Fifty years after signing the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and 40 years after the U.S. government declared a "war on drugs," many obstacles remain despite the partial successes of efforts to counter the problem. The Andean-United States Dialogue Forum, noted with concern how drug policy has monopolized the diplomatic and economic agenda between the Andean countries, contributing to tensions among the governments and impeding cooperation on other crucial priorities, such as safeguarding democratic processes from criminal networks.
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.
If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast. A sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for trying to sell $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer? The punishment is so extreme, so irrational, so wildly disproportionate to the crime that it defies explanation. As of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for such crimes, according to an extensive and astonishing report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Police officers in New York are "manufacturing" criminal offenses by forcing people with small amounts of marijuana to reveal their drugs, according to a survey by public defenders. Nearly half of New Yorkers picked up for small amounts of marijuana possession in recent months were not displaying the drug before they were stopped, the study shows, despite an order by New York police chief Ray Kelly that officers should not charge people in such circumstances.
Some have hailed the Obama administration’s 2012 National Drug Control Strategy as a revolutionary shift toward a public health approach to the nation’s drug problems. Others have panned it as nothing new. There are actually advances to applaud in the new strategy and budget, in terms of both rhetoric and substance. Those positive steps should be acknowledged. But the extent to which the 2012 strategy represents a break from the past should not overstated.