The evidence has just gotten a lot stronger that the Obama administration is continuing to lead a war against individual marijuana users that is no longer supported by the world community. Now is the time to end the 80 year war against a plant that has been used for over 5,000 years. The US is the only country in the world that wants this wasteful war on weed to continue. This is particularly hypocritical since the US is also the biggest market for consuming illegal drugs. As I wrote earlier, the Obama administration has even been worse than the Bush administration in terms of interfering with states’ rights and punishing sick people.
Since the reign of Harry Anslinger between 1937 – 1962, America has been intimidating other countries to go along with the US moral crusade against getting high. It is useful to consider how much better our world would be if the US government would declare the end of the war on marijuana State and local governments would save a lot of money that could then be spent on schools and infrastructure – rather than prisons and cops. The federal government could apply the savings to balancing the budget or funding important programs.
Think of all the small business opportunities that are growing around marijuana. These include food, tinctures and other value-added cannabis products. Marijuana also has been proven to build up local and state economies, particularly by promoting tourism and innovation (consider Oakland, CA and Amsterdam.) Most important is the fact that law enforcement will finally be forced stop intimidating and prosecuting millions of basically good citizens – particularly the young, poor and minority.
CLICK to read more about this important report and why we need to put pressure on the US government – particularly former pot-smoker Barack Obama.
A high-level international commission declared the global “war on drugs” a failure and urged nations to consider legalizing cannabis and other drugs to undermine organized crime and protect their citizens’ health. The Global Commission on Drug Policy called for a new approach to reducing drug abuse to replace the current strategy of strictly criminalizing drugs and incarcerating drug users while battling criminal cartels that control the drug trade.
“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world,” said the report issued by the commission on Thursday. The study urges “experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs,” adding: “This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation.”
There are 250 million users of illicit drugs worldwide, with less than a 10th of them classified as dependent, and millions are involved in cultivation, production and distribution, according to U.N. estimates quoted in the report. The study adds that decriminalization initiatives do not result in significant increases in drug use.
“Now is the time to break the taboo on discussion of all drug policy options, including alternatives to drug prohibition,” former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria said.
The 19-member panel includes current Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and former heads of state, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, British businessman Richard Branson and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz. Other members of the panel include former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former U.S. Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker.
Commission criticizes US approach and argues that governments should end the criminalization of drug use The global war on drugs has failed and governments should explore legalizing marijuana and other controlled substances, according to a commission that includes former heads of state, a former U.N. secretary-general and a business mogul.
A new report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy argues that the decades-old worldwide “war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” The 24-page paper was released on June 1, 2011.
“Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.”
“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.”
“Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations. There appears to be almost no limit to the number of people willing to engage in such activities to better their lives, provide for their families, or otherwise escape poverty. Drug control resources are better directed elsewhere.”
Instead of punishing users who the report says “do no harm to others,” the commission argues that governments should end criminalization of drug use, experiment with legal models that would undermine organized crime syndicates and offer health and treatment services for drug-users in need. The commission called for drug policies based on methods empirically proven to reduce crime, lead to better health and promote economic and social development.
The commission is especially critical of the United States, saying it must change its anti-drug policies from being guided by anti-crime approaches to ones rooted in healthcare and human rights. “We hope this country (the U.S.) at least starts to think there are alternatives,” former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria told The Associated Press by phone. “We don’t see the U.S. evolving in a way that is compatible with our (countries’) long-term interests.”
The global war on drugs is a failure and governments worldwide should shift from repressive, law-enforcement centered policies to new ways of legalizing and regulating drugs, especially marijuana, as a means of reducing harm to individuals and society, a high-profile group of world leaders said in a report issued Thursday. …
The report argued that arresting “tens of millions” of low-level dealers, drug couriers, and drug-producing farmers not only failed to reduce production and consumption, but also failed to address the economic needs that pushed people into the trade in the first place.
Prohibitionist approaches also foster violence, most notably in the case of Mexico, the group argued, and impede efforts to stop the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. Governments should instead turn to science- and evidence-based public health and harm reduction approaches, the group said. It cited studies of nations like Portugal and Australia, where the decriminalization of at least some drugs has not led to significantly greater use.
