Earlier this year I wrote about Portugal's experience with decriminalizing drug use, and invited readers to comment on the public safety and security implications of following that nation's example. An interesting discussion ensued in the comments to that article.
I've continued to research the topic, trying to learn more about what's been tried in other countries, and what's worked, and what hasn't. As part of this process, I came across an article at The Vine, an Australian Web site. It was titled 'The war on drugs has failed! Long live the war on drugs!' Here's a brief excerpt.
So ingrained is the idea of drug-taking as being necessarily bad that the political cost of talking about drugs in a realistic, sensible manner is beyond what any major party is willing to risk in a modern representative democracy. Everyone probably recognises that this is a policy dead-end, but no-one actually wants to take responsibility for turning it around. The prospect of a smack addict on every corner is a potent image to browbeat an opponent with in an election year.
. . .
In a society not so riven by drug abuse ... there always remains the worry that decriminalisation will result in soaring rates of drug use and addiction. This is a perennial concern, and there's no easy answer to it either, however it strikes me that most people don't choose to become addicts due to the appeal of the lifestyle it represents. There's usually a complex matrix of personal and social reasons that drag them towards it, very few of which are aided and abetted by the availability of drugs per se ... Moreover, there's probably more to be gained by bringing addicts within the system, rather than pushing them out, the inevitable end point of a system based around police intervention and the incarceration of drug users. Of all the treatment options we have to try and ease the dependency of addicts, increasing their social isolation and rendering them bitterly judged outsiders is probably pretty far down the effectiveness scale.
But, more than anything, the war on drugs is a failure because it misapprehends the reality of the situation: drugs exist and there will never be a regime of control so comprehensive, so sophisticated, that it will be able to eliminate them entirely. Even if there was, the Orwellian necessities of such a regime would make it something I don't think any right-minded person would wish upon their society.
There's more at the link.
The Australian article cited (among other sources) the work of The Global Commission on Drug Policy, an organization that includes leading businessmen, politicians, doctors and other leaders among its members. In June 2011 the Commission released a report (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format) which stated baldly that the war on drugs has failed miserably. Here's an extract from the executive summary of the report.
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.
Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are 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.
Our principles and recommendations can be summarized as follows:
. . .
- 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 experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. ...
- Offer health and treatment services to those in need. ... 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.
- Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime. Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights – and adopt appropriate criteria for their evaluation. Review the scheduling of drugs that has resulted in obvious anomalies like the flawed categorization of cannabis, coca leaf and MDMA. Ensure that the international conventions are interpreted and/or revised to accommodate robust experimentation with harm reduction, decriminalization and legal regulatory policies.
Break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is now.
Again, more at the link.
I have to admit, the facts and figures provided by the Global Commission make it very clear that the so-called War On Drugs is a miserable failure. Here, for example, are the figures it provides for the ten-year period from 1998 to 2008.
It doesn't specify what the units of measurement are (pounds, or kilograms, or doses, or whatever), but the picture remains depressingly clear: despite spending tens of billions of dollars every year around the globe, we're losing the War On Drugs hand over fist.
So . . . what next? How can we challenge the entrenched stakeholders in the War On Drugs, including law enforcement departments that make billions of dollars out of confiscation of money, equipment, etc. belonging to drug dealers and heavy users? How do we reintroduce sanity to the debate (bearing in mind Einstein's famous definition of insanity, which seems to describe the War On Drugs to perfection)?
Anyone got any ideas? If so, please let us know in Comments. Let's keep the discussion going.