Monday, June 13, 2011

Crisis in Bogotá's Marijuana Market!

Ganga's not likely to go away, despite a big drug seizure.
I talked the other day with some guys who deal pot along Seventh Ave., and they've got a problem. At the end of May, the police seized a huge lot of marijuana, 843 kilos, in El Bronx (also known as La Ele) the L-shaped street near Martyrs Plaza filled with sales of drugs, sex and stolen merchandise.

El Bronx is the wholesale delivery point, from which pot and other drugs are distributed throughout Bogotá. So, the loss of this shipment has produced a pot shortage in the city and boosted the price by 50% according to one dealer, 400% according to another.

"A user's got to shop around, and even then he can't find it cheap," says one small retailer of 'ganga' or 'cannabis.'

For the purpose of discouraging pot use, this is a good thing - at least in the short term. (Assuming, that is, that pot smoking is a bad thing.) The dealers I spoke to, are looking for new supplies for anxious, deprived potheads. And, undoubtedly, the pot growers and traffickers are scrambling to send new shipments to Bogotá, to profit from the sky-high prices. Perhaps this time they won't pass thru El Bronx, tho.

Police arrange packets of marijuana seized in El Bronx. (Photo: CM&)
It's a small-scale example of how attempts at supply-side control of drug (or other markets) can be partly counterproductive. Enforcement adds costs to those producers and distributors whose products get seized - but increases profits for those who still have drug supplies to sell, at least in the short term, incentivizing them to plant and harvest more. In contrast, reducing demand by, say, treating users, can reduce profits longer term, potentially incentivizing suppliers to get out of the business.

One of the pot sellers I spoke to didn't expect this latest seizure to end the business. In fact, he had a pocketfull of expensive pot to offer. He estimated that over the past 30 years there've been four or five big shipments seized., but the stuff keeps coming in.

"Lots of routes is what there is," he said.

A milestone 1994 study of the cocaine market by the Rand Corp. found treatment programs to be much more effective than enforcement strategies, source-country enforcement being the least effective. Rand recommended that government "cut back on the supply control and expand treatment of heavy users."

A pot poster in La Candelaria.
Those of us who live in Latin America know several other disadvantages of source country control: it compounds the drug economy's environmental impacts, means lots of lost and ruined lives and produces hostility against the United States and its policies.

Why has Washington persisted with this policy, despite lots of evidence of its efficacy? Most likely, the huge political influence of the companies which profit from the drug war has had an influence. And so has the war mentality with which politicians have generated so much political profit by saying: 'Surrender is defeat!' (Even tho that's exactly what we did with alcohol and seem to be doing with marijuana in much of the U.S. Back when I was in high school in California, Colombian Gold was the most desired kind of marijuana. Today, California, the world's leading pot grower, would be more likely to export the stuff to Colombia.)

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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