“Overwhelming evidence from Europe, Canada and Australia now demonstrates the human and social benefits both of treating drug addiction as a health rather than criminal justice problem and of reducing reliance on prohibitionist policies. These policies need to be adopted worldwide, with requisite changes to the international drug control conventions.” former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss.
“Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s global war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed. 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.” former president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
“The war on drugs has failed to cut drug usage, but has filled our jails, cost millions in tax payer dollars, fuelled organized crime and caused thousands of deaths. We need a new approach, one that takes the power out of the hands of organized crime and treats people with addiction problems like patients, not criminals. The good news is new approaches focused on regulation and decriminalization have worked. We need our leaders, including business people, looking at alternative, fact based approaches. We need more humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs. The one thing we cannot afford to do is to go on pretending the war on drugs is working.” – Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and cofounder of The Elders, United Kingdom.
“It’s no longer a question of whether legalizing drugs is a serious topic of debate for serious people. These former presidents and other international leaders have placed drug legalization squarely on the table as an important solution that policymakers need to consider. As a narcotics cop on the streets, I saw how the prohibition approach not only doesn’t reduce drug abuse but how it causes violence and crime that affect all citizens and taxpayers, whether they use drugs or not.” – Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a 34-year veteran police officer from Baltimore, Maryland.
“These prominent world leaders recognize an undeniable reality. The use of marijuana, which is objectively less harmful than alcohol, is widespread and will never be eliminated. They acknowledge that there are only two choices moving forward. We can maintain marijuana’s status as a wholly illegal substance and steer billions of dollars toward drug cartels and other criminal actors. Or, we can encourage nations to make the adult use of marijuana legal and have it sold in regulated stores by legitimate, taxpaying business people. At long last, we have world leaders embracing the more rational choice and advocating for legal, regulated markets for marijuana. We praise these world leaders for their willingness to advocate for this sensible approach to marijuana policy.” – Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project.
“The long-term impact of the Global Commission’s efforts will be defining. Most people don’t realize that there are leaders of this stature who believe prohibition causes much of the harm commonly seen as due to drugs. As more and more people hear these arguments, coming from some of the most credible people on the planet, legalization will come to be viewed as a credible and realistic option.” – David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org
While the Obama administration may be loathe to listen, the weight of world opinion, as reflected in the composition of the global commission that issued this report, is starting to create stress fractures in the wall of prohibition. A half-century of global drug prohibition has showed us what it can deliver, and the world is increasingly finding it wanting.
Major International Leaders Plead for the US and the World to Get Smart and Stop the War on Drugs By Molly O’Toole, AlterNet – June 4,2011
The Waldorf Astoria may be worlds away from the blood-spotted streets of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where the “drug war” has taken over 35,000 lives; the fiefdom-like favelas of Rio, Brazil, where even the police don’t go; or Pakistan, one of the lowest-ranking on human development in the world, and neighbor to its largest opium producer. But members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy came to the famed New York hotel Friday to bring together leading thinkers and call for an end to the global “war on drugs,” whose failed policies have claimed thousands of victims around the world over the last five decades. …
The commission’s mandate is perhaps unprecedentedly deep and broad; the commissioners hail from 15 countries around the world, from North and Latin America, to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. They are four former presidents, United Nations dignitaries, authors and intellectuals, health and security officials, NGO directors and entrepreneurs.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil, chairs the commission that also boasts a Nobel laureate; Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel prize for literature this year. Kofi Annan is a personally impassioned member, due to regrets that he did not do more on drug policy in his former capacity as Secretary General of the UN, according to fellow member Richard Branson, entrepreneur, public advocate and the man who also said that within one year he’ll be sending civilians into space. Asma Jahangir, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, is from Pakistan, and George Papandreou, one of the commission’s only acting heads of state, is prime minister of the beleaguered country of Greece.
