Dealing With The Failed War On Drugs
On May 17, 2012, 6:07 PM by Amanda Richards
The costly War on Drugs has done little to solve the problem of drug use and addiction. When are we going to give it up?
After 40 years, the Nixon-initiated War on Drugs has lived up to the promise of its name: families have been displaced, lives and livelihoods have been lost in communities destroyed, fears have amplified and propaganda is now regarded as truth. There is no clear winner and, despite a growing body of evidence that challenges the efficacy of the United States’ current approach to drug use and the widespread global protest against it, there is no real end in sight. How many more years will it take before our society and its leaders acknowledge the facts, dispel the taboos of drug use and decide that enough is enough?
In June 2011, the Global Commission on Drugs released a twenty four-page document that outlines various common misconceptions surrounding the decriminalization of drug use and the societal impact of its continued criminality. The Commission’s panel consisted of nineteen impressive prominent international public figures including the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Prime Minister of Greece and the former Presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil. Their major finding: “The global war on drugs has failed.”
Meanwhile, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, which disregards the Global Commission’s conclusion, uses an obscure tally that includes numbers of arrests, incarcerations, pounds of illicit substances confiscated and the displacement of manufacturing facilities and growth operations as its measuring stick for success. The higher the number, the higher the DEA and US government esteem themselves and their advances on the drug front.
But looking at the data through another lens, isn’t it a bit problematic that the number of pounds of marijuana confiscated last year, say, is greater than the number confiscated the year before? Doesn’t that mean it’s actually more likely that more illicit drugs were produced from year to year? It seems that if the War on Drugs were a true success, we should see these numbers trend downward. Yet the Global Commission on Drugs insists that America’s drug consumption is rising by 34.5%, 27% and 8.5% in opiates, cocaine and cannabis, respectively.
With the Drug War strategy focused primarily on drug supply, little has been done to address the steadily growing appetite and demand for drugs in first world countries, particularly in the US. However, this demand has been successfully tapered in the UK and Switzerland through education, socioeconomic outreach and the decriminalization of certain controlled substances. Switzerland’s heroin substitution program, which targeted chronic users, was found to have three major positive effects:
• It substantially reduced the consumption among the heaviest users, and this reduction in demand affected the viability of the market. For example, the number of new addicts registered in Zurich in 1990 was 850. By 2005, the number had fallen to 150.
• It reduced levels of other criminal activity associated with the market. For example, there was a 90 percent reduction in property crimes committed by participants in the program.
• By removing local addicts and dealers, Swiss casual users found it difficult to make contact with sellers.
The US has chosen a much different approach. Popular throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign is the narcotic equivalent of the abstinence-only approach, with both campaigns yielding markedly similar results: one inadvertently created an epidemic of teen pregnancy and the other spawned a generation of bewildered youths who aren’t fully aware of the risk of illicit drug use yet are too intimidated by threat of legal retribution to seek guidance.
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