The war on drugs has failed and it’s time to experiment with decriminalization and legalization, says a jaw-dropping new report out yesterday from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a high-wattage panel of former presidents and world leaders. Half a century of punitive drug policies have succeeded mainly in fueling organized crime, wasting taxpayers’ money, and causing thousands of deaths, the report concludes. “Fifty years after the initiation of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the U.S. government’s global war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed,” said former president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso. “Let’s start by treating drug addiction as a health issue, reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives and legally regulating rather than criminalizing cannabis.”
Among the report’s recommendations:
• End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.
• Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs (especially cannabis) to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.
• 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.
• Apply human rights and harm reduction principles and policies both to people who use drugs as well as those involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers.
For all its big-name cachet, the commission hasn’t won over the Obama administration. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy quickly sent out a statement claiming the war on drugs is working.
“Drug use in America is half of what it was 30 years ago, cocaine production in Colombia has dropped by almost two-thirds, and we’re successfully diverting thousands of nonviolent offenders into treatment instead of jail by supporting alternatives to incarceration,” said Rafael Lemaitre, communications director of the White House drug policy office. “Making drugs more available — as this report suggests — will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe.”
But drug liberalization advocates, needless to say, are thrilled at the high-level endorsement. “The commission’s statement is like the child in the story who stands up and yells that the emperor is wearing no clothes,” Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance told reporters. “The high-profile nature of the members of the panel, and the strong message that they have sent out, gives an extra degree of encouragement and safety to politicians who want to speak out.”