Public support for an end to the war on drugs shows signs of shifting as well. Patel presented Cardoso with a golf-check-like board, citing over 550,000 signatures of support from every country in the world for their campaign to overhaul global drug policy — with an additional 1,500 added during the meeting itself, according to Patel. The commission delivered its report and the petition to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today. …
Thus far the country that created many of the drug policies that have since been exported and enforced around the globe has been resistant to the calls of the Commission. Fifty years ago, in 1961, the United Nations initiated the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan launched the U.S. government’s “war on drugs” that continues to this day. The goal was a drug-free world, and the means to achieve it was fierce enforcement, a harsh crackdown on those involved in the production, distribution and consumption of drugs like heroin, cocaine and cannabis.
Instead, according to UN estimates, in the decade from 1998 to 2008, annual rates of consumption of drugs have rocketed up by 34.5 percent for opiates, 27 percent for cocaine and 8.5 percent for cannabis. As of 2008 estimates, there were more than 17 million opiates and cocaine users, and 160 million consumers of cannabis.
The global drug trade is valued at trillions of dollars (and not just from cocaine; the Mexican officials approximate that almost half of the cartels’ billions of dollars of annual revenue come from marijuana). But attempts to eradicate it have cost the United States alone $1 trillion, not to mention thousands of lives. Within our borders, rates of incarceration, often for lesser offenses related to drugs, are the highest in the world, over Russia, China or Iran.
Additionally, the current size of the prison population — more than 2.3 million — is directly related to the war on drugs and overwhelmingly made up of people of color. These rates of incarceration have also led to levels of overcrowding that recently prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to order the state of California to release some 30,000 prisoners, after ruling that crowded conditions violated inmates’ constitutional protections, and according to Justice Anthony Kennedy, also their “human dignity.”
“I think the business community can try to educate governments into realizing that filling up prisons with millions of drug users costing the countries billions of dollars is not the best use of their money,” said Branson, who uniquely represents business interests on the commission.
But Branson also describes the U.S. obligation to combat consumption as “enormous” because it is the biggest market for drugs. Internationally, the U.S. has given billions in aid to countries for the adoption of similar policies to the war on drugs within its own borders, with a majority going to its southern neighbor. “Every time somebody in the U.S. snorts cocaine, they’re effectively contributing to the death of a Mexican,” Branson said. …
Many feel we are further from the ultimate objective of the 1961 UN Convention — the improvement of the “health and welfare of mankind” — than ever before. Frustration with these failures is feeding a growing movement for drug policy reform. Mexico is the latest Latin American country to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis, cocaine, heroin and other drugs in 2009 — much to the chagrin of the United Nations international drug enforcement body, the International Narcotics Control Board. Argentina’s Supreme Court has ruled that punishing the personal use of cannabis is unconstitutional.
Three former presidents and commission members — Gaviria, Cardoso and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico — have all argued that legalization would undermine the major source of income for cartels that still ravage the region, and that the prohibition of drugs fuels violence while not stopping consumption. …
Gaviria was pessimistic at the prospect of US support. “It is difficult to have a sense that the US will move in a change of language and change of policy if they don’t have debate,” Gaviria said. “It makes it very difficult to look for alternatives.”
Gaviria, like several members of the commission, made the US present in his arguments for the need to end the war on drugs. “The only approach to this problem of narcotrafficking is not prohibition … there are a lot of things to do that can be more effective and at least less harmful for societies than what we have now,” Gaviria said, but added, “We are trying to promote debate; we don’t pretend we are going to change the world.”
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. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation that can accomplish these objectives and provide models for others.
- Offer health and treatment services to those in need. 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. Implement syringe access and other harm reduction measures that have proven effective in reducing transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections as well as fatal overdoses.
- Respect the human rights of people who use drugs. Abolish abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment – such as forced labor, and physical or psychological abuse – that contravene human rights standards and norms or that remove the right to self-determination.
- Apply much the same principles and policies stated above to people involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets, such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers. Many are themselves victims of violence and intimidation or are drug dependent. Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations. There appears to be almost no limit to the number of people willing to engage in such activities to better their lives, provide for their families, or otherwise escape poverty. Drug control resources are better directed elsewhere.
