WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
17 Apr 2009 | News

Latest Comprehensive Analysis Shows Resilience of Cocaine Market, Despite Disruptions

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) released a paper today that highlights the key findings of the U.S. government's most recent comprehensive analysis of cocaine availability.  The new government analysis was released recently by the Obama administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

According to the WOLA report, Lowering Expectations, the new data are significant because they confirm the central findings of an important 2004 study by ONDCP:  cocaine prices have fluctuated many times over the years, but with a clear downward trajectory.  New price spikes are to be expected, but the historical record suggests that they will also prove to be temporary.

"On the eve of President Obama's trip to Mexico," said WOLA Senior Associate John Walsh, "these findings reinforce the importance of focusing greater attention on demand reduction and harm reduction, while deliberately lowering expectations for what supply-control strategies can achieve."

Lowering Expectations describes how the government's new data undermine claims made during the previous administration that supply disruptions had achieved unprecedented cocaine shortages in the United States.

  • U.S. retail cocaine prices declined every year from 2004 through 2007, while purity remained high.
  • In 2007, cocaine's price settled to the lowest level on record, nearly 22 percent below the 1999 price, before Plan Colombia was launched.
  • The decline of cocaine prices through 2007 squares with recent U.S. and UN assessments that overall cocaine production has been increasing.
  • Cocaine prices have been falling since the early 1980s, and even fairly large price spikes have always been reversed eventually.

"When new price spikes are announced," said Walsh, "they have to be considered in light of the historical evidence, not mere wishful thinking.  None of the many previous spikes have put a lasting dent in the U.S. cocaine market."


John Walsh, Senior Associate, Andes & Drug Policy, [email protected] 
Maureen Meyer, Associate, Mexico & Central America, [email protected]