PROHIBITION, MARK TWO Americans are now telling pollsters they feel safer after the sack of Baghdad, and are evidently starting to believe the war on terror is being won. Hold that thought a moment while we consider the state of play in the other concept-war: the one on drugs. It is 42 years since the UN set out to eradicate the use of illegal drugs, with results that we see all around us: the last marijuana smoker races the last speaker of Scots-Gaelic towards extinction; redundant cocaine dealers beg pathetically on the streets; the scourge of heroin has been banished forever from the planet. That, as Polly Toynbee showed in these pages last week, was the impression a Martian might have got from attending the UN's half-time review of its current 10-year drugs plan in Vienna earlier this month. The head of the UN office on drugs and crime, Antonio Maria Costa, cheerily announced that his organisation was on target to deal with the problem by 2008: "Drugs control policy works," he said. Presumably, his job has given him access to some great reality-excluding dope. This insanity keeps a lot of bureaucrats in work and holds off any unpleasantness with the policy's chief promoters, the US. The American approach that failed in the security council over Iraq - bribe, blackmail or batter your opponents into submission - has successfully prevented any fresh international thinking about drug control for decades. Allegedly liberal-minded governments such as Britain's tinker with cannabis laws to save a little police time, while the piles of used needles grow higher. Meanwhile, a war that began when heroin, cannabis and cocaine were confined to a small, louche minority has successfully spread them worldwide. It is a re-run of the American booze prohibition experiment, played out globally and indefinitely. But the extraordinary reach of the ongoing catastrophe is largely hidden. Just consider a few aspects of it from this hemisphere: inside the US, the prison population has now gone above 2 million. That means that about 1% of all American adults are currently in jail, a proportion rising to 12% among black males in their late 20s. The justice department estimates that the chances of a black male baby born today being imprisoned for more than a year are close to one in three. Marc Mauer, of an independent organisation, The Sentencing Project, reckons that if you add together direct drug offences ( sale, trafficking, possession etc ), crimes committed to fund drug use and crimes committed by people on drugs, then half the people in jail are there for drug-related crimes. The US has no policy for curbing drug use internally, except for locking up this million people and putting up "drug-free zone" signs outside schools. It concentrates on supply-side efforts: trying to stop traffickers, spraying South American coca fields and encouraging farmers to grow other crops. As Ted Galen Carpenter points out in a new expose of the futility of all this, Bad Neighbour Policy, the US has a splendid technique for announcing success as far as seizures are concerned: ifit intercepts a lot of drugs, that proves how well its approach is working; if the interception rate goes down, that proves it too. Officials regularly gloat to the newspapers about how many fields have been sprayed, and how many Colombian farmers have been encouraged to switch to legal crops. They don't tell us they are spraying with a form of glyphosate unapproved in the US that is, according to reports from other sources, having disastrous effects on wildlife, legal crops and, sometimes, humans. They don't say that the more they spray in one area of Colombia, the more production moves deeper into more impenetrable rain forest, where the locals add to global warming by chopping down more trees and planting there. They don't say that the more they spray in Colombia generally, the more cocaine production rises again in Bolivia and Peru. They don't say that shrewd farmers have now found they can beat aerial surveillance by sticking coca bushes in the shade of dense coffee plantations. They don't admit the crop-substitution projects are useless because other crops bring in about one-ninth the income of cocaine, which, thanks to US policies, is untaxed, unregulated and rampant. Instead, the Americans jail a million of their own people and force the UN to hold idiotic conferences where officials spout drivel. They should hire this Costa bloke to run the war on terrorism. After all, most terrorism is financed by drug money anyway. He could keep proclaiming victory for them.