Kofi Annan Secretary General of the United Nations, Fernando Henrique Cardoso
05 November 2013
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world die from preventable drug-related disease and violence. Millions of users are arrested and thrown in jail. Globally, communities are blighted by drug-related crime. Citizens see huge amounts of their taxes spent on harsh policies that are not working. But despite this clear evidence of failure, there is a damaging reluctance worldwide to consider a fresh approach. The Global Commission on Drug Policy is determined to help break this century-old taboo. See IDPC Press Release.
The UK's drug laws are preventing scientists from carrying out vital research to unlock our understanding of the brain and find new treatments for conditions such as depression and Parkinson's disease, according to Professor David Nutt, a leading neuroscientist and former government drug adviser. "Things are actually getting worse," said Nutt, referring to the restrictions placed on research.
The global “war on drugs” has been such a failure that illegal substances are now cheaper and purer than at any period over the past two decades, warns a new report by the Vancouver-based International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. Data from seven international government-funded drug surveillance systems show that drug use should be considered a public health rather than a criminal justice issue.
For four decades, libertarians, civil rights activists and drug treatment experts have stood outside of the political mainstream in arguing that the war on drugs was sending too many people to prison, wasting too much money, wrenching apart too many families -- and all for little or no public benefit. They were always in the minority. But a sign of a new reality emerged: for the first time in four decades of polling, the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
"Since declaring a war on drugs 40 years ago, the United States has spent more than a trillion dollars, arrested more than 45 million people, and racked up the highest incarceration rate in the world. Yet it remains laughably easy to obtain illegal drugs. So why do we continue down this same path? Why do we talk about the drug war as if it's a success? It's a charade." (See: The house I live in)
German officials take a decidedly cool stance toward drug policy reform. No top politician with a major German party is about to call for a new drug policy or even the legalization of marijuana. Drugs are not a winning issue, because it's too easy to get burned. Germany lacks the political pressure to change. There were 986 drug-related deaths in Germany in 2011, the smallest number since 1988. Drug use is declining in all age groups. So why change anything?
A pro-marijuana group lost its legal battle when a federal appellate court ruled that marijuana would remain a Schedule I drug, defined as having no accepted medical value and a high potential for abuse. For years, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute for Drug Abuse have made it all but impossible to develop a robust body of research on the medical uses of marijuana. For a muscular agency that combats vicious drug criminals, the DEA acts like a terrified and obstinate toddler when it comes to basic science.
Although illicit drug use has been declining in the UK, long-term problem drug use and drug-related deaths are not decreasing, says the British Medical Association. Its Board of Science says evidence shows the current prohibitive approach to drug use is not working. It says doctors should inform drugs policy to put patients' needs first.
Yet another parliamentary group has pronounced in favour of drugs decriminalisation. It still won’t happen. What is baffling is the intransigence of British politicians on the subject. Plenty are individually reasonable. Some three-quarters of MPs agree individually. They read the surveys, reports and opinion polls — all unanswerable. Yet the mere mention of the subject sends most politicians screaming down the road with bags over their heads.