Fifty years after its entering into force, it is time for a critical reflection on the validity of the Single Convention today: a reinterpretation of its historical significance and an assessment of its aims, its strengths and its weaknesses.
What are the benefits and risks of eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana possession for personal use?
What are the risks and benefits of distinguishing international narco-trafficking from small-scale dealing?
The war on drugs has failed. What are the alternatives?
These and other questions will be discussed by the new Global Commission on Drug Policy, to be launched on the 24th and 25th of January, 2011, in Geneva. The Commission will include eminent personalities such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Javier Solana, Ernesto Zedillo, Ruth Dreifuss, Michel Kazatchkine, Cesar Gaviria, Carlos Fuentes and Thorvald Stoltenberg, among others. The Global Commission will be chaired by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, (former president of Brazil).
The war on drugs creates massive costs, resulting from the enforcement-led approach that puts organised crime in control of the trade. It is time to count these costs and explore the alternatives, using the best evidence available, to deliver a safer, healthier and more just world.
When the United Nations adopted the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961, most people did not expect that 50 years later nobody will celebrate the anniversary of global drug prohibition but a group of drug lords. Drug prohibition created a lucrative black market that generates annual revenue of 320 billion dollars for organized crime: who else have a better reason to celebrate?
Police efforts to fight drug gangs tend to lead to more violence and an increase in murders, according to a new international study. The authors, writing in the International Journal of Drug Policy, admit they were surprised by their own findings. Their hypothesis was that the results "would demonstrate an association between increased drug law enforcement expenditures or intensity and reduced levels of violence". But that's not what they showed. Instead, they report: "From an evidence-based public policy perspective and based on several decades of available data, the existing scientific evidence suggests drug law enforcement contributes to gun violence and high homicide rates and that increasingly sophisticated methods of disrupting organisations involved in drug distribution could paradoxically increase violence."
The UK's "outdated" drug laws could be doing more harm than good and are failing to recognise that banning some "legal highs" may have negative consequences for public health, according to the leading independent panel set up to analyse drugs policy. On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act, the UK Drug Policy Commission warns that the exponential rise in "legal highs" and the availability of substances over the internet is making current laws redundant.
"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."
"Sending more people to prison will not reduce drug addiction or improve public health," said Anya Sarang, president of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, an advocacy group for people with HIV which works with injecting drug users (IDUs). "Russian prisons are terrible places full of HIV, tuberculosis and other diseases. Drugs are often even more accessible there than anywhere else." She added: "What we need instead of this harsh drug control rhetoric is greater emphasis on rehabilitation, substitution treatment, case management for drug users and protection from HIV."
Life is especially difficult for the 6 million drug addicts living in Russia because methadone is banned, and they are reluctant to use the few available needle and syringe exchange programmes for fear of being exposed. New drug laws are being drawn up by the Russian Government in its “total war on drugs”. These will go against the evidence-based treatments endorsed by organisations such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNAIDS, and WHO.
New "legal highs" are being discovered at the rate of one a week, outstripping attempts to control their availability and exposing what some experts claim is the "ridiculous and irrational" government policy of prohibition. Given the plethora of new substances, the government's attempts to ban legal highs is not a "feasible" solution.
The Group of Eight major industrialized economies want to stop the cocaine industry dead in its tracks. But experts say they may be focusing too much on smuggling and not enough on drug use. Representatives from the G8 leading industrialized nations met recently in the French capital, accompanied by officials from 14 other European, African and Latin American nations, to sign a draft action plan against the transatlantic cocaine trade.
Tony Newman (Director of Media Relations, Bill Piper (Drug Policy Alliance)
14 June 2011
June 17 will mark forty years since President Richard Nixon, citing drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1," officially declared a "war on drugs." A trillion dollars and millions of ruined lives later, the war on drugs has proven to be a catastrophic failure.
Forty years after President Richard Nixon first declared a war on drugs, the officers who fought in it are calling for a truce. Former law enforcement officials gathered in the District of Columbia on Tuesday to announce their new report. It details the failures of the government's long battle against illegal drugs and denounces the Obama administration's current drug policies. "Since President Nixon declared 'war on drugs' four decades ago, this failed policy has led to millions of arrests, a trillion dollars spent and countless lives lost, yet drugs today are more available than ever," said Norm Stamper, former chief of police in Seattle and a speaker for legalization-advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Anniversaries are always good to catalyize drug policy reform activities – and 2011 is very special anniversary. It is the 50th anniversary of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the first international treaty prohibiting (some) drugs. NGOs launched an international campaign to show the world that the war on drugs creates massive costs, resulting from the enforcement-led approach that puts organised crime in control of the trade.
Santos spelled out the radical ideas which he hopes will create a fresh approach. He said: "A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking… If that means legalising, and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it. I'm not against it." But he is clear that any initiatives need to be part of a co-ordinated international plan of action and he rules out any unilateral action by Colombia. "What I won't do is to become the vanguard of that movement because then I will be crucified."
In a parliamentary debate in the House of Commons, David Cameron said: "I ask the Labour government not to return to retribution and war on drugs. That has been tried and we all know that it does not work." That was in December 2002. And as a member of the home affairs select committee on drug misuse, Cameron supported the following recommendation: "That the government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways – including the possibility of legalisation and regulation – to tackle the global drugs dilemma."
To mark the 50th anniversary of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the Beckley Foundation published a public letter calling for a new approach in drug policy. The global war on drugs has failed, and has had many unintended and devastating consequences worldwide. Signed by a group of 60 major thinkers, Nobel Prize winners and celebrities including Sting, Yoko Ono and seven former presidents, this letter calls on members of the public and of Parliament to recognize that "improving our drug policies is one of the key policy challenges of our time."