For example, in November 2005, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy asserted that a 19 percent increase in cocaine prices since February indicated a growing retail shortage, thus validating Washington’s multibillion dollar Plan Colombia, designed to stanch the torrent of drugs coming from the Andean region of South America. “These numbers confirm that the levels of interdiction, the levels of eradication, have reduced the availability of cocaine in the United States,” White House drug czar John P. Walters boasted. “The policy is working.”
And what was the sky‐high street price of cocaine that justified such optimism? $170 per gram. Adjusted for inflation, that price was actually higher than the latest price spike to just under $183. Yet clearly that earlier alleged supply‐side victory in the drug war was short lived. According to the DEA’s own statistics in the December 2008 report, cocaine prices had declined to a mere $96 per gram by January 2007.
The reality is that street prices for illegal drugs act like the famous observation about prices in the stock market: they will vary. Over the past fifteen years, the retail price of cocaine has moved in a range between roughly $90 and $200 per gram. The latest spike is nothing abnormal, just as the plunge in prices from November 2005 to January 2007 was not unusual. Indeed, if one examines price trends over a longer period, any cause for optimism evaporates. During the early 1980s cocaine sometimes sold for more than $500 per gram. Obviously, that did not herald a lasting victory in the drug war.
Moreover, if the DEA had issued its 2008 report just three months earlier, there would have been even less evidence of supposed progress. For the previous five quarters, the street price had hovered around $120. The agency is simply grasping at straws to “prove” that the nearly four‐decades‐old effort to shut off the supply of illegal drugs is finally working.