Evan Wood, Moira McKinnon, Robert Strang, Perry R. Kendall
28 March 2012
The use of illegal drugs remains a serious threat to community health. However, despite the substantial social costs attributable to illegal drugs, a well-described discordance between scientific evidence and policy exists in this area, such that most resources go to drug law enforcement activities that have not been well evaluated. When the Office of the Auditor General of Canada last reviewed the country’s drug strategy, in 2001, it estimated that of the $454 million spent annually on efforts to control illicit drugs, $426 million (93.8%) was devoted to law enforcement.
On February 12, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Fini-Giovanardi law setting out penalties related to the sale and possession of illegal drugs, was improperly approved, and abrogated the law. Since then, Italy has returned to previous regulations that imposed lighter sanctions on cannabis users. Prisoners' rights organisations argued that harsh drug laws have created a booming prison population in a system that is already overcrowded. Since January 2013, Italy's prisons have been under the scrutiny of the European Court of Human Rights.
A high-profile group of current and former U.S. law enforcement officials has written to the Conservative government with a surprising message: Take it from us, the war on drugs has been a “costly failure.” The officials are urging Canada to reconsider mandatory minimum sentences for “minor” marijuana offences under its “tough-on-crime bill” and say a better approach would be to legalize marijuana under a policy of taxation and regulation.
Whose website laments that in the United States today we have “more than one million nonviolent offenders fill[ing] the nation’s prisons,” and sings the praises of “community supervision alternatives such as probation and parole, which cost less and could have better reduced recidivism among non-violent offenders”? Guess before you click.
As Obama embarks on the third year of his second term, here are some of the ways in which Obama has begun to deliver on his promises of a more rational, less punitive approach to psychoactive substances. Obama's most significant drug policy accomplishment may be letting states go their own way on marijuana legalization. Even if our next president is a Republican drug warrior, he will have a hard time reversing that decision, especially given the GOP’s lip service to federalism.
One of the more surprising results of last week's election was the decision by voters in Colorado and Washington state to legalize marijuana for adult use. The success of both these ballot initiatives has been welcomed by many as a signal that we are about to enter a more enlightened phase in the "war on drugs", which has criminalized drug addicts and recreational drug users, as well as drug dealers. In reality, however, there is little reason to believe that any fundamental change in government policy is in the works.
A new decree that overhauls Italy's drugs laws paves the way for releasing "thousands of convicted smalltime drug dealers from prison". The move follows parliamentary approval of a decree earlier this month that overhauls Italy's drugs laws and reclassifies marijuana as a soft rather than a hard narcotic. The new law also effectively removes jail time as a sentence for smalltime dealers, offering community service and other options in its place. (See also: Council of Europe lauds Italian moves on prison overcrowding)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) plans to stay on the sidelines of future pot legalization campaigns – already supported by groups plotting ballot campaigns in 2016 – and pour resources into fights for criminal justice reform. One model to replicate is California's Proposition 47, approved by 58 percent to lower penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes. "We would love to be able to have ballot initiatives in a number of states that may look very similar to Proposition 47," says ACLU's Alison Holcomb . "Hopefully we will be able to find states where we can go further and say, ‘Let’s decriminalize the possession of drugs and let’s talk about what we can do to address drug use and abuse.’"