Assessing Progress in the War on Drugs

By Laura Spadanuta

The report spotlights Portugal, which legalized all previously outlawed drugs back in 2001. Although drug use has slightly increased in the country overall since the decriminalization, heroin use has dropped and the burden on law enforcement has been reduced, according to the report. The report also notes that other nations that have decriminalized cannabis have not experienced an increase in drug use in comparison with nations where cannabis use is still illegal.

One challenge in fighting global drug use and trade is that the war on drugs has become securitized, according to Kushlick, who uses the term in a nonfinancial context. “Securitization means that a government identifies something as an existential threat, makes it a security issue, and lifts it above the normal policy-making arena,” he explains.

Kushlick says there are two drug control regimes: one is securitized, the other is not. The nonsecuritized regime controls alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical drugs and the ways they are sold, dispensed, and prescribed. The securitized regime covers the nonmedical use of cannabis, coca, and opium-based drugs as well as so-called designer drugs, like ecstasy.

“These have been assessed as a ‘threat’ to the health and welfare of humanity, and, in fact, as a threat to the existence of humanity, and their production, supply, and use for nonmedical purposes [has been] made illegal,” says Kushlick.
It is the latter that constitutes the initial war on drugs, he says. But the result of that first war has been the creation of a criminal market “whose value is estimated at up to $320 billion a year. This criminal opportunity has helped create vast criminal empires that are assessed as a threat to nation states. This has resulted in a second war on drugs, though in reality, it is a war on [organized] crime,” he explains.

Kushlick says that this leads to unintended consequences. Countries end up fighting an ongoing security threat rather than achieving its original goal of lowering the population’s drug use.


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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