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Drug Abuse, Drug Trafficking, & Organized Crime

President's Commission on Organized Crime, 1986

Chapter I The Impact of the Drug Trade

Drug trafficking is the most serious organized crime problem in the world today. The drug trade generates billions of dollars for organized crime each year, imposing incalculable costs on individuals, families, communities, and governments worldwide. But drug trafficking is only part of a broader, unified phenomenon, which also includes the illicit use of drugs. It is drug users who finance organized crime through their drug purchases, and it is they who must accept responsibility for the broad range of costs associated with the drug industry.

Drug abuse ruins individual lives, drains billions of dollars each year from American society, and erodes the nation's quality of life. The violence and corruption that are an integral part of organized crime drug trafficking take the lives of American and foreign officials and private citizens, undermine drug control efforts, and threaten entire governments. To the extent that the stability of friendly nations is threatened, particularly in this hemisphere, our own national security is jeopardized. The impact of organized crime and drug trafficking on society thus has far-ranging consequences, from the mental or physical destruction of the individual drug user to questions of national security.

This Commission has found drug trafficking to be the most widespread and lucrative organized crime activity in the United States. According to this Commission's survey of local law enforcement agencies, marijuana, cocaine, and dangerous drug trafficking are the three primary activities of organized crime groups, as defined by local agencies, nationwide. Drug trafficking accounts for almost 38 percent of all organized crime activity across the country and generates an income estimated to be as high as $110 billion.

A concept fundamental to this report is the dual nature of the drug phenomenon: drug supply and drug demand are mutually dependent aspects of a single global problem. All strategic and tactical evaluations in this report have been arrived at in this context, and it is imperative that the planning undertaken by this government and its allies be performed within the same framework. The gaps that now exist between strategists who seek to reduce supply and planners who want to reduce demand must be closed. The situation confronting us is a crisis both nationally and internationally. Our response can be no less than national and international mobilization. As this report sets out in detail, the menace of drugs is not restricted to a particular segment of society, but is now of a scope and severity that is a threat to our national security and therefore a legitimate national security issue.

The appropriate response must therefore involve our entire society, not just our law enforcement and health professionals. Parents, educators, employers, the legal profession, financial institutions, the military, and the diplomatic and intelligence communities must all recognize that we are in a national emergency.

Military strategists have warned and painful national experience confirmed that a war must not be fought without a clear notion of the victory sought. In this war on drugs - a phrase worn by use but nevertheless the only accurate description of what must be done - this Commission has adopted a definition of victory: the dramatic reduction, if not complete elimination, of drug abuse in this society. The ultimate goal is a distant one, to be sure, requiring patience, determination and vision. No less an objective is acceptable. Short fixes, compromises, and resignation are a breach of faith with ourselves, our children, and generations to come.

Just as we must clearly define victory, so must we identify the enemy. Here again, there is no room for compromise. We must unite against drugs themselves, and anyone who is their ally. Producers, refiners, smugglers, and sellers, all those we know as "traffickers," are obvious targets. It is our obligation to look further and recognize that those among us - friends, relatives, colleagues, and other "respectable" people - whose small, personal drug purchases at the base of the consumption pyramid are the driving force behind the traffickers' assault on this country. It is the consumer's dollars that come together to finance the organized crime drug trafficking described in this report, and it is thus their responsibility and ours to confront this truth. This means an end to tolerance of drug use at every level of society.

While all drug trafficking, by its nature, requires some degree of organization, it is essential for the purposes of this report to identify the threshold at which the organization inherent in drug trafficking can be distinguished from organized crime drug trafficking. The Commission's definition of organized crime, which sets out the six characteristics of organized crime groups, is helpful in making this distinction. These characteristics are: continuity, structure, defined membership, criminality, violence, and power as its goal. These elements, together with a reliance on the "buffer" that this Commission has found to be an integral part of organized crime, are common to the world's most notorious trafficking organizations.

This report examines the organized crime groups that traffic in illicit drugs. To the extent necessary to grasp the dynamics of worldwide drug traffic, it also details the nature of the drugs themselves. It describes the array of enforcement agencies currently in place, analyzes their various strategies and tactics, and presents specific recommendations for more effective anti-drug efforts.

In the portion of this report devoted to efforts to reduce the supply of illicit drugs, "Supply Strategies," it is clear that our law enforcement and other government agencies, particularly on the Federal level, are deployed with a degree of determination, imagination, and resource commitment unparalleled in American history. This government must continue to pursue strategies to reduce supply with all possible vigor, or it is the government's obligation to do all within its power to protect its citizens, no matter how formidable the foe. Nevertheless, if the demand for illicit drugs continues at its present voracious level, improvements in the area of reducing supply will continue to be slow, expensive, infrequent, and too often only temporary.

This report places great emphasis on the need for complete national resolve in this area and for that resolve to be translated into fully coordinated governmental action. Compartmentalization and parochialism, which have been far too common in past efforts, must be brought to an end. In this regard, we are at a particularly propitious moment in history. The slow and painful evolution of our strategy has finally achieved a centralized authority for our national effort: the National Drug Enforcement Policy Board. Not just another advisory body, this Board is a true congregation of every component of our national government's anti-drug effort. It provides the means for achieving a thoroughly coordinated national attack on every aspect of drug trafficking and abuse. It is vital that the Policy Board move effectively, thoughtfully and decisively, but it is most urgent that it move. Indecisiveness are signals in themselves, the wrong signals, to drug traffickers, users, concerned parents, health and social planners, and even foreign governments. Perhaps most critically, indecisiveness and delay are the wrong signals to those U.S. governmental agencies that must choose where anti-drug efforts will fall on the list of competing priorities in a time of hardening fiscal austerity. By action, not mere promises, the Policy Board must send the proper message: we are in a fight for our lives, and every agency must arrange its priorities accordingly.

Our strategies to reduce supply will require not only dedication, but patience and objectivity. The war against drugs will not be won until individuals stop using them. Strategies to reduce supply can do no more than hold the line against illegal drugs while public attitudes and private choices change. That is not to say that our enforcement strategies should not be aggressive and persistent. On the contrary, this report makes clear that there is much in this area that is being done and should continue, and much more that might be done. Many of the specific recommendations in this report are devoted to this theme. What is necessary at the outset, however, is an understanding that such efforts must not be judged by an unrealistic standard. As long as this society is willing to provide its enforcement agencies scarcely more than a penny for every dollar our citizens squander on illicit drugs, it has no right and no reason to expect more.

Ultimately, the curse of drug abuse will be broken, but only by a nationwide dedication to persistent and unyielding assaults on both supply and demand. The supply is already under siege by our enforcement, diplomatic, and intelligence communities. Because an end to consumption is our ultimate goal, it is a concerted and direct attack on demand that must be mounted.

Illicit drugs are an attack upon the integrity, character, and health of the individual. Although discussions of drugs are often framed in terms of costs to society and society's responses, the fact is that individuals, not societies, take drugs. It is the individual user who finances all of the violence, corruption, and degradation that this report describes. The powerful, sophisticated, and thoroughly evil organized crime drug trafficking groups described herein are a reflection of nothing more than our self-destructiveness. It is as a result of individual acts of will that such groups came to be and are sustained, and it is by individual acts of will that they will finally be defeated.

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