#451 Our ‘War on Drugs’ Has Been an Abysmal Failure



DrugSense FOCUS Alert #451 – Friday, September 10th, 2010

Today The Guardian printed the informative column below.

While much of the information may not be news to you perhaps it will
be to the about 1,146,000 daily readers of the newspaper.

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the column and articles about this topic.


Source: Guardian, The (UK)

Page: 33 of the Main section

Copyright: 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited

Contact: letters@guardian.co.uk

Author: Simon Jenkins


The West’s Refusal to Countenance Drug Legalisation Has Fuelled
Anarchy, Profiteering and Misery

It is wrecking the government of Mexico. It is financing the Taliban
in Afghanistan. It is throwing 11,000 Britons into jail. It is
corrupting democracy throughout Latin America. It is devastating the
ghettoes of America and propagating Aids in urban Europe. Its
turnover is some UKP200bn a year, on which it pays not a penny of
tax. Thousands round the world die of it and millions are
impoverished. It is the biggest man-made blight on the face of the earth.

No, it is not drugs. They are as old as humanity. Drugs will always
be a challenge to individual and communal discipline, alongside
alcohol and nicotine. The curse is different: the declaration by
states that some drugs are illegal and that those who supply and use
them are criminals. This is the root of the evil.

By outlawing products – poppy and coca – that are in massive global
demand, governments merely hand huge untaxed profits to those outside
the law and propagate anarchy. Repressive regimes, such as some
Muslim ones, have managed to curb domestic alcohol consumption, but
no one has been able to stop the global market in heroin and cocaine.
It is too big and too lucrative, rivalling arms and oil on the
international monetary exchanges. Forty years of “the war on drugs”
have defeated all-comers, except political hypocrites.

Most western governments have turned a blind eye and decided to ride
with the menace, since the chief price of their failure is paid by
the poor. In Britain Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Gordon Brown felt
tackling the drugs economy was not worth antagonising rightwing
newspapers. Like most rich westerners they relied on regarding drugs
as a menace among the poor but a youthful indiscretion among their
own offspring.

The full horror of drug criminality is now coming home to roost far
from the streets of New York and London. In countries such as
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, drugs are so endemic that
criminalising them merely fuels a colossal corruption. It is
rendering futile Nato’s Afghan war effort, which requires the
retraining of an army and police too addicted either to cure or to
sack. Poppies are the chief source of cash for farmers whose hearts
and minds Nato needs to win, yet whose poppy crop (ultimately for
Nato nations) finances the Taliban. It is crazy.

The worst impact of criminalisation is on Latin America. Here the
slow emergence of democratic governments – from Bolivia through Peru
and Columbia to Mexico – is being jeopardised by America’s
“counter-narcotics” diplomacy through the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
Rather than try to stem its own voracious appetite for drugs, rich
America shifts guilt on to poor supplier countries. Never was the law
of economics – demand always evokes supply – so traduced as in
Washington’s drugs policy. America spends $40bn a year on narcotics
policy, imprisoning a staggering 1.5m of its citizens under it.

Cocaine supplies routed through Mexico have made that country the
drugs equivalent of a Gulf oil state. An estimated 500,000 people are
employed in the trade, all at risk of their lives, with 45,000
soldiers deployed against them. Border provinces are largely in the
hands of drug barons and their private armies. In the past four years
28,000 Mexicans have died in drug wars, a slaughter that would
outrage the world if caused by any other industry (such as oil).
Mexico’s experience puts in the shade the gangsterism of America’s
last failed experiment in prohibition, the prewar alcohol ban.

As a result, it is South American governments and not the
sophisticated west that are now pleading for reform. A year ago an
Argentinian court gave American and British politicians a lesson in
libertarianism by declaring that “adults should be free to make
lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state”. Mexico
declared drugs users “patients not criminals”. Ecuador released 1,500
hapless women imprisoned as drug mules – while the British government
locks them for years in Holloway.

Brazil’s ex-president Fernando Cardoso and a panel of his former
judges announced emphatically that the war on drugs had failed and
that “the only way to reduce violence in Mexico, Brazil or anywhere
else is to legalise the production, supply and consumption of all
drugs”. Last month, Mexico’s desperate president, Felipe Calderon,
acknowledged that his four-year, US-financed war on the drug cartels
had all but failed and called on the world for “a fundamental debate
on the legalising of drugs”.

The difficulty these countries face is the size of the global
industry created by the west to meet its demand for drugs. That
industry is certain to deploy lethal means against legalisation, as
the alcohol barons did against the ending of prohibition. They have
been unwittingly sponsored for decades by western leaders, and
particularly by the United Nations which, with typical fatuity,
declared in 1998 that it would “create a drug-free world” by 2008.
All maintained the fiction that demand could be curbed by curbing
supply, thus presenting their own consumers as somehow the victims of
supplier countries.

The UN’s prohibitionist drugs czar, Antonio Maria Costa, comfortably
ensconced in Vienna, holds that cannabis is as harmful as heroin and
cocaine, and wants to deny individual governments freedom over their
drug policies. In eight years in office he has disastrously protected
the drug cartels and their profits by refusing to countenance drug
legalisation. He even suggested recently that the estimated $352bn
generated by drug lords in 2008-09 helped save the world banking
system from collapse. It is hard to know whose side he is on.

The evil of drugs will never be stamped out by seizing trivial
quantities of drugs and arresting trivial numbers of traders and
consumers. That is a mere pretence of action. Drug law enforcement
has been the greatest regulatory failure in modern times, far greater
in its impact on the world than that of banking. Nor is much likely
to come from moves in both Europe and America to legalise cannabis
use, sensible though they are. In November Californians are to vote
on Proposition 19, to give municipalities freedom to legalise and tax
cannabis. One farm in Oakland is forecast to yield $3m a year in
taxes, money California’s government sorely needs.

This will do nothing to combat the misery now being visited on
Mexico. The world has to bring its biggest illegal trade under
control. It has to legalise not just consumption but supply. There is
evidence that drug markets respond to realistic regulation. In
Britain, under Labour, nicotine use fell because tobacco was
controlled and taxed, while alcohol use rose because it was
decontrolled and made cheaper. European states that have
decriminalised and regulated sections of their drug economies, such
as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Portugal, have found it has
reduced consumption. Regulation works, anarchy does not.

In the case of drugs produced in industrial quantities from distant
corners of the globe, only international action has any hope of
success. Drug supply must be legalised, taxed and controlled. Other
than eliminating war, there can be no greater ambition for
international statesmanship. The boon to the peoples of the world
would be beyond price.


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Prepared by: Richard Lake, Focus Alert Specialist www.mapinc.org

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