Gains Made in Controlling Illegal Drugs, Yet the Drug Trade Flourishes

GGD-80-4: Published: Oct 25, 1979. Publicly Released: Oct 25, 1979.

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Drug abuse and trafficking still flourish despite several decades of efforts to overcome the problem. The country's $5.5 billion drug abuse program during the past decade has dealt with both demand reduction and supply reduction. A continuing trend of great concern is the levels of drug use and abuse among young people in the United States. Drugs were the seventh most common cause of death for Americans aged 10 to 19, and ranked fourth for the 20-to-24 age group in 1976. These age categories represented one-fourth of all drug-related deaths during 1976. Although at present there exists a shortage of heroin in the United States, this accomplishment may be temporary. There is concern that as Mexican heroin availability declines, heroin from Southeast Asia and the Middle East will fill the gap. Some also fear that use of dangerous synthetic drugs will continue to increase as heroin users find that drug difficult to obtain.

The enormous supply of and demand for drugs have created a multibillion dollar worldwide business involving millions of Americans. The social, economic, and political realities of drug-growing countries make it difficult to prevent cultivation of illicit crops and stop trafficking at the source. Suppression efforts have been hindered by longstanding and socially accepted traditions of smuggling and corruption. In the United States, the enormous profits of drug trafficking attract an ample number of entrepreneurs who see opportunities that far outweigh those offered by legitimate businesses. It is easy to enter and distribute drugs in the United States. It has been estimated that law enforcement agencies seize only 5 to 10 percent of all illicit drugs available. Actions needed to fully support federal drug strategy implementation have not materialized. Differing views among government agencies, as well as the public, make it difficult to attain the necessary legislative, executive, and judicial actions to achieve an integrated and coordinated approach in efforts to reduce the drug supply.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should enact legislation which would make it illegal for any person on a U.S. vessel or on a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, or for a U.S. citizen on board any vessel, to illegally possess or transfer on the high seas a controlled substance. Congress should expand the capacity of the federal court system to better immobilize drug traffickers by passing legislation to expand the magistrates' jurisdiction to encompass most misdemeanors.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State, with the support of the Congress, should promote a world conference and the formation of a consortium of victim countries that would develop a plan of action to fight the global drug problem in a unified way. The Secretary of State should require the Assistant Secretary for Narcotics Matters to prepare realistic country narcotics action plans detailing short and long-term goals, the means of achieving these goals, and the methods for reviewing progress. Because narcotics production and trafficking often encompass several countries, as in the Golden Triangle, the Assistant Secretary should also be instructed to prepare similar plans on a regional basis. The Attorney General should strengthen the prosecution of major drug traffickers through the increased commitment and continuity of attorney resources. The following alternatives may be used to achieve this purpose: increasing Department of Justice control over the activities of the Controlled Substances Units, establishing independent drug prosecution units similar to organized crime strike forces, or implementing uniform prosecutive priorities among the various Federal judicial districts to assure consistent commitment to high-level drug prosecutions. The Attorney General should direct the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to improve investigative capability against drug traffickers' financial resources by training DEA agents and hiring financial specialists to assist in investigations. The Attorney General should use the expertise of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in investigating the financial aspects of drug trafficking and organized crime. The Secretary of the Treasury should speed the processing and dissemination of Bank Secrecy Act reports. In its assessment of sentencing disparities in the Federal criminal justice system, the Judicial Conference should establish a reporting and review mechanism to collect sentencing data and to periodically study the adequacy of sentencing decisions, and should request from Congress any legislative changes needed to improve the sentencing process. The Attorney General, with assistance from DEA, should determine the appropriate division of responsibility between Federal and State and local drug enforcement agencies, and then develop a policy concerning the role of DEA in cooperation with State and local drug enforcement efforts.

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