis-à-vis the drug war. As long as this continues, I am afraid that the kind of real change that Mr Soros would like to see simply will not happen in this country. In California, the great majority of prisoners are locked up because of drug-related offences, and it’s reached crisis proportions as to the numbers of those in jail. That said, this is how policy makers wish things to be – to continue to spend most of the money on enforcement rather than on treatment.

Thomas Bandy, Escondido, CA, US

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