Aerial Spraying Cocaine Plants Is Not Only Deadly, It’s Inefficient

With aerial spraying, it costs $57,000 to keep $450 worth of cocaine off the streets

May 14, 2015 at 6:50 AM ET

The World Health Organization recently warned that a powerful weed killer that is sprayed on suspected Colombian cocaine plantations to kill the plants there is likely carcinogenic in humans. What’s worse, it’s also a terribly expensive and incredibly inefficient way to combat cocaine production.

In a recent report, the Brookings Institution described aerial spraying as “one of the most expensive strategies in reducing coca production.” Analysis of aerial spraying practices and effectiveness found that it costs $57,000 to keep $450 worth of cocaine off the streets.

The problem with aerial spraying—aside from dropping potentially cancer-causing chemicals on people—is that it is just 4 percent effective.

“The most conservative evaluation shows that for each hectare [about 2.4 acres] sprayed with glyphosate, coca crops are reduced by about 0.02 to 0.065 hectares. Therefore to eliminate just one hectare of coca through aerial spraying, 32 hectares of coca need to be sprayed,” the report notes.

Between the costs of the herbicide, planes, pilots and other expenditures, it costs $2,400 to spray one hectare of coca plants. To kill one hectare of coca plants costs roughly $57,000. The cocaine a plantation owner could yield from a hectare of coca plants has a street value of about $450. According to a United Nations report, the average price for a gram of cocaine is about $50. An “eight ball” of cocaine is 3.5 grams, so those waging the “war on drugs” through spraying are spending $57,000 to keep fewer than three “eight balls” off the street.

“Colombia should use this opportunity to take the conversation beyond glyphosate and call into question its overall approach to drug cultivation and drug policy,” said Hannah Hetzer, Policy Manager of the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance.

The World Health Organization’s report prompted Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to publicly call for an end to the aerial spraying program.

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