In June 2011, fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and forty years after former US President Nixon launched the US government's 'War on Drugs', the Global Commission on Drug Policy released an explosive report on the failings of the war on drugs and its devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.
Part of the solution to end drug violence in Mexico should include legalizing drugs like marijuana for personal use, according to former President Vicente Fox. "In order to get out of this trap (of drug violence caused by organized crime), I'm specifically proposing the legalization of the drug," Fox said. He also said the Mexican government should "retire the army from the task of combating criminal gangs."
The report, written by a high-profile panel including former Swiss cabinet minister Ruth Dreifuss, criticises the repressive approach in the US and calls for the legalisation of some drugs and an end to the criminalisation of drug users. Dreifuss recalled the “powerful experience” of Switzerland, “an experience in public health which leads to police and criminal interventions increasingly connected with the policies of social integration and which has given excellent results under very serious scientific supervision, for example the almost total elimination of overdoses and the remarkable drop in petty crime”.
Since time immemorial, Mexicans have argued that were it not for U.S. demand for illicit substances, Mexico would have a manageable drug problem. More recently, we have also contended that absent the U.S.'s laxity on arms sales and its tolerance for the possession of extraordinarily dangerous weapons, the violence in our country would not be what it has become. Lately our leaders have added a new gripe: Americans are hypocrites because they support prohibitionist and costly drug-enforcement policies — yet, through the specious fallacy of medical marijuana, are legalizing drugs without saying so.
"If you can't control drugs in a maximum security prison, then how can you control drugs in a free society?" Those are my words that close Breaking theTaboo, a poignant new film about the global drug war. Breaking the Taboo is a stark and honest portrayal of the global war on drugs and its failure to resolve the many issues that derive from prohibition. The main character of the film is the former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
It's been forty years since President Nixon declared a "war on drugs." And we're not winning. In local communities, Black and Latino men are being singled out unfairly and fed into the prison system for minor drug offenses; in Mexico, an unspeakably brutal drug war continues with no signs of cessation; sick people continue to be denied legal access to medical marijuana that could ease their pain. But there are signs that things are changing.
"The war on drugs has failed," said a recent report compiled by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which comprised a former UN secretary-general, former presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, a former US Secretary of State and a host of public intellectuals, human rights activists and politicians.
I recently returned from the desert city of Durango, Mexico, where forensic officials are still trying to identify some 240 corpses discovered this year in mass graves. More than 200 other bodies have been found in similar fosas across northern Mexico. All were victims, many of them innocent victims, of the drug-trafficking violence whose barbarity seems bottomless. But it's fueled in large part by the just as endless American appetite for illegal drugs – which itself is due in no small part to the fact that our anti-drug policies are so narrow-mindedly focused on battling supply instead of reducing demand.
In an extraordinary new initiative announced earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy has made some courageous and profoundly important recommendations in a report on how to bring more effective control over the illicit drug trade. They probably won’t turn to the United States for advice. Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations.
We believe that drug addiction is harmful to individuals, impairs health and has adverse societal effects. So we want an effective program to deal with this problem. The question is: What is the best way to go about it? For 40 years now, our nation's approach has been to criminalize the entire process of producing, transporting, selling and using drugs, with the exception of tobacco and alcohol. Our judgment, shared by other members of the commission, is that this approach has not worked, just as our national experiment with the prohibition of alcohol failed. Drugs are still readily available, and crime rates remain high. But drug use in the U.S. is no lower than, and sometimes surpasses, drug use in countries with very different approaches to the problem.
TNI has been closely involved with the Global Commission on Drug Policy which presented its report in New York on June 2. Some years ago we published a report, entitled Cracks in the Vienna Consensus in which we argued that cracks were appearing in the supposedly universal model under the UN treaty system. In reality, the global system is based on a highly fragile consensus of Vienna, where the UN drug control system is headquartered, and the painstaking negotiations every year to keep up the appearance of unity have become the symbol of paralysis and frustration.
Tomorrow marks the 79th anniversary of the beginning of the end of the U.S. prohibition on alcohol. On that day in 1932 John D. Rockefeller Jr., a vociferous advocate of temperance, called for the repeal of the 18th amendment in a letter published in the New York Times. Rockefeller had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying for the constitutional prohibition on alcohol. But his letter did more than admit the error of his investment. Because of his moral authority on the matter, it effectively ended the conservative taboo against admitting that the whole experiment had failed.
The tone of debate in Britain serves only to highlight the immaturity of our public discourse, with too many politicians lost in the fog of this foolhardy war. So here is a suggestion for our three main party leaders, who are all young enough to know better: why not hoist the white flag and work out a unified way to end a struggle that does so much more harm than good? The alternative is to carry on fighting like generals in the First World War, ignoring the deaths, the devastation and the wastelands created around the world in a battle than can never be won.
"I've seen the war on drugs and I've not been impressed," says Richard Branson. "Thousands of people are being killed in Mexico because of the demand for drugs in America. Whole sections of society are becoming lawless, and most of it is over marijuana." He says it's "incredible" how little the debate has moved on since the 1960s. "It has just got worse and worse and worse."
Forty years after United States President Richard Nixon launched his War on Drugs, a conflict that far eclipses the War on Terror, the struggle to contain, let alone end, illicit drug abuse is far from over, spewing violence, corruption and addiction into new markets, brutal capitalism at its most malignant. But, finally, there is a glimmer of hope. The Global Commission on Drug Reform, formed in January, declared the War on Drugs a resounding failure, and suggested radical measures must be taken if the global narco culture was to ever be defeated. "Fundamental reforms in national and global control policies are urgently needed," said Brazil's ex-president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who heads the commission.
The most striking name on the list is that of Kofi Annan. As secretary general of the United Nations in 1998, Kofi Annan presided over a special United Nations assembly on illicit drugs, which brought together leaders from all over the world. Shortly before that historic event, a letter of protest was delivered to the UN chief.
Global commissions made up of eminent former policymakers can normally be counted upon to tell international leaders what they want to hear. But the Global Commission on Drug Policy – which has called on the services of distinguished names such Paul Volcker, Kofi Annan, Mario Vargas Llosa, Javier Solana and half a dozen former national politicians – has done something very different. Instead of telling world leaders what they want to hear, the commission has, instead, told them the truth.
Narcotics liberalisation was once the cause of freethinkers and hippies. Now a more sober bunch is criticising the “war on drugs”. On June 2nd the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group including ex-presidents of Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Switzerland; the prime minister of Greece; a former secretary-general of the United Nations; and, from America, an ex-secretary of state and ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve, called for the decriminalisation of all drug taking, and for experiments in the legal regulation of the sale of drugs, starting with cannabis.
Dame Judi Dench, Sir Richard Branson, and Sting have joined an ex-drugs minister and three former chief constables in calling for the decriminalisation of the possession of all drugs. The high-profile celebrities together with leading lawyers, academics, artists and politicians have signed an open letter to David Cameron to mark this week's 40th anniversary of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. The letter, published in a full-page advertisement in The Guardian, calls for a "swift and transparent" review of the effectiveness of current drugs policies.