Summary: In an article published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, Vanda Felbab-Brown responds to and endorses the harm-reduction assessment approach to supply-side counternarcotics policies.
Felbab-Brown argues that such a careful and comprehensive cost-benefit analysis should be the basis for any public policy, be it in the field of drug control or international maritime security. She points out, however, the difficulties in operationalizing such a cost-benefit analysis, including establishing baselines, correctly assessing the range of possible policy outcomes, aggregating the various costs/harms and benefits, and establishing analytical or value systems for trading them off against each other. Such difficulties notwithstanding, a systematic cost-benefit analysis “at least clearly specifies the assumptions underlying the posited good and bad outcomes. It thus provides a far more rational basis for correcting a policy or staying the course.”
The article draws on examples from the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, coca eradication policies in Latin America, and U.S. efforts to promote democracy to explore the difficulties of making such cost-benefit assessments.
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The Duque government’s drug policy in Colombia is taking on a progressively ominous and counterproductive direction. It threatens to undermine the incomplete and struggling peace process, misdirect law enforcement resources, augment the alienation of coca farmers from the state and undermine human rights and drug users’ access to health services in Colombia. With their emphasis on criminalization of even drug possession for personal use and forced eradication, the announced policies clearly cater to the Trump administration’s doctrinaire and discredited drug policy preferences that harken back to the 1980s. But without sustainable livelihoods already in place, forced eradication will not sustainably reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production. The dominance of zero-coca thinking in Colombia whereby a community has to eradicate all coca first before it starts receiving even meager assistance from the state never produced positive results in Colombia.