Assessing Progress in the War on Drugs

By Laura Spadanuta

The global war on drugs is a failure, according to a recent report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The report says the war on drugs officially started 50 years ago with the creation of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. And “while accurate estimates of global consumption across the entire 50-year period are not available, an analysis of the last 10 years alone shows a large and growing market,” according to the report.

Even though much of what the report highlights may be drawn from existing data, the array of individuals who endorsed the recent findings is noteworthy, says Danny Kushlick, head of external affairs for Transform Drug Policy in the United Kingdom. His organization has a Web site named Count the Costs, which cites the unintended costs of the drug war, such as fueling conflict and wasteful spending on drug law enforcement. Kushlick points out that many other organizations and advocates have proclaimed that the global war on drugs has been lost for many of the same reasons highlighted by the Global Commission.

With regard to this latest report, Kushlick says that support of senior political figures could make a difference. To have a former secretary general of the UN, Kofi Annan, support a call for experiments in legal regulation of drugs alongside former United States Secretary of State George Schultz, entrepreneur Richard Branson, four former Latin American presidents, and the sitting president of Greece “enables engagement of the higher level policy makers” says Kushlick.

Sylvia Longmire, drug war analyst and author of Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars, says the report’s findings may have been a bit over the top. However, she agreed with many of the report’s recommendations, among them decreased sentences for some lower-level drug offenders, and exploring decriminalization of certain drugs, such as cannabis (marijuana).


A rational alternative


It is totally unrealistic to assume that the demand for (consumption of) drugs can be stopped and that we can live in a "drugs free world" — as the promoters and supporters of Prohibition and the War on Drugs want us to believe. That's why Legalisation & Regulation is the only rational, efficient and effective alternative to solve the so-called drug problem.

I do happen to believe that drug abuse can have serious, detrimental effects on individuals, families and society as a whole. The question is, however, what is the best way to deal with the so-called drug problem?

I do not think that anybody in their right mind could possibly think that legalisation and regulation is the silver bullet. The main point of contention, instead, is that Legalisation and Regulation —unlike Prohibition and the War on Drugs — is not a zero sum game. It is not a question of abstinence or punishment, but one of rational management of the drug problem, which incidentally, is not just about consumption but production as well. Neither is it about marijuana only, but about all drugs, soft and hard.

If one is prepared to accept, or at least be open to consider, that is not feasible to put an end to the demand for drugs, for there will always be, for whatever reason, people wishing to use drugs, then the question is: what is the most rational, effective and efficient way to tackle the drug problem? Once we accept that no alternative policy is exempt from costs, the rational thing to do is to search for policies that maximises the benefits and minimises the costs.

Put it differently, any rational, responsible and caring individual should be able to understand that a regime seeking to legalise and regulate the production and consumption of drugs CANNOT be as destructive and corrosive — socially, economically and politically speaking — as the current prohibition regime is. Moreover, I am convinced that even those who believe that legalisation and regulation of drugs is evil will be willing to accept that it is the lesser of two evils.

Gart Valenc



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