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Breaking The Taboo Over The Failed War On Drugs

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, headed by certain former heads of state of Latin America, is lobbying for a fundamental shift in drug policy…

Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill on Tuesday, May 28, 2013, that may mark the beginning of the end of the policing of consciousness that has been waged under the failed ‘War on Drugs.’

It was about time.

To understand the importance of what happened in the Centennial State on Tuesday and put things in perspective, let’s overview a recent documentary on the war on drugs.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this documentary (Breaking The Taboo) exposes the motives, history and ill-logic behind the war on drugs. Featuring interviews with former drug-repression champions Bill Clinton (ex-US president), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (ex-Brazilian president), César Gaviria (ex-Colombian president), and other key political figures, as well as various people on the ground, it makes a compelling argument on what needs to be done to contain the problem of drug abuse and drug-related crime.

Supply And Demand

The numbers don’t paint a pretty picture. Current policy is a monumental failure. The drug black market is not only worth $320 billion, an estimated half of total crime revenue; it’s also accompanied by escalating violence that has reached 47,000 drug-related murders over the past six years in Mexico alone. Governments around the world have fought drugs head on, with resolve and determination. Yet an end to the problem is not in sight. If anything, the crime statistics are rising.

In the wake of mayhem, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, headed by former heads of state of Latin America and Europe, is lobbying for a fundamental shift in drug policy that will reduce crime, save money, suffocate the gangs, and regain control of the situation.

A frightening statistic (image source:

One the key opponents to this movement is the US prison-industrial complex, much of which is state-funded or privatized. This complex benefits from the high prison population numbers that the draconian drug laws have brought about, and is reluctant to see changes in policy.

It’s interesting to note that prisons are the main hubs of drug education and crime networking. They function as self-reinforcing, vicious circles of drug-related crime, exacerbating the problem.

Another source of problematic policy comes from the war on terrorism. In an effort to eradicate the source of Al-qaeda’s income, NATO forces have destroyed poppy fields en masse over the years, causing widespread outrage in the region, which has resulted in turning the local Afghan population against NATO and, ironically, toward Al-qaeda.

Paradoxically, no one acknowledges that the policies behind the so-called ‘war on drugs’ are the main reason why drugs are so profitable for criminal gangs and terrorist organizations. The political cost of listening to the evidence is too high, and it’s business as usual, with dire consequences for lawful society.

Russia is the latest stalwart of this mindless approach. Its strongman administration has decided to adapt a hardline policy of its own against poppy fields that lie within its sphere of influence, exacerbating the problem rather than dealing with it. It’s as if they have learned nothing from the blunders of NATO in Afghanistan.

On the demand side, users have been vilified for decades. Branded as amoral criminals, especially in the US, they’ve been persecuted and imprisoned at a rate that matches no other in the world. Facts about drug use have been sidelined in favor of a moralist, dogmatic agenda that doesn’t correspond to scientific findings.

A smarter approach is in order. Not a moment too soon.

Just Say Know

The first stirrings of informed and mindful drug policy can be traced back to the 70s, when marijuana was first studied by a federal committee president Nixon himself appointed. It concluded that marijuana ought to be decriminalized for personal use. The motion would have been successful had the president not nullified its suggestions and enforced his draconian policy regardless of its findings.

Reagan’s superb oratory helped rally the cause of an open society against Communism, but also refueled self-destructive policies on drugs

Ten years later, in the wake of another motion to decriminalize the substance, Reagan’s superb oratory helped rally the cause of an open society against Communism, but also refueled self-destructive policies on drugs, stamping out any chance for reform. If anything, the hardline approach intensified.

Portugal, on the other hand, opted for the opposite approach. In 2001 it adopted a smart tactic, decriminalizing drug use. Under this policy, which is still in effect, users and addicts were to be taken to medical “dissuasion” boards where their problems could be addressed at the root.

Meanwhile, nearby Switzerland addressed its heroin-related problems by providing clean needles for addicts, reducing AIDS infection numbers by 50%.

And the Netherlands has for the past two decades applied a policy of tolerance toward cannabis (which is technically still illegal in the country) that resulted in regulated cannabis trade, the cleanup of back alleys, and no significant increase in average use.

A common sense approach to marijuana (image from the successful Amendment 64 campaign)

In other words, the countries and states that replaced the moralists and ideologues with drug-use-and-abuse experts on matters of drug policy are experiencing a reduction in crime rates, incarceration rates, and costs of policing and penalizing. In other words, they’ve saved lives, time, money, and precious resources for their states.

In the US, bastion of drug repression, two of its states, Colorado and Washington, have recently voted for marijuana legalization (November 6, 2012), giving reformists fresh momentum.

Colorado signed them into law on Tuesday, May 28.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy’s initiative now focuses on the success of these smarter approaches, pushing for them on a global scale. The initiative has been met with enthusiasm by the mass media as well as businessmen and philanthropists, such as Richard Branson, who’re lending their celebrity and funding to the process. In addition, politicians are for the first time taking up the subject, raising the issue of alternative drug policies in regional, national and international forums. The “smart” initiative is making progress.

It’s a step in the right direction. Change may be far from guaranteed – in fact the way ahead is hard – but waves have been made. A new debate has began. The taboo surrounding the failed war on drugs has been cracked and leaders are stepping up to the plate, identifying the failures and offering solutions. A reduction in drug-related crime is a possibility, as is the prospect of exploring the medical and psychological uses of these intriguing substances.