World News and Trends: Illegal-drug trade builds worldwide economic powerhouse

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Illegal-drug trade builds worldwide economic powerhouse

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The trade in illegal drugs has grown to a $500 billion annual business, according to a report by Freedom House tracking the meteoric rise of the trade. The market in cocaine, marijuana, hashish, heroin, opiates and other mind-altering substances accounts for 10 to 13 percent of global commerce, an amount equal to the world market in crude petroleum.

The influence of drug money has led to the rise of "narco states" in South America, so called because of the predominance of corruption on virtually all levels of government. Some Caribbean islands are, in essence, drug fiefdoms that are nothing more than huge financial laundering operations. Drugs are now produced in at least 31 nations, with drug money laundered in 33 countries.

In some areas illegal drugs are so widely available that they have attained a de-facto legal status. Authorities lack the resources-and sometimes the will-to dampen drug use. In some situations drug smuggling has grown simply too pervasive to stop. For example, customs officials in America inspect fewer than one in 30 ship containers arriving in the country and only a fraction of the 8,000 trucks arriving from Mexico each day.

Because of the vast amounts of money at stake, law enforcers hold out little hope of cutting off illegal drugs at the source or of eliminating suppliers. The only way to end this scourge is to curb demand, and that can come about only through a change in human attitudes. (Source: Gannett News Service.)