If the celebrity nightlife scene seems as giddy as ever and your favorite party girl remains quite chatty, you know why:

Cocaine is economical and plentiful in these here parts. And despite a build up of more than 40,000 of agents along the U.S.-Mexico border, bloody Latin American drug wars and the alleged rehab of Lindsay Lohan, the white stuff continues to flow.

So says a new study from Santa Monica think-tank RAND. The study's author, Peter Chalk, says:

American enforcement measures have had notable successes against the Latin American cocaine trade, but the effort has had little impact on the amount of illicit drugs that are reaching the United States.

RAND says Columbia remains the main producer of coke, Mexico is the main entry point, and that 80 percent of the drug comes here via “noncommercial maritime conveyance” — e.g. boats. And it gets through pretty easily, it seems.

Author Chalk:

Drugs are now being smuggled in smaller shipments, which allows traffickers to spread the risk and creates new challenges for law enforcement. In the past, if a big shipment was intercepted, traffickers were out of drugs. Now if one shipment is caught, nine others will still get through.

L.A., of course, is a main hub of the powder.

Cartels, the RAND report says, ” … Work closely with street gangs, which have established an especially strong influence in Los Angeles.”

Yes, the Mexican connection comes into play. The study, titled “The Latin American Drug Trade,” states:

Mexican trafficking organizations have gained more influence over the U.S. supply chain than any other ethnic criminal group … yielding profit levels between $18 billion and $39 billion.

This has led, in part, to the “wholesale breakdown of basic civility across the country — something that has been particularly evident in the northern border states,” says Rand.

L.A. remains at the top of the list of U.S. cities hurt by the drug, too:

The sale, distribution and use of narcotics in the United States has contributed to addiction and public health problems, further exacerbated the breakdown of social and family relations, undermined economic productivity, and fueled street violence in prominent end-user cities, such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, Denver, San Diego, Houston, Seattle and San Francisco.

But it don't stop. That's because a wholesale gram of coke starts out at $2.30 in Columbia, can cost $8.10 in Mexico, and reaches $27 in the U.S. before it gets to Lindsay Lohan at a much higher price.

Columbia produces about 270 metric tons of coke in a year and, RAND says, “Americans currently consume roughly 44 percent of the global cocaine supply, making the country the main market for Latin American cartels.”

This despite $800 billion in taxpayer dollars spent between 1981 and 2008 on local, state and federal enforcement, interdiction, treatment and rehab. (That's more than the Wall Street bank bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, for comparison).

What to do?

Well, this study was commissioned in part by the U.S. Air Force, so recommendations are focused in the air, and not in our noses, unfortunately.

RAND recommends improved aerial surveillance and less coke-crop fumigation (which hurts regular crops). Others say stop the war on the drugs and let it come — legitimately. What do you say?


LA Weekly