In 1971, President Richard Nixon set the stage for the War on Drugs when he called drug abuse “a national emergency.” Marijuana was the devil on the shoulder in those days, as well as heroin addiction, a problem aggravated by veterans returning from combat in the Vietnam War. By 1982, drugs were no longer a “national emergency,” but, in President Ronald Reagan's words, “a national security threat.” However, it was not until 1985, when the crack epidemic exploded and ravaged America's inner cities, and the Iran Contra scandal was plastered all over the news, that President Reagan officially launched America’s War on Drugs. “This is your brain. This is your brain on Drugs. Any questions?”
This is the only question that matters: Has the War on Drugs been a success? Last year, the DEA published a 28-page report called “The 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary. ” According to the report, 40 percent fewer people used cocaine in 2012 than in 2006. The report also states that 16,908 kilos of cocaine were seized on the Southwest border in 2011, while 7,143 kilos were seized in 2012. The DEA viewed that 58 percent decrease as a success; in other words, there was less cocaine seized in 2012 because there was less cocaine, period. America was finally winning the War on Drugs.
Interpreting the 58 percent decrease in cocaine seizures as a success is flawed reasoning. In fact, it is the type of political reasoning that verges on propaganda. The “2013 Drug Threat Assessment Summary” makes no mention of the level of sophistication cartels and drug rings are operating with these days, covert procedures that involve everything from narco-tanks to hi-tech smuggling submarines, with transportation routes so complex and convoluted they're known as "spaghetti slides."
If anything, the DEA's "Assessment Summary” illustrates that drug trends rise and fall. Popularity is a cycle. One decade cocaine is the drug of choice, and the next decade it is methamphetamine; meth is overshadowed by "Molly," and then, out of nowhere, heroin makes a comeback -Vermont, officially known as the “Green Mountain State,” is now nicknamed the “brown mountain state” due to its heroin epidemic, and Academy Award winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman recently died of a suspected overdose, 65 baggies of heroin stashed in his New York city apartment. As drug trends wax and wane, so the War on Drugs marches on. Here are 10 of the most lucrative drug busts.
10 Trans-Border Railway - $21.2 Million
9 Ecstasy Seizure, Australia -$309 Million
8 The River Mira Raid, Columbia - $325 Million
7 Spin Buldak Bust, Afghanastan -$400 Million
6 “I’m Going to Get You High, Dude,” Mexico -$425 Million
In what has to be the most comical and misguided marketing campaign in history, not to mention the biggest drug bust to ever take place in Mexico, 105 tons of pot, most of it packaged with colorful cartoon labels, was seized after a pre-dawn gun battle with cartel members in 2010. 10,000 colorful packages of weed, some of which were labeled with bulls, wolves, arrows, and other symbols (the packaging label and color-code designates where the package is to be shipped) were hidden in cargo containers in a warehouse in Tijuana. However, in a clear sign cartel members were tasting a little of their product, some of the drug packages were designed with a picture of Homer Simpson, proudly declaring, “Voy de mojarra, que wey!” Translation: “I’m going to get you high, dude!”
5 Pizarro, Colombia -$500 Million
4 Coast Guard Bust, Panama -$600 Million
On a clear, sunny day in southwest Panama, March 2007, the U.S. Coast Guard spotted a suspicious cargo ship 20 miles off the coast. At the time, the U.S. was working with Panamanian authorities and other Central and South American agencies in a counter-narcotics effort known as “Panama Express.”
3 The Tranquilandia Takedown, Columbia -$1.2 Billion
To the DEA, “Tranquilandia,” the cocaine-processing laboratory set up in the jungles of Caquetá, Columbia, by Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin Cartel, was anything but tranquil; it was Public Enemy #1 on the War on Drugs. Tranquilandia consisted of 19 laboratories, an independent water source, electrical system, dormitories for workers, and eight isolated airstrips. It was a satellite tracking device on a tank of ether (a main chemical in cocaine processing) that led the DEA and Columbian National Police into the Columbian jungle. In March 1984, Tranquilandia was raided; 14 tons of cocaine valued at $1.2 billion was seized, and Escobar’s laboratory complex was destroyed.
2 The Hayward Warehouse, California - $2-4 Billion
1 1. Sylmar Warehouse Bust, California -$7 Billion
21.4 tons of white powder, 7 billion dollars, and a 3,500-square foot warehouse on Bradley Avenue in the San Fernando Valley -the largest drug bust in U.S. history has all the cinematic flourishes seen in classic cartel-land films like "Scarface," "Traffic" and "Blow."
In September 1989, at the tail end of a go-go era marked by excess, officials raided the Sylmar warehouse on a citizen’s tip that the import business was operating as a front. What authorities found inside, however, was far more than the average drug cache, but a mother load the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency estimated to be 5% of the world’s annual production of cocaine. One-kilo packages of the drug were stored in boxes, piñatas, and canvas paintings. $12 million in cash was seized. Seven arrests were made. James Romero McTague, the manager of the warehouse, was sentenced to life without parole. The 1990 trial brought to light the following facts: prior to the September raid, 77 tons of cocaine moved though the warehouse; the cocaine ring raked in 81 million in transportation fees, and notebooks and ledgers indicated the cocaine was Columbian produced, smuggled in trucks to Juarez, Mexico, then on to El Paso, Texas, and finally to the 3,500-square foot warehouse outside of Los Angeles.
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