DRUG USE RELATED COSTS
Background of the problem
It is known that the major economic costs from drugs use are due to incarcerations and crime rather than to drug use itself (Keefer, Loayza, & Soares, 2010). In Colombia, it is estimated that 20% of the cocaine and 70% of the marijuana produced is consumed domestically (Cawley, 2013), most of it in underground spots called ollas. The gathering of drug traffickers, addicts, and criminals in these places has spawned crime and insecurity in all cities. The Colombian government has tried some measures to reduce these externalities of drug use, but they have not been enough nor adequate.
In 2012, possession and consumption of minimal doses of marijuana and cocaine were decriminalized1. This was welcome by judicial authorities who saw it as a way to reduce incarcerations, taking into account that half of the detained in Colombia were captured for drug possession and consumption (Jaramillo & Jaramillo, 2012). Other sectors warned that decriminalization of drug use may increase consumption, microtraffic and insecurity (Gómez, 2012), and that the government should not cease the war on drugs.
In this line, the Police launched the “Operation Green Heart” in 2013 to intervene ollas. The operation have intervened 25 ollas out of more than 3.000 identified, and
1 The Law of Citizen Security of 2011 was declared partially unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, in the articles regarding incarceration and fees for possession of illicit drugs. The minimal dose was set to 22 gr for marijuana and 1 gr for cocaine.
its results so far have not been successful: it has barely displaced ollas and increased incarcerations without reducing consumption, microtraffic or crime (FIP, 2013).
So ollas remain being major consumption hubs that generate crime and insecurity for drug consumers and for all citizens. The failure of the war on microtraffic and police interventions in ollas set up the need for a new strategy to offset the threat and costs they impose. It is our aim to encourage a new approach to tackle the problem: the creation of regulated consumption centers in order to substitute ollas and reduce microtraffic and crime around them.
Policy options to reduce drug use related crime
There are three main policies that could be considered in order to tackle ollas and the crime related costs they generate.
1. Continue intervening “ollas”
The government could foster the “Operation Green Heart” to intervene ollas, just as the President announced it would do (Cawley, 2013). But this strategy would be ineffective and may even cause larger harms.
Until now the strategy has not shown real long term remarkable results in reducing crime and consumption. At most, it has only created a “balloon effect” displacing ollas a few blocks temporarily; time after the intervention, when police and public employees are gone, dealers and consumers come back. Furthermore, intervening big ollas could have split some of them...