Atlanta’s “war on drugs” causes more problems than it solves

“Metro Atlanta may get a little bloodier. Call it a sign of success.”

So begins a recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about “progress” in the so-called war on drugs.

Federal drug agents are claiming that they have “decreased the quality and raised the price of drugs on the street.” As a result, they are expecting more violence between drug dealers, and more crimes committed against average citizens because the drug users need to steal more money to buy drugs at the inflated price.

The author of the article, Steve Visser, has a good understanding of how drugs get to Atlanta, and why the traffic has increased so dramatically over the past few years.

Metro Atlanta became an outpost of organized crime for reasons of geography, logistics and immigration. It also has a strong and diverse market for drugs — powder cocaine for the suburbs, crack cocaine for the city, crystal meth for the exurbs and ecstasy for Midtown raves — for the cartels to fill, Killorin said.

Moreover, the region is a transportation hub — by rail, air and interstate highways and even by sea, by way of Savannah — to make it a natural distribution point, whether to New Jersey or Chicago.

“We’ve got the busiest airport. We’ve got three major interstates passing through. We’re just accessible,” said Atlanta Police Lt. Robert Browning, deputy director of HIDTA. “It is not that the drugs are coming to Atlanta and stopping. This is the transportation route for the whole East Coast.”

The reason is simple logistics.

Cocaine is still manufactured in South America, but instead of being shipped directly to the U.S. by plane or ship — as was the case in the Miami Vice heyday — the Colombia cartels are now selling it to Mexican cartels.

Those organizations then ship it, along with marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin, to Atlanta, a major metro area with a large Hispanic population in which the traffickers can hide.

They often hide shipments in cargoes of legitimate goods that thousands of trucks ferry across the border each day. Drug shipments even have been hidden with truckloads of produce bound for the state Farmer’s Market in Forest Park, according to the 2007 HIDTA annual report.

The cartels’ operatives in metro Atlanta repackage the drugs for distribution in the region or shipment elsewhere, Benson said. Then, millions in dollars are transported back to Atlanta, where the cash is packed and ship to Mexico.

The trafficking organizations rent houses in affluent neighborhoods in Cobb and Gwinnett counties that shield them from surveillance because they’re on large, private lots, the HIDTA report noted.

Of course, an increase in drug traffic and drug arrests keeps criminal defense attorneys busy as well. Atlanta defense lawyers have seen a lot of federal drug cases in the past few years. In fact, our law firm has been involved in a few federal drug trials where the quantity of drugs seized exceeded several hundred kilos. In a case I tried two years ago, federal drug agents had also seized 4 million dollars in cash as a result of a drug operation in Atlanta and Marietta, Georgia.

We have posted on several of these cases before – 88 people indicted for drug conspiracy in Atlanta; and my recent drug trafficking case in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

I don’t see how an increase in violence is a good thing, or a sign of the demise of drugs being imported into the U.S. I am sure the federal government could be a lot more effective if they spent just a fraction of that money on treatment and reducing the demand for drugs. But I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. There is just too much money and bureaucracy dedicated to this un-ending, and un-winnable, war on drugs.

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