Yesterday Senator Jim Webb–who seems to be on many people’s shortlistas a possible running mate for Senator Barack Obama–chaired the Joint Economic Committee’s hearing on “Illegal Drugs: Economic Impact, Societal Costs, Policy Reponses”. It was the second hearing on drug policy that Senator Webb has convened, the first focused on the steep increase in the US prison population.
In his two years in Congress, Senator Webb has established himself as a leader in fighting for economic populism, an end to the War in Iraq and a new GI Bill. Yesterday we saw that his interest in revamping our approach to drug policy is strong as well.
In his opening statement Senator Webb noted that we have 5 percent ofthe world’s population and 20 percent of the world’s prison population–“either we have the most evil people in the world or we are doing something wrong with the way we handle our criminal justice system, and I choose the latter. The central role of drug policy in filling our nation’s prisons makes clear that our approach to curbing illegal drug use is broken.”
Senator Webb said the illegal drug problem is one of “demand-pull–therest of the world looks at drug use in this country and provides asupply to meet the demand that’s here.” The demand is so great that”global exports of wine and beer are equivalent to only one-quarter ofillegal drug flows,” and US, Canada and Mexico account for 44 percent of those illegal drug sales. (Webb said the latter is a “conservativeestimate” from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.)
“While [the US is] spending enormous amounts of money to intercept drug shipments at the border and inside the country,” the Senator said, “supplies remain consistent.” According to a UN report, Colombian farmers planted 245,000 acres of coca last year, 27 percent more than in 2006. And coca cultivation in the three largest producers–Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia–increased by 16 percent to 447,743 acres. The Washington Post writes, “The findings follow almost eight years of heavy aerial fumigation of drug crops in Colombia, an American-designed strategy that has cost more than $5 billion.”