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High-level commission declares drug war unwinnable

By admin | June 2, 2011 News Staff

According to a new report, not only is the global war on drugs a failure, but unless governments shift their focus from criminal justice to public health the problems will just keep getting worse.

The damning conclusion was arrived at by a 19-member commission that includes former heads of state, a business mogul and the current prime minister of Greece.

Acting under the banner Global Commission on Drug Policy, theirs is the highest-level panel to ever reach such conclusions on the international approach to curbing illegal drug use.

“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,” the report said.

Arguing that the criminalization of drug use punishes users rather than offering them potentially beneficial health and treatment services, the report suggests targeting organized crime syndicates instead.

In its report, the commission recommends governments:

* end criminalization of drug users “who do no harm to others,” as well as low level farmers, couriers and “petty sellers”
* experiment with 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 such as supervised use facilities and syringe access rather than “abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment — such as forced detention”
* abandon the ‘just say no’ approach to education in favour of “efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences”
* focus law enforcement efforts “not on reducing drug markets per se but rather on reducing their harms”

Calling the global drug policy “one of the key policy challenges of our time,” the report is particularly critical of lawmakers’ reluctance to consider other approaches.

“In spite of the increasing evidence that current policies are not achieving their objectives, most policymaking bodies at the national and international level have tended to avoid open scrutiny or debate on alternatives,” the report states.

“The time is now right for a serious, comprehensive and wide-ranging review of strategies to respond to the drug phenomenon,” the report continues, suggesting policy must be based on “recognition of the global drug problem as a set of interlinked health and social challenges to be managed, rather than a war to be won.”

In a statement released to coincide with the commission’s report, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy took issue with its premise and conclusions.

“(U.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,” spokesperson Rafael Lemaitre wrote, touting the “big difference” U.S. drug control efforts have made.

“Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated. Making drugs more available — as this report suggests — will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe.”

While the office of White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske points to a 46 per cent drop in current cocaine use among young people between the ages of 18 and 25 in the past five years as an example that country’s successful policy, the Global Commission’s report comes to a different conclusion.

Citing the United Nations’ annual drug consumption estimates, the report points to a 34.5 per cent increase in opiate use, 27 per cent rise in cocaine use and an 8.5 per cent jump in marijuana use during the ten years ending in 2008.

Recalling the launch of the drug war by then- president Richard Nixon four decades ago, and the hope it would gradually lead to ‘drug free world’, the report suggests it has had an opposite effect.

“In practice, the global scale of illegal drug markets — largely controlled by organized crime — has grown dramatically over this period.”

Besides former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the 19-member commission included former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa and British business mogul Richard Branson.

With files from The Associated Press

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