If there is a "war on drugs", this is it. Mexico is undergoing worse violence than has been seen in Latin America in decades. President Felipe Calderon's decision to take the fight to the narcos has been returned with drug gang brutality on a massive scale. If any good is to come out of the tragedy afflicting Mexico, it is that the misguided global approach to drug regulation will be challenged and may, eventually, be changed.
Some anniversaries provide an occasion for celebration, others a time for reflection, still others a time for action. This June will mark forty years since President Nixon declared a "war on drugs," identifying drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1." As far as I know, no celebrations are planned. What's needed, indeed essential, are reflection -- and action.
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.
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."
"Exactly 80 years ago (in 1932), Colorado voters approved a ballot measure to appeal alcohol prohibition, and that came before it being repealed by the federal government," said Mason Tvert, co-director of the Yes on 64 campaign in Colorado. "And it was the individual states taking that type of action that ultimately resulted in the federal repeal (of Prohibition in 1933)." As happened with alcohol, so it is beginning to happen with marijuana. No matter what the outcome of the votes, the bugler is sounding retreat.
Last week was a momentous week, the beginning of the end, perhaps, of a national depravity – the "war on drugs". The voters of Colorado and Washington passed measures to legalise marijuana, amounting to local shifts, for the moment. So we shouldn't delude ourselves that the country will be transformed overnight, but the public thinking, the public spirit is being transformed. Finally, there is a growing realisation that this "war" has produced nothing but a legacy of failure. And who wants to be associated with failure?
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?
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.
The Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA), one of the largest anti-legalization organizations in the US has a curious sponsor: Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxy-Contin, the highly addictive painkiller that has been linked to thousands of overdose deaths nationwide. A familiar confederation of anti-pot interests have a financial stake in the status quo, including law enforcement agencies, pharmaceutical firms, and nonprofits funded by federal drug-prevention grants.
When the poster child for marijuana legalization is released from a U.S. prison later this week, he'll be re-entering a world where many of his ideas have taken root and in some places have sprouted right up. Marc Emery, Canada’s self-styled “Prince of Pot,” concludes a five-year sentence and will emerge into a lucrative marijuana landscape, where two U.S. states are now issuing recreational pot licences, medical growers are reaping profits and investors aren’t hedging on potential opportunities.
It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol. The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana. (See also: Why the New York Times editorial series calling for marijuana legalization is such a big deal and Evolving on Marijuana)
Another summer festival season, another slate of tragic overdoses and a few overwrought reactions about the need to ban electronic music parties. “Party drugs” in general have been blamed for the deaths of two at a Toronto music festival and another young person at a B.C. festival. Another six were treated at a Calgary festival for overdoses, though all got help in time. Advocates argue that MDMA, when taken safely and in the right amounts by healthy adults, can be relatively innocuous. It’s time to talk about MDMA’s history, its Canadian connection, and that it might also be time to talk about harm reduction.
As Americans continue to embrace pot—as medicine and for recreational use—opponents are turning to a set of academic researchers to claim that policymakers should avoid relaxing restrictions around marijuana. It's too dangerous, risky, and untested, they say. Just as drug company-funded research has become incredibly controversial in recent years, forcing major medical schools and journals to institute strict disclosure requirements, could there be a conflict of interest issue in the pot debate? (See also: The real reason pot is still illegal)