Jamaica's current volatile security environment and its economic malaise are reasons enough to seriously consider joining their Latin American counterparts to debate a raft of new policy options, not only in rhetoric, but also through public policy. Our prison conditions and local magistrate courts are bursting at their seams from inmate overcrowding and case overloads for marijuana possession that amount to miniscule consumption levels.
The consequence of associating the 'war on drugs' with the 'war on terrorism' is that the failure of the former could end with the failure of the latter. The predominant military approach to 'narcoterrorism' fails to recognise the complex factors underlying both the drug problem and the violence; it assumes that the drug problem can be solved by force and that the armed conflict can be resolved by intensifying the conflict - that is, more war on war; and it has facilitated the consolidation of conventional drug-trafficking structures.
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.
The fourth item on the agenda of talks “to end the conflict,” on the issue of drugs, seems to reflect rather a flat and simplistic view of the classic circuit of drug production, processing, trafficking and use. The relationship between drugs and armed conflict in Colombia is in fact much more complex. This report analyses the challenges that drug trafficking poses to the development of a sustainable peace.
At the Summit of the Americas, Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed doubt about the war on drugs. “I think what everybody believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.” It’s admirable for a politician to admit uncertainty. And rare. Especially for a politician who has never expressed anything less than unshakable conviction in the Reaganite nostrums of drug prohibition. But Harper had good reason to be a little shaken.
The most important story of the Summit of the Americas was the Latin American demand to open the debate on an alternative to the ‘war on drugs’. The emergence of an increasingly independent and assertive Latin America insisting on a change of direction on drugs reflects an important shift in the terms of the relationship with the United States. Clamor for “democratization” of the debate and a search for new alternatives stems from the perception that Latin American societies pay a disproportionate price in lost lives, hijacked justice systems, abuses in overcrowded prisons, and displaced small farmers, because of the U.S.-led strategy that has prioritized stemming the supply of drugs over reducing its own demand.
Speaking at a meeting of the hemisphere's security ministers in Medellin, United States Attorney General Eric Holder touted the Obama administration's efforts to curb mandatory minimum sentences. He also backed a more heterodox approach to citizen security, a sign of a subtle shift in the U.S.-backed 'War on Drugs' in the region. Holder delivered his address at the Fourth Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas (MISPA IV), a biannual OAS-sponsored conference designed to promote policy coordination on the issue. (See also: Open letter to Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas)
A radically different approach to the current War on Drugs must be developed and integrated into the Peace Plan for Colombia otherwise the drug circuit and armed conflict will continue to undermine the prospect of realizing the goals of the Peace Process ultimately bringing to an end the war in Colombia.
Harm-reduction as a policy goal implies targeting directly drug-related harms rather than drug use itself. So far it has been largely a public health sector movement, focused on harms to users, most notably from heroin overdose, injection drug use and club drugs. Harm-reduction has offered fewer solutions to the problems of drug-related crime, violence, corruption or market externalities. However, harm-reduction has potentially much broader application when applied to the entire suite of harms generated by the production, distribution, consumption and control of drugs, not just drug use.