Breaking news: The war on drugs has failed.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy released its report a few days ago, and it isn’t pretty. Drug use of all kinds is up sharply over the last decade, even as governments spend billions to stop it. When one supply chain is interrupted, another fills the gap, seemingly within minutes.
The Commission recommends decriminalizing drugs and ending the stigmatization of users and the marginalization of small time growers and focusing on regulation and health care.
So, who is this band of liberal, drug-loving miscreants? The Commission includes as its members former U.S. Secretary of Sate George Schultz, former U.S. Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, former Secretary General of the U.N. Kofi Annan and a host of international figures of equal stature.
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.
Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of
drug use. Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction.
Our principles and recommendations can be summarized as follows:
End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.
Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation that can accomplish these objectives and provide models for others.
Offer health and treatment services to those in need. Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available, including not just methadone and buprenorphine treatment but also the heroin assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada. Implement syringe access and other harm reduction measures that have proven effective in reducing transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections as well as fatal overdoses. Respect the human rights of people who use drugs. Abolish abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment – such as forced detention, forced labor, and physical or psychological abuse – that contravene human rights standards and norms or that remove the right to self-determination.
Apply much the same principles and policies stated above to people involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets, such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers. Many are themselves victims of violence and intimidation or are drug dependent. Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations. There appears to be almost no limit to the number of people willing to engage in such activities to better their lives, provide for their families, or otherwise escape poverty. Drug control resources are better directed elsewhere.
The report says opiate use increased 35% worldwide from 1998 to 2008. Cocaine use is up 27%, and marijuana use is up 9% over the same period.
The reports ranks drugs by how much harm they cause in the world, Number one is heroin, two is cocaine. Alcohol is ranked fourth, tobacco eighth, cannabis tenth.
As for the inherent violence of the drug trade, the study indicates that violence related to drugs rises in direct proportion to law enforcement activity. The more society tries to stop the trade in illegal drugs, the more violent the business becomes.
The Commission recommends immediate and drastic changes to how the world deals with drugs.
To read Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen’s take on the report, click here.