The first sentence of the executive summary of the Global Commission on Drug Policy report made a sobering announcement in a nut-shell statement: “The global war on drugs has failed.”
The 19 people on the commission aren’t lightweights who make idle statements. 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; the current prime minister of Greece and writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa.
The report argues the global war on drugs has failed with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed, they contend. As you read through the report, some of their ideas may make you, police officers, parents, teachers and even editors nervous. But let’s take a look, since the commission made a global analysis spurred by the urgency of the matter, which touches every country on earth.
What hasn’t worked? Apparently, spending money for criminalization directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs because it doesn’t curtail supply or consumption. One eliminated source or trafficking organization is 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,” the report states.
So what can be done? The commission makes these recommendations:
• 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 governments to experiment with models of legally regulated drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation relates specifically to cannabis.
• Offer health and treatment services to those in need. Ensure that a variety of treatments 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 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.
• 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.
• Break the taboo on debate and reform.
The entire report is 24 pages long, with an executive summary outlining recommendations, quoted above. Download the report at the Global Commission on Drug Policy website.
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