Global war on drugs has failed, says international report

Marijuana is shown for sale at the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic in San Francisco in this Associated Press file photo from October 16, 2010.

Marijuana is shown for sale at the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic in San Francisco in this Associated Press file photo from October 16, 2010.

"The global war on drugs has failed." That's the first sentence of the executive summary of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which issued its report today. No ifs, ands, or buts.

The 19 people on the commission make this a report that the world should pay attention to. Among them: George P. Schultz, who held cabinet posts under U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon (who started the U.S. drug war 40 years ago). Former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. U.K. business mogul Richard Branson. The former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, and the current prime minister of Greece. Writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa.

The executive summary is so clearly written, so direct and succinct that we're posting it in its entirety here:

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.

Invest in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems. Eschew simplistic ‘just say no’ messages and ‘zero tolerance’ policies in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences. The most successful prevention efforts may be those targeted at specific at-risk groups.

Focus repressive actions on violent criminal organizations, but do so in ways that undermine their power and reach while prioritizing the reduction of violence and intimidation. Law enforcement efforts should focus not on reducing drug markets per se but rather on reducing their harms to individuals, communities and national security.

Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime. Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights – and adopt appropriate criteria for their evaluation. Review the scheduling of drugs that has resulted in obvious anomalies like the flawed categorization of cannabis, coca leaf and MDMA. Ensure that the international conventions are interpreted and/or revised to accommodate robust experimentation with harm reduction, decriminalization and legal regulatory policies.

Break the taboo on debate and reform.

The time for action is now.

You can download the entire report at the Global Commission on Drug Policy website.

Posts about the report appeared in hundreds of news organization sites around the world. Here's the coverage from the LATimes, which reports the response from the U.S. drug czar, and Business Insider.

Below is a file photo from last year depicting many of the drug busts on which countries have spent billions of dollars over the last 40 years.

A soldier stands guard next to packages of marijuana that are being incinerated Wednesday in Tijuana, Mexico. On a conjoined operation with the army, local and state police seized 134 tons of U.S.-bound marijuana Monday, by far the biggest drug bust in the country in recent years. Eleven suspects were detained.

A soldier stands guard next to packages of marijuana that are being incinerated Wednesday in Tijuana, Mexico. On a conjoined operation with the army, local and state police seized 134 tons of U.S.-bound marijuana Monday, by far the biggest drug bust in the country in recent years. Eleven suspects were detained.

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Comments

kernal 3 years, 5 months ago

This story belongs in the News section of LJW, not WellCommons. It has more to do with economies, society and politics. Just my opinion.

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jestevens 3 years, 5 months ago

Good point. It belongs in both. The reason I put it in WellCommons is the alternatives that the commission suggests, including this:

"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."

Addiction to drugs is a health issue, which can also have economic, societal and political aspects.

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jestevens 3 years, 5 months ago

I think if you read the report you'll see that the solutions focus on a public health approach to helping people who are addicted to drugs or to prevent people from becoming addicted to drugs. It's a very interesting report.

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