Thursday, June 9, 2011

Is it time to call a cease fire in the war on drugs?

According to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the worldwide war on drugs has been an abject failure. As nations have strengthened drug laws and ratcheted up the penalties for possession and manufacture, use of marijuana, cocaine and opiates has increased.

The reality is that drug addiction is a medical issue, not a penal issue. So long as governments treat users and addicts as criminals, the problem will never fade into oblivion. The US approach to drugs is the equivalent of trying to blast a mosquito with a shotgun.

"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. 
Instead of punishing users who the report says "do no harm to others," the commission argues that governments should end criminalisation of drug use, experiment with legal models that would undermine organised crime syndicates and offer health and treatment services for drug-users.

All you have to do is look to our south to see that what we're doing now isn't working. Mexico has become a no-man's land with drug kingpins fighting to maintain their share of the market in the face of military attacks.

Harris County is having to ship pretrial detainees to outlying counties because the jail is packed to the gills with nonviolent drug offenders who need treatment, not prosecution.

We have drug courts that conspire to deprive defendants of their constitutional protections in the name of "team work." I'm sorry, but an adversarial system that doles out punishment is not the proper vehicle for treating addiction.

The report of the Global Commission calls for governments to stop treating drug use as a criminal issue and to being looking at it from a public health standpoint.
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 detention, forced labor, and physical or psychological abuse – that contravene human rights standards and norms or that remove the right to self-determination...
Begin the transformation of the globaldrug 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.
 Sure, there's a political agenda here -- but the idea is sound. The notion of treating the disease rather than the symptom is one that not too many legislators appreciate. It doesn't lend itself to soundbites. It doesn't lend itself to campaign slogans. It's probably not the message that's going to get you re-elected.

The Committee calls on nations to adopt the following principles when dealing with drug addiction:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. The development and implementation of drug policies should be a global shared responsibility, but also needs to take into consideration diverse political, social and cultural realities. Policies should respect the rights and needs of people affected by production, trafficking and consumption, as explicitly acknowledged in the 1988 Convention on Drug Trafficking.
4. Drug policies must be pursued in a comprehensive manner, involving families, schools, public health specialists, development practitioners and civil society leaders, in partnership with law enforcement agencies and other relevant governmental bodies.

Or we can continue down the same flawed path we've been travelling for decades.

Maybe we should just adopt Kissinger's Vietnam exit strategy. Claim victory and get the hell out of Dodge.

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