An international team of medical experts, among them members of The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, and John Hopkins University’s esteemed Bloomberg School of Public Health, has published a report urging governments worldwide to end policies that criminalize drug use. The statement was timed for the United Nations’ upcoming special session on illegal narcotics.
According to The Guardian:
“The goal of prohibiting all use, possession, production, and trafficking of illicit drugs is the basis of many of our national drug laws, but these policies are based on ideas about drug use and drug dependence that are not scientifically grounded”, says Dr Chris Beyrer of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a member of the commission.
“The global ‘war on drugs’ has harmed public health, human rights and development. It’s time for us to rethink our approach to global drug policies, and put scientific evidence and public health at the heart of drug policy discussions.”
The commission calls on the U.N. to back decriminalisation of minor, non-violent drug offences involving the use, possession and sale of small quantities. Military force against drug networks should be phased out, it says, and policing should be better targeted on the most violent armed criminals.
Specific recommendations include leniency for women exploited to serve as drug “mules” (smugglers); a gradual shift towards creating a legal and regulated drug market (which the authors admit would take a lot of time, depending on the country); providing access to clean needles, oral substitutes to injected narcotics, and antidotes for overdoses; the cessation of mass aerial spraying of drug crops with pesticides.
The report emphasizes the lack of scientific evidence for drug bans working, and cites several examples of widespread human rights abuses and increased violence, such as in the U.S. and Mexico, as consequences of a repressive approach to drugs. The commission also cites case studies of countries like Portugal and the Czech Republic, which have led the way in decriminalization and have subsequently enjoyed “significant financial savings, less incarceration, significant public health benefits, and no significant increase in drug use”.
I see this report as yet the latest sign of a growing worldwide chorus against the drug war, which in the U.S. alone has cost over a trillion dollars and has resulted in the world’s highest rate of incarceration and still the highest rate of illicit drug use. The results are even grimmer in violence-wracked Mexico and the drug trafficking havens of Southeast Asia. While decriminalization will not completely eradicate the scourge of drug use, it will make it far less violent, while giving addicts the opportunity to seek proper treatment.
With little to show after all these decades, trillions of dollars, and tens of thousands of lives lost, the U.N. and its member states should at least consider the proposal — for practical, if not moral, reasons.