The 43-year-old war on drugs had never seen such a barrage of opposition as it did in 2014, with successful marijuana legalization initiatives in several U.S. states, California’s historic approval of sentencing reform for low level drug offenders and world leaders calling for the legal regulation of all drugs — all of which cement the mainstream appeal of drug policy alternatives and offer unprecedented momentum going into 2015.
The upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) in 2016 is an unprecedented opportunity to review and re-direct national drug control policies and the future of the global drug control regime. As diplomats sit down to rethink international and domestic drug policy, they would do well to recall the mandate of the United Nations, not least to ensure security, human rights and development.
For fifty years the World’s attitude to and treatment of the coca leaf and coca farmers has been controlled by the UN Drugs Conventions beginning with the Convention of 1961 which prohibited the production, possession and purchase of the coca leaf as well as cocaine. The assertion of this report is that the illegal status of the coca leaf is based upon a misinterpretation of science, first of all in 1950 with the publication of the misleading study of the Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf; and much later with the blocking of the publication of a report in 1995 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which made abundantly clear that the coca leaf itself has “no negative health effects”.
At the recent Summit of the Americas, Latin America's leaders pressed Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama to study alternatives to the failed war on drugs; even Mr. Harper, architect of mandatory minimums for minor drug offences at home, acknowledged the current approach isn't working. The 31 hemispheric leaders agreed to appoint a panel to study reform of global drug policies. The panel could spare itself the trouble and endorse the groundbreaking report of a blue-ribbon Global Commission on Drug Policy.
Arguing that a drug-free society is unattainable, a commission of global figures – including former Swiss minister Ruth Dreifuss – are promoting a radical change in drugs policy. Two lawyers from Neuchâtel University have recently added their analysis to the case against the war on drugs proposing nothing less than the total legalisation of all illicit drugs.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy says it’s “very weird” that Canada is taking a tougher line on marijuana when governments across the globe are reconsidering the war on drugs. In an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the commission calls on Canada to stop pursuing the “destructive, expensive and ineffective” prohibition of pot. Louise Arbour, a former Supreme Court of Canada judge, former Brazilian president Fernando Cardoso, former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson are among the signatories to the letter that warns Canada is repeating “the same grave mistakes as other countries.”
In June 2011, fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and forty years after former US President Nixon launched the US government's 'War on Drugs', the Global Commission on Drug Policy released an explosive report on the failings of the war on drugs and its devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.
Part of the solution to end drug violence in Mexico should include legalizing drugs like marijuana for personal use, according to former President Vicente Fox. "In order to get out of this trap (of drug violence caused by organized crime), I'm specifically proposing the legalization of the drug," Fox said. He also said the Mexican government should "retire the army from the task of combating criminal gangs."
The report, written by a high-profile panel including former Swiss cabinet minister Ruth Dreifuss, criticises the repressive approach in the US and calls for the legalisation of some drugs and an end to the criminalisation of drug users. Dreifuss recalled the “powerful experience” of Switzerland, “an experience in public health which leads to police and criminal interventions increasingly connected with the policies of social integration and which has given excellent results under very serious scientific supervision, for example the almost total elimination of overdoses and the remarkable drop in petty crime”.
"If you can't control drugs in a maximum security prison, then how can you control drugs in a free society?" Those are my words that close Breaking theTaboo, a poignant new film about the global drug war. Breaking the Taboo is a stark and honest portrayal of the global war on drugs and its failure to resolve the many issues that derive from prohibition. The main character of the film is the former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
It's been forty years since President Nixon declared a "war on drugs." And we're not winning. In local communities, Black and Latino men are being singled out unfairly and fed into the prison system for minor drug offenses; in Mexico, an unspeakably brutal drug war continues with no signs of cessation; sick people continue to be denied legal access to medical marijuana that could ease their pain. But there are signs that things are changing.
"The war on drugs has failed," said a recent report compiled by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which comprised a former UN secretary-general, former presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, a former US Secretary of State and a host of public intellectuals, human rights activists and politicians.
In an extraordinary new initiative announced earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy has made some courageous and profoundly important recommendations in a report on how to bring more effective control over the illicit drug trade. They probably won’t turn to the United States for advice. Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations.
We believe that drug addiction is harmful to individuals, impairs health and has adverse societal effects. So we want an effective program to deal with this problem. The question is: What is the best way to go about it? For 40 years now, our nation's approach has been to criminalize the entire process of producing, transporting, selling and using drugs, with the exception of tobacco and alcohol. Our judgment, shared by other members of the commission, is that this approach has not worked, just as our national experiment with the prohibition of alcohol failed. Drugs are still readily available, and crime rates remain high. But drug use in the U.S. is no lower than, and sometimes surpasses, drug use in countries with very different approaches to the problem.
TNI has been closely involved with the Global Commission on Drug Policy which presented its report in New York on June 2. Some years ago we published a report, entitled Cracks in the Vienna Consensus in which we argued that cracks were appearing in the supposedly universal model under the UN treaty system. In reality, the global system is based on a highly fragile consensus of Vienna, where the UN drug control system is headquartered, and the painstaking negotiations every year to keep up the appearance of unity have become the symbol of paralysis and frustration.
"I've seen the war on drugs and I've not been impressed," says Richard Branson. "Thousands of people are being killed in Mexico because of the demand for drugs in America. Whole sections of society are becoming lawless, and most of it is over marijuana." He says it's "incredible" how little the debate has moved on since the 1960s. "It has just got worse and worse and worse."