The war on drugs has failed and international policymakers need to implement reforms now, urged a commission of world leaders during a June 2 press conference at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy outlined its declaration in a report, “War on Drugs.”The decades-old effort has costs taxpayers' millions of dollars, fueled organized crime, stigmatized and criminalized drug users, and cost thousands of lives, the commission concluded.
“Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President (Richard) Nixon launched the US government's global war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed,” said Fernando Henrique Cardoso, chair of the commission and former president of Brazil.
The global war has caused the expansion of a huge criminal black market for illicit drugs and to avoid law enforcement, producers just shift their operations to other areas, the report indicated. An analysis of annual drug use over the last 10 years showed a growing market in Opiates, Cocaine and Cannabis at 34.5 percent, 27 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively, according to the commission.
In spite of increasing evidence that current policies are not working, world lawmakers have avoided a debate on alternatives and it is that lack of leadership that prompted the commission review, its members argued. Members said their review was led by the recognition that the global drug problem is a set of interlinked health and social challenges that should be managed, not a war to be won.
What the report actually means or will do for the war against the war on drugs will be determined in coming months, said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., which promotes reforms in sentencing law and practice and alternatives to incarceration.
The commission's message is not necessarily a new one but it's intriguing, given the status and diverse backgrounds of those issuing it and in some ways, it's greatest value is helping to frame the issues, Mr. Mauer told The Final Call.
The commission developed four core principles to guide national and international drug policies, which include basing policies on solid and scientific evidence and measuring success by reduced harm to the health, security and welfare to individuals and society, and human rights and public health principles toward ending the stigmatization and marginalization of people for certain drug use.
The commission's recommendations include:
•Pursuing an open debate and promoting policies that reduce drug consumption and increasing investment in research and analysis of the impact of different policies and programs;
•Treat people addicted to drugs as patients, not criminals by replacing punishment with drug treatment;
•Focus law enforcement on violent organized crime and drug traffickers to reduce harm to individuals within drug markets, rather than reducing drug markets themselves;
•Invest more resources in evidence-based prevention with a specific focus on youth; and
•Encourage governments to experiment with the legalization of drugs toward undermining the power of organized crime and safeguarding public health.
“Not everyone will agree with all of the recommendations but I think they make a compelling argument for why the current policy has largely been a failure and asks all the right questions about what other directions we could be moving in,” Mr. Mauer said.
The U.S. and Russia immediately rejected the UN panel's declaration that the war on drugs has failed under current drug policies.
“The Obama administration's efforts to reduce drug use are not born out of a culture war or drug war mentality, but out of the recognition that drug use strains our economy, health, and public safety.The bottom line is that balanced drug control efforts are making a big difference,” stated Rafael Lemaitre, communications director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Drug use in America today is half of what it was 30 years ago; cocaine production in Colombia has dropped by almost two-thirds; and thousands of non-violent offenders are being successfully diverted into treatment instead of jail through alternatives to incarceration, Mr. Lemaitre argued.
Currently there are 2.3 million people in U.S. prisons or jails and of that total, 500,000 are there for either using or selling drugs, compared to the scale of change in 1980, when the count was 41,000, Mr. Mauer said.
The war on drugs was the single most influential factor contributing to the drastic increase in incarceration over a short period of time and has been very costly in money and its impact on people's lives but the climate is starting to shift on the issue.
“In part most Americans have had experience with someone close to them who's had some type of problem with substance abuse and I think there's a growing recognition that putting someone in a prison cell for five years is not a long term solution to the problem,” Mr. Mauer said.
In addition, the fiscal crisis is heightening concern about the costs of incarceration and the racial dynamics of the war on drugs are quite extreme, he added.
It is increasingly understood that people of color are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses in greater proportions than their engagement in drug crime, Mr. Mauer said.
More than 60 percent of America's prison population is now racial and ethnic minorities and one in every eight Black men in his 20s is in prison or jail on any given day, according to The Sentencing Project.
“The real problem is that we don't invest enough on the front end in prevention and treatment approaches and therefore problems escalate and end up as criminal justice problems rather than locally based community problems that could be resolved differently,” Mr. Mauer said.