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OAS: Legalization might reduce North America's $140b drug problem


A highly anticipated report on the international drug trade unveiled in Washington on Monday revealed that the industry in North America is worth $140 billion of the annual worldwide $330 billion illegal drug trade.

The analysis by the Organization of American States, a year in the making, suggested that a combination of decriminalization and legalization might help change the out-of-control drug business. But the organization conceded that it could also lead to greater drug dependency and abuse.

The OAS reviewed reports on drug production, drug use, narcotics-related crimes and anti-drug laws throughout the Americas in developing the "Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas." The findings aren't surprising: Killings are high in drug-producing nations like Colombia, while gang crime and substantial health issues are prevalent in drug-using nations like the United States.

One section of the report looked at the price of cocaine at various stages of production and sale, starting at $1.30 per kilo to the grower to the $330,000 that kilo is worth on American streets, demonstrating the riches involved.

"This situation must be faced with greater realism and effectiveness if we want to move forward successfully," said OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza.

The report suggests that decriminalization of some drugs, such as marijuana, would cut law enforcement costs and even crime. But it warned that it could also lead to greater drug use, especially if legalized.

"Legal availability, even without lower price, will encourage experimentation. Some of those new experimenters will go on to become dependent users," said the OAS. "Dependent users include poorer parents, students, workers, and neighbors. Thus the increase in dependency may lead to more child neglect and abuse, more children dropping out of school, increased absenteeism, and less community spirit in populations that had not been much affected previously by drug dependence."