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.