Another global policy commission urges end to costly, failed war on drugs

Just as a coalition of international drug policy experts did last year with the Vienna Declaration, another international group has issued a report urging all governments to end the global war on drugs. Calling the “war on drugs” approach a costly failure, the Global Commission on Drug Policy recommended this week that the United States and other governments put an end to “the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but do no harm to others.”

The Global Commission includes former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, along with past presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Columbia, writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. After reviewing the effects and unintended consequences of nearly 40 years of global efforts to criminalize and prosecute drug possession, use and sales, the commission recommended that governments try a new strategy to reduce the societal ills associated with illegal drug use.

Their key recommendation was to consider legalizing drugs — particularly marijuana — and regulating them so that drug cartels and other violent actors will have less of a financial incentive to traffic in drugs.

“The U.S. needs to open a debate,” commented former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, a member of the panel. “When you have 40 years of a policy that is not bringing results, you have to ask if it’s time to change it.”

The Obama Administration, along with the Calderon Administration in Mexico, swiftly rejected the Global Commission’s recommendations. In its 2012 budget request, the Obama Administration has requested a 7.9 percent increase in spending on drug enforcement and prevention programs — asking for $1.7 billion for those programs.

While the administration has encouraged the use of drug courts and focused on drug enforcement for public health reasons, it has also provided funding, training and equipment for Mexico’s recent drug war, during which more than 38,000 people have died.

Last month, tens of thousands of Mexican citizens took to the streets in Mexico City to demand an end to the drug war. Like Obama, however, President Calderon insists that it would be irresponsible to reverse the policy now.

Limiting access to drugs has failed to reduce demand or consumption, group says

The report points out that attempts to limit individuals’ access to illegal drugs, which were initially put into place worldwide in 1950, have not reduced drug use. In fact, use of illegal drugs has grown over the past 60 years.

Global marijuana consumption increased by more than 8 percent between 1998 and 2008, and cocaine use grew by 27 percent, according to the United Nations.

Studies from Portugal and Australia demonstrate, on the other hand, that legalizing drug possession has not led to significant increases in drug use, at least in the case of marijuana and similar drugs.

The UN also estimates that 250 million people worldwide use illegal drugs. “We simply cannot treat them all as criminals,” concludes the report.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “High-profile panel urges non-criminal approach to world drug policy,” Ken Ellingwood and Brian Bennett, June 1, 2011