11 Facts That Reveal The Insanity Of The Global War On Drugs

For more then a century, the world’s major global powers have been trying to kill off the drug trade. It hasn’t gone well. But it’s been an interesting trip full of ingenuity, hypocrisy, high stakes and dashed hopes.

1. Queen Victoria was a drug pusher on a colossal scale.

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In 1839 a Chinese official in Canton, Lin Zexu, wrote to Queen Victoria imploring her to stop the state-backed East India Company flooding China with Indian opium against its will. Worth the equivalent of $20bn a year, the illegal trade was a vital money earner for Victorian Britain, who defended it’s right to push opium into China with a series of devastating naval attacks, later known as the Opium Wars.

2. 15 years ago the UN promised to rid the world of all drugs within 10 years.

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‘A Drug-Free World – We Can Do It’ was the happy-clappy slogan of a 1998 UN Declaration, backed by the British government, on global drugs control. It pledged to rid the worlds of drugs by 2008. Brave, but seriously deluded. By 2010 the UN had changed it’s tune, not only acknowledging defeat in its 1998 aim, but warning of the proliferation of a new generation of online highs.

3. Drug money kept the global economy afloat during the financial crisis.

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When UN drug chief Antonio Maria Costa declared that $352bn of laundered drug cash was the only liquid capital available to some banks on the brink of collapse in 2008, the banking world feigned outrage. However, by 2012, one of America’s largest banks, Wachovia and one of the Britain’s largest, HSBC (founded amidst the opium trade) were forced to pay out record fines for failing to turn away money being laundered by Mexican drug cartels.

4. A massive seizure of tree bark oil in Cambodia gave birth to the modern legal high market.

Getty / Paula Bronstein

In a remote part of Cambodia in 2008 UN investigators discovered a huge haul of 33 tonnes of safrole oil, ready to be shipped by drug gangs to Holland. The oil, distilled from hundreds of uprooted rainforest trees, would have made 245 million doses of ecstasy. Instead it was destroyed. The ensuing ecstasy drought in Europe created a gap in the market for the meteoric rise in popularity of mephedrone, a drug which not only mimicked ecstasy, but burst opened the floodgates to the online market in legal highs.

5. Afghanistan’s opium crop has tripled despite a decade of British military-led efforts to stem cultivation.

Getty / Paula Bronstein

A UN report last week found there are now more than 200,000 hectares (roughly the same are as 200,000 football pitches) planted with opium poppy in Afghanistan. This compares to 75,000 10 years ago, when British troops were sent to Helmand to cut opium production in a narco-state that now supplies 90% of the world’s opium supply.

6. There is a 16,600% mark-up on a kilo of heroin from Afghanistan farms to UK streets.

Getty / Andrew Burton

At the farm gate in Afghanistan a kilo of opium costs £450. By the time it has been trafficked half way across the world to the streets of Britain, the same kilo is worth £75,000. The mark-up for cocaine is roughly the same. No wonder, despite the risks, gangsters want a piece of this magic money action.

7. One per cent of heroin smuggled into the UK is seized by border police.

Getty / Paula Bronstein

Drugs slip over Britain’s 12,000 miles of coastline by air, road and sea in boats, cars, lorries, cargo and packages. It is no surprise that, with substances concealed in myriad ways – heroin sewn into Afghan rugs and 24 piece tea sets made out of stiffened cocaine - that border patrols only seize a fraction of the relentless tide of drugs that supply the country’s 12 million drug users.

8. Smell is the new secret weapon in drugs detection.

Getty / Hyoung Chang

Sniffer dogs hunt for the subtlest whiff of illegal substances. Honeybees are also being trained to sniff out drugs. This year police sent thousands of UK homeowners ‘scratch and sniff’ cannabis cards in the hope they will familiarize themselves with the distinctive sweet odour in case one of their neighbours has ‘got a crop on’. Meanwhile in Denver, police have employed a Nasal Ranger to stick a powerful ‘smelloscope’ on his nose in order to monitor levels of cannabis stench.

9. 20 cannabis farms are found by police every day in Britain.

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Until 2007, police were finding on average 800 farms a year. But last year police, armed with heat seeking helicopters and meter readings, seized more than one million cannabis plants from 7,865 cannabis farms, ranging from small suburban home grows to underground warehouses overseen by organized gangs. Now, with an expanding online market in growing equipment, the DIY cannabis industry is experiencing a boom and it’s estimated 500,000 people grow their own. Britain’s biggest cannabis farm zone? Yorkshire.

10. Where there’s a pill, there’s a way.

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Drugs are “easier to get than soap” at HMP Oakwood near Wolverhampton, according to the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Most jails around the world have an active internal drug market, supplied by a mix of corrupt screws, visitors and occasionally Moldovan ganja smuggling cats.

Drugs have been found inserted in dead pigeons, oranges, Kinder Eggs and even in a solicitor’s oversized shoes. If drugs can bypass 24 hour surveillance and barbed wired perimeter walls, what hope is there of stemming supply onto the open streets? The answer is no hope at all.

11. Half of all prisoners in US federal jails are inside for drug offences.

Andrew Burton / Getty

America jails more of its citizens than any other country. More than 1 of every 100 American adults are behind bars. Since the 1980s, the federal prison population has risen ten-fold. The driver behind America’s abnormally high prison population? The war on drugs. More than half of the federal prison population are inside for drug offences, while a quarter of the country’s entire prison population are non-violent drug offenders.

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