The global war on drugs has failed

It is time for a new approach
21 November 2011
Article

To mark the 50th anniversary of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the Beckley Foundation published a public letter calling for a new approach in drug policy. The global war on drugs has failed, and has had many unintended and devastating consequences worldwide. Signed by a group of 60 major thinkers, Nobel Prize winners and celebrities including Sting, Yoko Ono and seven former presidents, this letter calls on members of the public and of Parliament to recognize that "improving our drug policies is one of the key policy challenges of our time."

We the undersigned call on members of the public and of Parliament to recognise that:

Fifty years after the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was launched, the global war on drugs has failed, and has had many unintended and devastating consequences worldwide.

Use of the major controlled drugs has risen, and supply is cheaper, purer and more available than ever before. The UN conservatively estimates that there are now 250 million drug users worldwide.

Illicit drugs are now the third most valuable industry in the world, after food and oil, estimated to be worth $450 billion a year, all in the control of criminals.

Fighting the war on drugs costs the world’s taxpayers incalculable billions each year.  Millions of people are in prison worldwide for drug-related offences, mostly “little fish” – personal users and small-time dealers.

Corruption amongst law-enforcers and politicians, especially in producer and transit countries, has spread as never before, endangering democracy and civil society.

Stability, security and development are threatened by the fallout from the war on drugs, as are human rights. Tens of thousands of people die in the drug war each year.

The drug-free world so confidently predicted by supporters of the war on drugs is further than ever from attainment. The policies of prohibition create more harms than they prevent. We must seriously consider shifting resources away from criminalising tens of millions of otherwise law abiding citizens, and move towards an approach based on health, harm-reduction, cost-effectiveness and respect for human rights. Evidence consistently shows that these health-based approaches deliver better results than criminalisation.

Improving our drug policies is one of the key policy challenges of our time.

It is time for world leaders to fundamentally review their strategies in response to the drug phenomenon. That is what the Global Commission on Drug Policy, led by four former Presidents, by Kofi Annan and by other world leaders, has bravely done with its ground-breaking Report, first presented in New York in June, and now at the House of Lords on 17 November.

At the root of current policies lies the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.  It is time to re-examine this treaty.  A document entitled ‘Rewriting the UN Drug Conventions’ has recently been commissioned in order to show how amendments to the conventions could be made which would allow individual countries the freedom to explore drug policies that best suit their domestic needs, rather than seeking to impose the current “one-size-fits-all” solution.

As we cannot eradicate the production, demand or use of drugs, we must find new ways to minimise harms. We should give support to our Governments to explore new policies based on scientific evidence.

Yours faithfully,

Signatories to Public Letter

President Jimmy Carter
Former President of the United States, Nobel Prize winner

President Fernando H. Cardoso
Former President of Brazil

President César Gaviria
Former President of Colombia

President Vicente Fox
Former President of Mexico

President Ruth Dreifuss
Former President of Switzerland

President Lech Wałęsa
Former President of Poland, Nobel Prize winner.

President Aleksander Kwaśniewski
Former President of Poland

George P. Schultz
Former US Secretary of State

Jaswant Singh
Former Minister of Defence, of Finance, and for External Affairs, India

Professor Lord Piot
Former UN Under Secretary-General

Louise Arbour, CC, GOQ

Former UN High-Commissioner for Human Rights

Carel Edwards
Former Head of the EU Commission’s Drug Policy Unit

Javier Solana, KOGF, KCMG
Former EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy

Thorvald Stoltenberg
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs (Norway) and UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Gary Johnson
Republican US Presidential Candidate

Professor Sir Harold Kroto
Chemist, Nobel Prize winner

Dr. Kary Mullis
Chemist, Nobel Prize winner

Professor John Polanyi
Chemist, Nobel Prize winner

Professor Kenneth Arrow
Economist, Nobel Prize winner

Professor Thomas C. Schelling
Economist, Nobel Prize winner

Professor Sir Peter Mansfield
Economist, Nobel Prize winner

Professor Sir Anthony Leggett
Physicist, Nobel Prize winner

Professor Martin L. Perl
Physicist, Nobel Prize winner

Mario Vargas Llosa
Writer, Nobel Prize winner

Wisława Szymborska
Poet, Nobel Prize winner

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore
Former President of the Royal College of Physicians

Professor Robert Lechler
Dean of School of Medicine, KCL

Professor A. C. Grayling
Master of the New College of the Humanities

Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta
Professor of Economics at Cambridge

Asma Jahangir
Former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Execution

Dr. Muhammed Abdul Bari, MBE
Former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain

Professor Noam Chomsky
Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT

Carlos Fuentes
Novelist and essayist

Sir Richard Branson
Entrepreneur and Founder of the Virgin Group

John Whitehead
Chair of the WTC Memorial Foundation

Maria Cattaui
Former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce

Nicholas Green, QC
Former Chairman of the Bar Council

Professor David Nutt
Former Chair of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs

Professor Trevor Robbins
Professor of Neuroscience at Cambridge

Professor Niall Ferguson
Professor of History at Harvard University

Professor Peter Singer
Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University

Professor Jonathan Wolff
Professor of Philosophy at UCL

Professor Robin Room
School of Population Health, University of Melbourne

Sir Peregrine Worsthorne
Former Editor of The Sunday Telegraph

Dr. Jan Wiarda
Former President of European Police Chiefs

Sting
Musician and actor

Yoko Ono
Musician and artist

Sean Parker
Founding President of Facebook, Director of Spotify

Bernardo Bertolucci
Film Director

Gilberto Gil
Musician, former Minister of Culture, Brazil

John Perry Barlow

Co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Tom Lloyd
Former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire

Bob Ainsworth, MP
Former UK Secretary of State for Defence

Peter Lilley, MP
Former Secretary of State for Social Security

Tom Brake, MP

Dr. Julian Huppert, MP

Caroline Lucas, MP

Paul Flynn, MP

Dr. Patrick Aeberhard
Former President of Doctors of the World

Lord Mancroft
Chair of the Drug and Alcohol Foundation

General Lord Ramsbotham
Former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Lord Rees, OM
Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society

Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss
Director of the Beckley Foundation

Monday, November 21, 2011