- Invest in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems. Eschew simplistic ‘just say no’ messages and ‘zero tolerance’ policies in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences. The most successful prevention efforts may be those targeted at specific at-risk groups.
- Focus repressive actions on violent criminal organizations, but do so in ways that undermine their power and reach while prioritizing the reduction of violence and intimidation. Law enforcement efforts should focus not on reducing drug markets per se but rather on reducing their harms to individuals, communities and national security.
- 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.
In 1967, because of my concern about the rapidly growing use of the dangerous drug marijuana, I began my studies of the scientific and medical literature with the goal of providing a reasonably objective summary of the data which underlay its prohibition. Much to my surprise, I found no credible scientific basis for the justification of the prohibition. The assertion that it is a very toxic drug is based on old and new myths. In fact, one of the many exceptional features of this drug is its remarkably limited toxicity. Compared to aspirin, which people are free to purchase and use without the advice or prescription of a physician, cannabis is much safer.
There are well over 1000 deaths annually from aspirin in this country alone, whereas there has never been a death anywhere from marijuana. In fact, when cannabis regains its place in the US Pharmacopeia, a status it lost after the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, it will be seen as one of the safest drugs in that compendium. Moreover, it will eventually be hailed as a “wonder drug” just as penicillin was in the 1940s. Penicillin achieved this reputation because it was remarkably non-toxic, it was, once it was produced on an economy of scale, quite inexpensive, and it was effective in the treatment of a variety of infectious diseases. Similarly, cannabis is exceptionally safe, and once freed of the prohibition tariff, will be significantly less expensive than the conventional drugs it replaces while its already impressive medical versatility continues to expand. …
Marijuana is here to stay; there can no longer be any doubt that it is not just another transient drug fad. Like alcohol, it has become a part of our culture, a culture which is now trying to find an appropriate social, legal and medical accommodation. We have finally come to realize, after arresting over 21 million marijuana users since the 1960s, most of them young and 90% for mere possession, that “making war” against cannabis doesn’t work anymore now than it did for alcohol during the days of the Volstead Act. Many people are expressing their impatience with the federal government’s intransigence as it obdurately maintains its position that ” marijuana is not a medicine”.
Thirteen states have now decriminalized marijuana. And, beginning with California in 1996, another 15 states and the District of Columbia have followed suit in allowing patients legal access to marijuana, and others are in the process of enactlng similar legislation. These states are inadvertently constructing a large social experiment in how best to deal with the reinvention of the “cannabis as medicine” phenomenon, while at the same time sending a powerful message to the federal government. Each of these state actions has taken a slice out of the extraordinary popular delusion known as cannabinophobia.
Perhaps in part because so many Americans have discovered for themselves that marijuana is both relatively benign and remarkably useful, moral consensus about the evil of cannabis is becoming uncertain and shallow. The authorities pretend that eliminating cannabis traffic is like eliminating slavery or piracy, or eradicating smallpox or malaria. The official view is that everything possible has to be done to prevent everyone from ever using marijuana, even as a medicine. But there is also an informal lore of marijuana use that is far more tolerant.
Many of the millions of cannabis users in this country not only disobey the drug laws but feel a principled lack of respect for them. They do not conceal their bitter resentment of laws that render them criminals. They believe that many people have been deceived by their government, and they have come to doubt that the “authorities” understand much about either the deleterious or the useful properties of the drug. This undercurrent of ambivalence and resistance in public attitudes towards marijuana laws leaves room for the possibility of change, especially since the costs of prohibition are all so high and rising.
It is also clear that the realities of human need are incompatible with the demand for a legally enforceable distinction between medicine and all other uses of cannabis. marijuana simply does not conform to the conceptual boundaries established by twentieth-century institutions. It is truly a sui generis substance; is there another non-toxic drug which is capable of heightening many pleasures, has a large and growing number of medical uses and has the potential to enhance some individual capacities?
