Drugs like any other commodity, are affected by supply and demand. Low supply in the face of high demand increases prices. High supply in the face of high demand lowers prices. By regulating drugs, the state creates a lucrative market for drug cartels.
In other words, the Philippine state is the apparatus that fuels the drug war. Philippine exceptionalism pretty much mirrors American exceptionalism. America has spent more than a trillion dollar on its drug war, far more than the Philippines can spend. Has this exceptionalism yielded any success? The answer is a deafening NO.
The Philippine drug war started in the Marcos era when Apo Ferdie rode the Nixon train against marijuana. Despite the public execution of pushers in the Marcos era, life imprisonment in the post-Marcos era, vigilante assassinations in the Duterte regime use of drugs is more prevalent than ever.
The campaign against marijuana led to a shift in preferences. Instead of the bulkier bales of marijuana, newer drugs that can deliver the buzz using smaller quantities became the norm. This meant that couriers needed minimal space to transport the goods.
Not only were the shabu shipping costs lower, the production time was shorter, the time to market was shorter, the production cost was lower, the street price was higher, the inventory turnover was brisk. Marijuana on the other hand needed land for growing, took time to grow, and emitted a scent.
The risk of arrest was lowered or mitigated by turning or buying off law enforcement agents into cartel insiders/protectors who in turn funneled funds to their superiors.
What started as a campaign against marijuana ended up opening the floodgates to crystal meth or shabu. Shabu is more potent and fetches a higher price than mariujana. The market shifted to shabu. It was easier to hide, lasted longer, relatively odorless, and affordable.
Given a protectionist Philippine economy which benefits only the few, it did not take long for the poor to see that selling shabu can be an additional source of revenue to supplement their meager incomes – this is no longer about vice, this is economics.
In hitting the drug retailers the state aims to disrupt supply. In hitting drug users the state aims to disrupt demand. The state’s manner of disrupting the supply and demand is through the use of force – arrests, jail time, and assassinations paid for by COA-exempt slush funds.
Instead of opening the economy in order to address the poverty which drives the poor to sell shabu, the state made matters worse in pursuing a drug war. The crony media has also made a lot of advertising revenue from news, TV shows and profited from movies involving the drug trade.
These punitive measures have hit the poor hardest. In contrast, the rich drug traders have a network which may include law enforcers and lawmakers. The rich are also discrete in the privacy of their homes and therefore less likely to tip off agents of the state. In some instances, the drugs traders are state officials themselves and competing against drug traders who are also state officials – a phenomenon known as narcopolitics.
There is a better alternative to the state – it’s called freedom.
A decade ago Portugal took a halfway step in that direction by decriminalizing the use of ALL drugs. Another halfway step is where Colorado legalized the recreational and medical use of cannabis.
Decriminalizing ALL drugs is an alien concept to Filipinos and the world at large – but not to Portugal who actually tried the policy and succeeded.
There were many naysayers when Portugal first implemented this policy. Eleven years after its implementation, Portugal proved its critics wrong.
It is time to end the drug war.