Drug control is a hugely complex set of local, national and international issues involving millions of people all over the world. They involve controlling the growing of raw materials, processing, smuggling, trafficking and using illegal drugs; preventing the corruption of businessmen, governments and their officials and enforcement officers; the murder and torture of competitors, judges, police officers, news reporters and concerned citizens. Potential users, their friends and families need to be educated and users need to be treated. Money laundering operations need to be found and stopped. The growing use of complex corporate structures and intricate business transactions involving banks, trust companies, real estate firms and other financial institutions have increased the difficulty of subjecting to forfeiture assets obtained as a result of trafficking in drugs. Variations in bank, tax, and investment legislation add loopholes which can be exploited legally. Individuals, legitimate businesses, gangs and huge multi-billion dollar crime syndicates are involved.
Drug control is also difficult because of its wide spread use; the organization of producers; the number of smugglers and traffickers; and the amount of money involved. Police are frequently out-armed and out-spent. The judicial system is subject to bribes, intimidations and murders. Attempts to arouse public opinion by newspapers or concerned groups and individuals result in bombings, kidnappings and killings. Enforcement agencies are often at odds with each other because of different concerns and methods.
In addition, different national control procedures may vary in the degree of restriction and supervision of legal drug production. The effects, especially the long-term effects of drugs used for medical purposes, both with and without prescription, are not necessarily fully explored before the marketing and use of the drug takes place (e.g. thalidomide, bromide hypnotics, barbiturates). Lack of public information, and even of medical information on the properties of drugs, may lead to unwittingly harmful use under certain circumstances or harmful combination with other drugs. It is said that governments have become so nervous of upsetting the powerful multi-national drug companies (and of the risk that they might move their factories elsewhere) that they are reluctant to impose restrictions on the industry. Control of toxic substances such as solvents, used daily for domestic and industrial purposes, is very slight compared with their harmful potential. Such drugs constitute an occupational or medical hazard and may be abused in the same way as illicit drugs. Inadequate attention may be given to the intoxicating and addictive effects of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine.
In the USA the failure of drug control efforts over a 20-year period is illustrated by the decrease in the kilo street price of cocaine: $45,000 in 1984, $15,000 in 1987, to $11,000 in 1993. Despite mandatory sentences for offenders and costly efforts to cut off drug supplies from Latin America, the $13.4 billion per year programme is widely acknowledged to have failed. Profits from the drug trade are too great for the increased danger of arrest to drive dealers out of business.
Although severe sentences have discouraged causal users of marijuana and cocaine this has ensured that the supply and distribution is increasingly concentrated in the hands of professional criminals. Mandatory sentences for offenders have overstrained the courts, prisons and police. They have also increased the murder rate, because criminals often kill potential informers and witnesses.
The lesson of the last 20 years is that so long as the demand is there, it is futile to try to cut off supplies.