The war on drugs has failed and international policymakers need to implement reforms now, urged a commission of world leaders during a recent conference.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy outlined its declaration in a report, “War on Drugs.” The decades-old effort has costs taxpayers’ millions of dollars, fueled organized crime, stigmatized and criminalized drug users and cost thousands of lives, the commission concluded.
“Fifty years after the initiation of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President (Richard) Nixon launched the U.S. government’s global war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed,” said Fernando Henrique Cardoso, chair of the commission and former president of Brazil.
An analysis of annual drug use over the last 10 years showed a growing market in opiates, cocaine and cannabis.
What the report actually means or will do for the battle against the war on drugs will be determined in coming months, said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., which promotes reforms in sentencing law and practices and alternatives to incarceration.
Maurer added that the commission’s message is not necessarily a new one but it’s intriguing.
The commission developed four core principles to guide national and international drug policies, that includes treating people addicted to drugs as patients, not criminals, by replacing punishment with drug treatment and encouraging governments to experiment with the legalization of drugs.
“Not everyone will agree with all of the recommendations but I think they make a compelling argument for why the current policy has largely been a failure and asks all the right questions about what other directions we could be moving in,” Mauer said.
The U.S. immediately rejected the U.N. panel’s declaration that the war on drugs has failed under current drug policies.
“The Obama administration’s efforts to reduce drug use are not born out of a culture war or drug war mentality, but out of the recognition that drug use strains our economy, health and public safety. The bottom line is that balanced drug control efforts are making a big difference,” stated Rafael Lemaitre, communications director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Drug use in America today is half of what it was 30 years ago; cocaine production in Colombia has decreased; and thousands of non-violent offenders are being successfully diverted into treatment instead of jail, Lemaitre argued.
Currently there are 2.3 million people in U.S. prisons or jails and of that total, 500,000 are there for either using or selling drugs, compared to the scale of change in 1980, when the count was 41,000, Mauer said.
It is increasingly understood that people of color are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses in greater proportions than their engagement in drug crime, Mauer said.
More than 60 percent of America’s prison population is now racial and ethnic minorities and one in every eight Black men in his 20s is in prison or jail on any given day, according to The Sentencing Project.