Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Ramped up enforcement along Texas border failed to raise drug prices

To understand the failure of the drug war in Texas, one need look no further than the opening few minutes of DPS Col. Steve McCraw's testimony yesterday to the Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security.

According to McCraw, in the last three months local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have seized more than 350,000 pounds of marijuana in Texas' border region, as well as more than 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine, more than 125 pounds of heroin and more than 1,800 pounds of cocaine.

The logic behind drug interdiction is to remove illegal drugs from the market, making them more scarce. If successful, the tactic should increase the price of drugs. But the opposite is occurring. According to McCraw, in 2009 - which was the year DPS's souped up border security efforts began - the cost of marijuana was $551 per pound; today, it's $452 per pound. Cocaine was $29,000 per pound, he said; today it's $11,000 per pound. Meth was $37,988 per pound in 2009, said McCraw; now it's $14,866. Heroin was $40,000 per pound in 2009; now it's $21,534.

Think about what that means: According to basic principles of supply and demand, reducing supply should increase prices. But that's not what's happening. Despite Texas and federal agencies spending hundreds of millions of dollars to combat smuggling along the Texas-Mexico border, drug prices are getting cheaper, implying that supplies are expanding, not contracting.

Supply-side interdiction is not working, even for marijuana, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of drugs being captured by law enforcement.

Lauding the merits of a 21-day "surge," which was highly controversial in the Rio Grande Valley, McCraw, said the best solution is to "saturate high-visibility patrols where there are clusters of crime" between the checkpoints. He claimed the strategy resulted in radical reductions of smuggling during that period, insisting there's "no question it can be done."

To me, though, his testimony raises serious questions whether it can be done. For starters, most smuggling happens through the checkpoints, not in between them, as Sen. Juan Hinojosa pointed out. And just like when you squeeze a balloon, cracking down in one spot only causes smugglers to shift to other areas. Even if drug smuggling reduced significantly during that 21-day period in the area DPS "surged" - and for my part I find that claim suspect - there's no evidence the tactic reduced overall drug supplies. Indeed, it's clear that, over time, increased spending on law enforcement at the border has failed to reduce drug supplies, judging from the reduced drug prices McCraw cited.


Anonymous said...

The lowers prices are the result of Jonathan Treviño's (former Mission police officer and former sheriff Lupe Treviño's son) Panama Unit stealing and reselling of seized drugs. When stolen, it's all profit anyway.

Anonymous said...

The only thing that increased was the cost of doing business (nearly double). That's what happens when the feds take over a state agency.

Anonymous said...

Correct 3:24PM - DPS is being run by a retired FBI agent which greatly increases the in effectiveness of DPS by increasing multiple levels of management at the costs of maintaining line level vacancies to fund management positions.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea. De-criminalize drugs to the point they are really cheap, meaning Dollar Store cheap. There will be no profit in the distribution of drugs then.

Let druggies stand in line for hours at a time at some government clinic run by the DMV that distributes the cheap Government dope. I'm pretty sure the DMV can take the coolness out of dope.

Imagine if dope was sold down at the DMV, street gangs and organize crime wouldn't have a business. Neither would private prisons or the rest of the criminal justice industrial complex. Police could actually spend time patroling and investigating real crimes.

jdgalt said...

Shouldn't that headline say "failed to raise drug prices"?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Good catch, JDG, my bad. Fixed.

ckikerintulia said...

Law of supply and demand--if demand goes down, prices go down. Maybe prices are down because there's not as much demand. Probably not the case, but it is one side of the "law" of supply and demand. BTW, when was that law passed?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"when was that law passed?"

Sometime after the law of gravity but before the law of unintended consequences. :)

Unknown said...

Thanks again for a simple, straightforward discussion of a topic which matters. You seem to do so often. Anyone who believes drug interdiction has any real measure of success is delusional and unworthy of consideration as sensible.

As an attorney, I can tell you the War on Drugs is an absolute joke, and a cruel one. The War on Drugs' birth was cursed when Nixon disregarded the very commission he authorized to study the issue, a study which did anything but recommend marijuana be treated as it is. Emotion trumped reason, which is horrible public policy. It took a fanatical attitude to institute a War on Drugs at its inception.

The prevalence of marijuana usage is now so commonplace, it criminalizes literally millions of people for no good reason. When such a circumstance occurs, it diminishes respect for law, in general. Every smoker knows he is doing something criminal, and it is obvious to every rational, thinking person, it is causing the user no harm. Families are destroyed not by marijuana usage, but by lawmakers, cops, and courts.

Until marijuana is fully legalized and regulated, we will watch our society artificially criminalize an ever-growing portion of our population, which is tragic on an epic scale.

When marijuana is legalized, I hope they retroactively free those who have been incarcerated and retroactively eliminate records of a criminal past.

Phillip Goff

Anonymous said...

More government sponsored terrorism in order to "save the children". This is getting so old. Epic fail, DPS. Just epic!

rodsmith said...

the ONLY real way to save the children is to


remove all children from their parents at birth. since they account for most of the damage.


eliminate the govt. their criminal stupidity has accounted for more hurt or killed children then any normal criminal.

Anonymous said...

You keep insisting that most traffic doesn't cross between the checkpoints. This may be true of some other areas of the SW border, but it is not the case in the Rio Grande Valley. There are articles all the time about the swarms of people and drugs (mostly marijuana) flowing across the Rio Grande in rural areas between the ports of entry and overwhelming Border Patrol's resources there. Check out this most recent one from the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/11/us/poverty-and-violence-push-new-wave-of-migrants-toward-us.html?hp&_r=2

Keep in mind that when you see seizure/arrest stats attributed to Border Patrol, it pertains to everywhere except the ports of entry (which are manned by Border Patrol's sister agency, the Office of Field Operations). And even if something is caught at an inland checkpoint like Falfurrias (also manned by Border Patrol), there's still a very good chance that the people/contraband originally crossed the river in the rural areas between ports.

JJ said...

Does this include the stats for the drug dealing Trooper as well?