The only workable way of realizing the full potential of this remarkable substance, including its full medical potential, is to free it from the present dual set of regulations – those that control prescription drugs in general and the special criminal laws that control psychoactive substances. These mutually reinforcing laws establish a set of social categories that strangle its uniquely multifaceted potential. The only way out is to cut the knot by giving marijuana the same status as alcohol – legalizing it for adults for all uses and removing it entirely from the medical and criminal control systems.
HARRY (The “Asshole”) ANSLINGER
There is one man who did more to make marijuana than anyone else. He served for four decades and pressured the rest of the world to start a war against their own citizens (i.e., against “drugs.”) We all need to throw off the shackles of his bigoted and fear-based campaign to demonize marijuana. By following the advice of this new report, the US can become a leader in undoing the harm that this moralistic and manipulative caused in the rest of the world.
The following quotes reveal him as an awful racist and outright liar. It is also clear that he was in the pocket of the chemical industry (mainly DuPont) and paper industry that saw hemp (marijuana’s close cousin) as competition they could not control. He was behind the film “Reefer Madness” and other propaganda – like the following article he wrote.
“Not long ago the body of a young girl lay crushed on the sidewalk after a plunge from a Chicago apartment window. Everyone called it suicide, but actually it was murder. The killer was a narcotic known to America as marijuana, and to history as hashish.
Used in the form of cigarettes, it is comparatively new to the United States and as dangerous as a coiled rattlesnake. How many murders, suicides, and maniacal deeds it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured.
In numerous communities it thrives almost unmolested, largely because of official ignorance of its effects. Marijuana is the unknown quantity among narcotics. No one knows, when he smokes it, whether he will become a philosopher, a joyous reveler, a mad insensate, or a murderer. …
It gives few warnings of what it intends to do to the human brain. Last year a young marijuana addict was hanged in Baltimore for criminal assault on a ten year old girl. In Chicago, two marijuana-smoking boys murdered a policeman.
In at least two dozen comparatively recent cases of murder or degenerate sex attacks, marijuana proved to be a contributing cause. In Ohio a gang of seven marijuana addicts, all less than 20, were caught after a series of 38 holdups. The boys’ story was typical of conditions in many cities. One of them said they first learned about “reefers” in high school, buying the cigarettes at hamburger stands, and from peddlers who hung around the school. …
It is the useless destruction of the youth which is so heartbreaking to all of us who labor in the field of narcotics suppression.”
MORE OUTRAGEOUS QUOTES BY HARRY (The “Asshole”) ANSLINGER
- Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing.
- Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.
- There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.
- This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.
- Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.
- Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.
- The primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.
- Narcotic effects are good or bad. Marihuana effects run in one direction only, and that is bad. Marihuana weakens the will.”
- How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries, and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can be only conjectured.
- If the hideous monster Frankenstein came face to face with the monster marihuana, he would drop dead of fright.
- You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.
A HUNDRED years ago a group of foreign diplomats gathered in Shanghai for the first-ever international effort to ban trade in a narcotic drug. On February 26th 1909 they agreed to set up the International Opium Commission—just a few decades after Britain had fought a war with China to assert its right to peddle the stuff. Many other bans of mood-altering drugs have followed. In 1998 the UN General Assembly committed member countries to achieving a “drug-free world” and to “eliminating or significantly reducing” the production of opium, cocaine and cannabis by 2008.
That is the kind of promise politicians love to make. It assuages the sense of moral panic that has been the handmaiden of prohibition for a century. It is intended to reassure the parents of teenagers across the world. Yet it is a hugely irresponsible promise, because it cannot be fulfilled. In fact the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to legalese drugs.
“Least bad” does not mean good. Legalization, though clearly better for producer countries, would bring (different) risks to consumer countries. As we outline below, many vulnerable drug-takers would suffer. But in our view, more would gain. …
The United States alone spends some $40 billion each year on trying to eliminate the supply of drugs. It arrests 1.5m of its citizens each year for drug offences, locking up half a million of them; tougher drug laws are the main reason why one in five black American men spend some time behind bars. In the developing world blood is being shed at an astonishing rate. In Mexico more than 800 policemen and soldiers have been killed since December 2006 (and the annual overall death toll is running at over 6,000). This week yet another leader of a troubled drug-ridden country—Guinea Bissau—was assassinated.
