A French man suffering from a muscular disease since childhood had his request to be given the right to use cannabis for medicinal reasons rejected by a French court. To make matters worse he was fined €300 for possession. “I’ve been condemned – my disease is incurable, and only cannabis can give me any relief,” Dominique Loumachi told French TV TF1, before the verdict.
Criminalisation of drug users, excessive levels of imprisonment, and punitive sentencing practices, including mandatory sentencing, the death penalty and enforced ‘drug detention centres’, are some of the unintended negative consequences of the 50 year ‘war on drugs’, a policy with direct impact on the vulnerable, poor and socially excluded groups, including ethnic minorities and women. This PRI briefing paper discusses these consequences in detail and sets out what parliamentarians can do about it.
Law enforcement strategies have utterly failed to even maintain street prices of the key illicit substances. This figure shows that street drug prices fell by roughly a factor of five between in 1980 and 2008. Meanwhile the number of drug offenders locked up in our jails and prisons went from fewer than 42,000 in 1980 to a peak of 562,000 in 2007. We have remarkably little evidence that the billions of dollars spent on supply-side interdiction have much impact.
Germany's law-enforcement and legal apparatus devotes enormous resources to fighting illegal narcotics. But users are always a step ahead, and lawmakers seem uninterested in exploring alternatives to a broken system. The country spends an estimated €3.7 to €4.6 billion a year on the fight against drugs, an effort that involves law-enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges. What unites them all is the common goal of achieving a drug-free country. But is that goal even attainable anymore?
The mandatory-sentencing craze that drove up the prison population tenfold, pushing state corrections costs to bankrupting levels, was rooted in New York’s infamous Rockefeller drug laws. These laws, which mandated lengthy sentences for nonviolent, first-time offenders, were approved 40 years ago next month. They did little to curtail drug use in New York or in other states that mimicked them, while they filled prisons to bursting with nonviolent addicts.
Appearing at a Senate Banking Committee hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) grilled officials from the Treasury Department over why criminal charges were not filed against officials at HSBC who helped launder hundreds of millions of dollars for drug cartels. “HSBC paid a fine, but no one individual went to trial, no individual was banned from banking, and there was no hearing to consider shutting down HSBC’s activities here in the United States,” Warren said.
Over the past several decades, Latin America has seen penalties for drug crimes—even low-level selling—skyrocket. And in many Latin American countries, non-violent drug offenses receive significantly longer sentences than many violent crimes, such as homicide and rape. A new study of criminal legislation explores this phenomenon in seven Latin American countries (Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, and Argentina).