The war on drugs is edging towards a truce. Half of Americans want to lift the ban on cannabis. America’s change of heart has led many to wonder if the UN conventions might be reformed to legalise some drugs and treat the use of others as a problem requiring health measures, not criminal or military ones. But as America has drawn back from prohibition, new drug warriors are stepping up to defend it. Russia is foremost among them. “The Russians have taken over the hard-line role that the US used to play,” says Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute.
The horrific forced disappearance of 43 students in Iguala reveals how organised crime and corruption thrive in conditions of institutional or democratic weakness, shaped to a large extent by distinctive transnational relations (importantly, in this case, with the US). Fortunately groups like the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity are showing a burgeoning 'social power' that has the potential to change politics and policy in Mexico.
"Your politician is showing all the symptoms of 'Drug Policy Abuse,'" reads the CDPC website. "They refuse to engage in an open and honest discussion of drug use, and instead rehash outdated, fear-based policies, dismissing research that supports new and innovative approaches." The site goes on to gravely implore readers, "It’s time you had 'the talk.'"
If moral entrepreneurs and interest groups manage to whip up enough fear and anxiety, they can create a full-blown moral panic, the widespread sense that the moral condition of society is deteriorating at a rapid pace, which can be conveniently used to distract from underlying, status quo-threatening social problems and exert social control over the working class or other rebellious sectors of society.
As the call for the decriminalisation of drugs steadily picks up steam worldwide, a new study by the London-based charity Health Poverty Action concludes there has been no significant reduction in the global use of illicit drugs since the creation of three key U.N. anti-drug conventions, the first of which came into force over half a century ago. “Illicit drugs are now purer, cheaper, and more widely used than ever,” says the report, titled Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is Harming the World’s Poorest.
Russia's Federal Drug Control Service's proposal to revive Soviet-era work camps in order to treat drug addicts was met with skepticism by leading health researchers and activists, who said that the state's insistence in linking addiction with criminality perpetuates inefficient drug control practices. Viktor Ivanov, head of the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), said that 400,000 "ordinary" drug addicts serving prison terms had cost the justice and penitentiary systems more than 500 billion rubles ($10 million) during the last five years.
In their op-ed article against cannabis legalization, former drug czar William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn yearn for a time when fear-mongering, not facts, drove the marijuana policy debate in America.
In the West few politicians have been ready to admit the drug war’s failure—even as they quietly moderate their policy. They need to be honest with their own voters about the misery it has caused. Only then can they make a good case to the rest of the world that drug addicts need treatment, not prison, and that supply should be managed, not suppressed. A UN meeting next year to take a fresh look at the international conventions that shape national drug laws would be an excellent place to start. The first drug war caused devastation enough. For history to repeat itself would be a tragedy.