The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

War on drugs kills

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on June 10, 2011

At the beginning of June an international group of high level politicians (or ex-politicians), businessmen and intellectuals called the Global Commission on Drug Policy published its report on the worldwide “war on drugs”. Both the findings and the recommendations of the report might come as shocking to many of its readers. The authors of this publication argue that the global war on drugs has been a large failure that has brought devestating consequences for individuals and communities across the globe. In their opionion, the massive spendings on criminalization and strict repressive measures that have been undertaken for the last decades have “failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption.”(p.2) What the repressive measures have resulted in so far is incarceration of millions of people (predominantly casual drug users) that has resulted in destroyed lives and families without any fundamental reduction of the “availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations.” (p.3).

According to the Commission, this new gloomy reality is not only condemnable, but also in stark contrast with the initial goals of all anti-drugs measures. The authors of the report try to highlight the fact that the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs “made it clear that the ultimate objective of the system was the improvement of the ‘health and welfare of mankind’”. In other words the intention behind all anti-drug measures was to have less crime, better health and more development. Yet, the authors of the report find that it is obvious now that none of these goals has been achieved by the war on drugs.

But these findings are in fact hardly new or surprising. For decades countless, journalists,criminologists, economists, scientists and officials have been informing the public that the war on drugs has been little more than a complete disaster. Even the fact that that the Commission calling for (at least partial) legalization of drugs is formed by some of the most prominent political, business and intellectual figures of the globe (such as Kofi Annan, Javier Solana, Paul Volvker, Richard Branson, Thorvald Stoltenberg and many others) is not any kind of revolution. Nearly 200 years ago Abraham Lincoln himself stated that:

“Prohibition [in that case of alcohol] will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species  of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”

What is truly shocking is how come the war on drugs has not been abandoned despite all the evidence and arguments against it. War on drugs (or any other prohibition on personal moral choices) has always been questionable. What needs to be questioned today is who and why sustains its existence.

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