Monday, June 6, 2011

Ending the Drug Wars

I have had many conversations about how the war against drugs isn't working. My brother and I talked about this subject back when we were freshman in high school! There is now a report written by former officials of major world organizations including: former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former US Secretary of State George Stultz, former Presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, and former FED chair Paul Volcker.
The report calls for an end to the "criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others," and for governments to experiment with ways to regulate drugs so as to undercut organized crime and improve public health.
"Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime," the report says. "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."
As I said, I have had numerous conversations about this topic over the years, and as recently as a few weeks ago with Neil, before this report came out. We have never agreed on everything, but I think there are some definite changes that can be made, with some long-term beneficial implications. There are several policy points made in the report.

Drug policies must be based on solid empirical and scientific evidence. The primary measure of success should be the reduction of harm to the health, security and welfare of individuals and society.
Drug policies must be based on human rights and public health principles. We should end the stigmatization and marginalization of people who use certain drugs and those involved in the lower levels of cultivation, production and distribution, and treat people dependent on drugs as patients, not criminals.
Several recommendations were made in the report, including:
Break the taboo. Pursue an open debate and promote policies that effectively reduce consumption, and that prevent and reduce harms related to drug use and drug control policies. Increase investment in research and analysis into the impact of different policies and programs.

Replace the criminalization and punishment of people who use drugs with the offer of health and treatment services to those who need them.
Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs (with cannabis, for example) that are designed to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.
Some unintended consequences of criminalization were highlighted as well:

The implementation of the war on drugs has generated widespread negative consequences for societies in producer, transit and consumer countries. These negative consequences were well summarized by the former Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, as falling into five broad categories:
1. The growth of a ‘huge criminal black market’, financed by the risk-escalated profits of supplying international demand for illicit drugs.
2. Extensive policy displacement, the result of using scarce resources to fund a vast law enforcement effort intended to address this criminal market.
3. Geographical displacement, often known as ‘the balloon effect’, whereby drug production shifts location to avoid the attentions of law enforcement.
4. Substance displacement, or the movement of consumers to new substances when their previous drug of choice becomes difficult to obtain, for instance through law enforcement pressure.
5. The perception and treatment of drug users, who are stigmatized, marginalized and excluded.
It was kind of cool to read in the report some conclusions that I had come to independently several years ago. But it had me thinking. When a teenage kid with zero policy background can come to the same conclusions as an expert panel with many years of experience and research at their disposal, something must be wrong. It would be great to see at least some of these changes implemented. Our prison population is one of the largest in the world per capita, with most of them being non-violent drug offenders.

I definitely agree with the reports assessment of treating drug abusers more as patients than criminals. How do we expect to help those with drug abuse problems return to a normal life after being incarcerated in our broken prison system? I'm sure I could write much more about his subject. Perhaps in an update?
Read the actual report here. More information on drug statistics can be found here.

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