Yet prohibition itself vitiates the efforts of the drug warriors. The price of an illegal substance is determined more by the cost of distribution than of production. Take cocaine: the mark-up between coca field and consumer is more than a hundredfold. Even if dumping weedkiller on the crops of peasant farmers quadruples the local price of coca leaves, this tends to have little impact on the street price, which is set mainly by the risk of getting cocaine into Europe or the United States. …
Indeed, far from reducing crime, prohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before. According to the UN’s perhaps inflated estimate, the illegal drug industry is worth some $320 billion a year. In the West it makes criminals of otherwise law-abiding citizens (the current American president could easily have ended up in prison for his youthful experiments with “blow”). It also makes drugs more dangerous: addicts buy heavily adulterated cocaine and heroin; many use dirty needles to inject themselves, spreading HIV; the wretches who succumb to “crack” or “meth” are outside the law, with only their pushers to “treat” them. But it is countries in the emerging world that pay most of the price. Even a relatively developed democracy such as Mexico now finds itself in a life-or-death struggle against gangsters. American officials, including a former drug tsar, have publicly worried about having a “narco state” as their neighbor. …
Legalization would not only drive away the gangsters; it would transform drugs from a law-and-order problem into a public-health problem, which is how they ought to be treated. Governments would tax and regulate the drug trade, and use the funds raised (and the billions saved on law-enforcement) to educate the public about the risks of drug-taking and to treat addiction. The sale of drugs to minors should remain banned. Different drugs would command different levels of taxation and regulation. This system would be fiddly and imperfect, requiring constant monitoring and hard-to-measure trade-offs. Post-tax prices should be set at a level that would strike a balance between damping down use on the one hand, and discouraging a black market and the desperate acts of theft and prostitution to which addicts now resort to feed their habits. …
There is a false fear based on the presumption that more people would take drugs under a legal regime. That presumption may be wrong. There is no correlation between the harshness of drug laws and the incidence of drug-taking: citizens living under tough regimes (notably America but also Britain) take more drugs, not fewer. Embarrassed drug warriors blame this on alleged cultural differences, but even in fairly similar countries tough rules make little difference to the number of addicts: harsh Sweden and more liberal Norway have precisely the same addiction rates. Legalisation might reduce both supply (pushers by definition push) and demand (part of that dangerous thrill would go). Nobody knows for certain. But it is hard to argue that sales of any product that is made cheaper, safer and more widely available would fall. Any honest proponent of legalization would be wise to assume that drug-taking as a whole would rise.
There are two main reasons for arguing that prohibition should be scrapped all the same. The first is one of liberal principle. Although some illegal drugs are extremely dangerous to some people, most are not especially harmful. (Tobacco is more addictive than virtually all of them.) Most consumers of illegal drugs, including cocaine and even heroin, take them only occasionally. They do so because they derive enjoyment from them (as they do from whisky or a Marlboro Light). It is not the state’s job to stop them from doing so.
What about addiction? That is partly covered by this first argument, as the harm involved is primarily visited upon the user. But addiction can also inflict misery on the families and especially the children of any addict, and involves wider social costs. That is why discouraging and treating addiction should be the priority for drug policy. Hence the second argument: legalization offers the opportunity to deal with addiction properly.
By providing honest information about the health risks of different drugs, and pricing them accordingly, governments could steer consumers towards the least harmful ones. Prohibition has failed to prevent the proliferation of designer drugs, dreamed up in laboratories. Legalization might encourage legitimate drug companies to try to improve the stuff that people take. The resources gained from tax and saved on repression would allow governments to guarantee treatment to addicts—a way of making legalization more politically palatable. The success of developed countries in stopping people smoking tobacco, which is similarly subject to tax and regulation, provides grounds for hope.
A calculated gamble, or another century of failure?