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Less cocaine on U.S. streets, report says

Crime, Law and JusticeCrimeDrug TraffickingMedicineHealthMexicoNational Government

Mexican drug trafficking organizations are expanding their control of U.S. markets but appear to be struggling to keep cocaine and other illegal drugs on American streets, according to a government report released Monday.

Cocaine remains the leading drug threat, though marijuana is the most commonly abused illegal substance, according to the National Drug Threat Assessment report. Profits from those drugs, along with methamphetamine, heroin and others, range from $18 billion to $39 billion for Mexican and Colombian trafficking groups.

Cocaine availability continued to decline in many cities, a trend the report attributed to Mexico's ongoing battles with traffickers and to increased seizures by U.S. authorities. The shortages have pushed the price of cocaine up 41% since 2006, from $87 to $123 per gram, the report said.

Meanwhile, some methamphetamine production appears to be shifting back to the U.S. after successful efforts by Mexico to crack down on the precursor drugs needed to produce the drug there, according to the report.

The study, along with a recent survey by the University of Michigan showing drug use as reported by high school students had declined 25% since 2001, was cited by the Bush administration as evidence of progress in curbing drug availability and use.

"There will be more work done after I'm out of here," President Bush said last week after a meeting on drug use reduction, "but we have laid the foundation for a successful effort against drug use, drug supply and helping those who have been addicted."

Critics say the administration's strategy has failed to curb America's enormous appetite for drugs, through prevention and treatment. In 2008, the federal government spent $13.6 billion on drug control, with 64% going toward law enforcement. About 36%, or $4.9 billion, was aimed at treatment and prevention.

"At the very best it's containing the problem, not solving it," said Mauricio Cardenas, director of the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. "Focusing entirely on supply and eradication is not taking us too far. We have to bring demand and consumption into the picture."

From 2003 to 2007, cocaine production in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru increased from 790 to 865 metric tons, the report said. Less cocaine reached America's streets in 2007 in part because of several exceptionally large seizures of cocaine in the Eastern Pacific route, the report said.

The Mexican government's offensive on organized crime appears to be disrupting traditional trafficking routes, with cartels increasingly moving drugs through California rather than Texas, according to the report. Cocaine seizures in 2007 at California ports of entry exceeded the totals in Texas for the first time since 2004, according to the report.

Marijuana continues to be America's illegal drug of choice; levels of marijuana use are higher than any other drug. Meanwhile the average potency of marijuana increased in 2006 to the highest levels ever recorded, in part because of improvements in cultivation techniques, the report said.

Marosi is a Times staff writer.

richard.marosi@latimes.com

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