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Jun 2, 2011

The failure of the war on drugs - high level commission's report

The Global Commission on Drug Policy was founded to build on the successful experience of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy convened by former presidents Cardoso of

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The Global Commission on Drug Policy was founded to build on the successful experience of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy convened by former presidents Cardoso of Brazil, Gaviria of Colombia and Zedillo of Mexico. Persuaded that the association between drug trade, violence and corruption was a threat to democracy in Latin America, the Commission reviewed the current ‘war on drugs’ policies and opened a public debate about an issue that tends to be surrounded by fear and misinformation.

Its goals are to:

» review the basic assumption, effectiveness and consequences of the ‘war on drugs’ approach
» evaluate the risks and benefits of different national responses to the drug problem
» develop actionable, evidence-based recommendations for constructive legal and drug policy reform

The members of the Commission, which has just released its report are:

» Asma Jahangir
– human rights activist, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Pakistan

» Carlos Fuentes
– writer and public intellectual, Mexico

» César Gaviria
– former President of Colômbia

» Ernesto Zedillo
– former President of México

» Fernando Henrique Cardoso
– former President of Brazil (chair)

» George Papandreou
– Prime Minister of Greece

» George Shultz
– former Secretary of State, United States (honorary chair)

» Javier Solana
– former European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Spain

» John Whitehead
– banker and civil servant, chair of the World Trade Center Memorial, United States

» Kofi Annan
– former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ghana

» Louise Arbour
– former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, president of the International Crisis Group, Canada

» Maria Cattaui
– Member of the Board, Petroplus Holdings; former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland

» Marion Caspers-Merk
– former State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health, Germany

» Mario Vargas Llosa
– writer and public intellectual, Peru

» Michel Kazatchkine
– executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, France

» Paul Volcker
– former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board, US

» Richard Branson
– entrepreneur, advocate for social causes, founder of the Virgin Group, cofounder of The Elders, United Kingdom

» Ruth Dreifuss
– former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs

» Thorvald Stoltenberg
– former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway

The Executive Summary of the group’s report says:

The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.

Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use. Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction.

Our principles and recommendations can be summarized as follows:

End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.

Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation that can accomplish these objectives and provide models for others.

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.

Apply much the same principles and policies stated above to people involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets, such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers. Many are themselves victims of violence and intimidation or are drug dependent. Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations. There appears to be almost no limit to the number of people willing to engage in such activities to better their lives, provide for their families, or otherwise escape poverty. Drug control resources are better directed elsewhere.

Invest in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems. Eschew simplistic ‘just say no’ messages and ‘zero tolerance’ policies in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences. The most successful prevention efforts may be those targeted at specific at-risk groups.

Focus repressive actions on violent criminal organizations, but do so in ways that undermine their power and reach while prioritizing the reduction of violence and intimidation. Law enforcement efforts should focus not on reducing drug markets per se but rather on reducing their harms to individuals, communities and national security.

Begin the transformation of the global drug 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.

Break the taboo on debate and reform.

The time for action is now.

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