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War on drugs going nowhere


The global “war on drugs” has created health epidemics, enormous violence, and appalling levels of mass incarceration. Meanwhile, it has achieved none of its stated goals. In fact, over the past few decades, the prices of illicit drugs have been falling while purity has been increasing.

These failures stem from the systemic problem inherent in the “war on drugs” approach: the belief that the supply and use of drugs can be eliminated through crop eradication, interdiction, enforcement, and repressive policies.

At the academic level, we have known for a long time that a “war on drugs” is an irrational way to manage global drug issues. Our recent LSE IDEAS report, "Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy," contains a call from some of the world’s leading economists, including five Nobel Prize winners, to end the “war on drugs” and experiment with alternative policies:

It is time to end the "war on drugs" and massively redirect resources toward effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis. The pursuit of a militarised and enforcement-led global "war on drugs" strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage.

These damages are often hard to quantify. There are enormous human rights and legal institutional costs, for instance, to pursuing a “war on drugs.” Nevertheless, many of the costs of the strategy are clear. For example, illicit drug markets, particularly if poorly managed, tend to be violent relative to licit markets.

The report states the following:

The increase in the size of illegal drug markets observed between 1994 and 2008 (about 200%) explains roughly 25% of the current homicide rate in Colombia. This translates into about 3,800 more homicides per year on average that are associated with illegal drug markets and the war on drugs.

Traditionally, the goal has been to utilize law enforcement and even the military to suppress the size of the illicit market, but such strategies have produced enormous negative outcomes and have often only made the situation worse.

Even if they succeed in suppressing the market in one area, which is extremely rare, the violence is often merely shifted to other locations. In Colombia, for example, success with counter-narcotics programs displaced criminal gangs – and their associated violence – to Mexico. The result was a threefold increase in the homicide rate in Mexico within a period of just four years.

This is not to say that there is no place for law enforcement in global drug policy. The problem is with the pursuit of a “war on drugs” strategy that fails to recognize the limits of enforcement and results in extreme misallocations of resources toward ineffective and often counterproductive policies. Generally, these come at the expense of far more effective public health policies.

This is why our report calls for a drastic reallocation of focus and resources toward public health policies based on access to treatment and harm reduction services.

Such approaches have proven successful at saving lives and protecting the health and human rights of people who use drugs. They are also cost-effective. Our report highlights that treatment costs an average of $1,583 per person but benefits society at the level of $11,487 – a 7:1 ratio.

There are even greater returns on harm reduction initiatives like substitution therapies, supervised drug consumption facilities, and needle and syringe exchange services. Vancouver, British Columbia has been a hemispheric leader in this regard with its highly effective Insite facility.

Our report highlights how Insite has prevented overdose deaths and HIV transmission and has saved the broader community roughly $6 million a year. Despite these clear benefits, the current Canadian government has sought to close Insite out of a deference to “war on drugs” ideology, and has ceased advocating public-health-focused drug policies at the international level.

More broadly, one study cited in the report found that every dollar invested in opioid dependence treatment programs returned between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft. When savings related to health care are included, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12:1.

The report concludes that governments must drastically reallocate resources away from damaging and counterproductive strategies based on punitive and enforcement-led policies. It also calls for the international community to focus on ensuring population security, economic development, and the protection of human rights instead of blindly focusing on the quantities of narcotics seized or numbers of people arrested.

Finally, our report calls for policy makers to pursue rigorously monitored experimentation with cannabis regulation, as is currently underway in Uruguay, Washington State, and Colorado.

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina will be taking our report to the United Nations to directly influence the General Assembly review of the drug control system, which will take place at a special session in 2016.

© Japan Today

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Whether it's illegal or legal most people take over-the-counter-pills, alcohol, nicotine etc. and they are all drugs. As long as someone benefits from the manufacture or distribution, the sales of all those products will continue to grow and prosper. In other words everyone wants a piece of the action and it's all about money, generating a profit and creating tax revenues for all the institutions. In the end the war on drugs is not going on today.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Good article.

Drugs are a health issue. Crime is largely the side-effect of governments ignoring the health issue and instead criminalizing the problem for the sake of politics and/or profiteering.

A war without end.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Meanwhile, it has achieved none of its stated goals.

It's UNSTATED goals, however, have worked like a charm. More money for the feds more power for the government, and more money for the Prison-Industrial complex.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

give them to those who want them

You mean "sell them," right? That WOULD be pretty cool if the gummint just started passing out drugs to everybody...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The problem with the War on Drugs was that it attacked supply, not demand. The U.S. should have learned in the 1920s (during Prohibition) that as long as there is demand, someone will find a way to satisfy it.

If the U.S. wants to fight a successful war on drugs (rather than legalization/taxation/rehabilitation), it's easy. If you're found in possession of illegal drugs, you go to jail for 5 years. If you're in possession of more than a certain quantity (intent to distribute), you get 20 years, without parole. If you're a distributor (again, above a certain quantity), life without parole. These policies would scare away casual-to-intermediate users, and it would make it pretty difficult to recruit people to distribute or deal on the street. Pinch off the demand and the supply will wither away.

Legalize American-grown marijuana (another way to kill supply from other countries) and tax the hell out of it to pay for enforcement, treatment, and incarceration.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"In fact, over the past few decades, the prices of illicit drugs have been falling while purity has been increasing."

Sounds like it's going well. Keep going!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The world and its governments cannot win this war on drugs if thats what you want to call it! Does not Matter what you do as far as incarceration is concerned, (look to the UNITED STATES for that failed attempt). If the people of this planet want to do drugs they're going to do it, the demand can only be stopped by death. Excecute all offenders on the spot! Ill bet the demand for drugs plummets dramatically. It does not matter if you kill off crops, synthetic drugs will just become the drugs of choice. Drugs is a business, and the governments are so rooted in this they are to blame as much as the dealers, growers, producers and the users. Prisons need this, if you legalize drugs then you can't put people in jail, and prisons will close and holy shit you'll put 50 people out on the street with their families, or the local TAC Team used to kick in doors wont have a job so those people are gonna get put ou on the street. Legalization is the only course of action, make it legal and tax it, or like I said just start excecuting people on the spot.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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