War on Drugs an Epic Fail, Says New Report

“The global war on drugs has failed.”

That’s the primary conclusion of a new report by Global Commission on Drug Policy, an impressive group of world leaders including five former heads of state, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Richard Branson, former US Secretary of State George Shultz, Paul Volcker and others. This is hardly a collection of potheads.

According to the Commission the failure of the “War on Drugs” falls into four categories:

  • Spending on criminalization hasn’t reduced supply.
  • Arresting a drug seller never stops drug flow.
  • Drug criminalization harms public health initiatives that reduce HIV/AIDS, overdoses and drug-related medical harm.
  • Government spending on criminalization and jails uses money that could be spent on successfully-proven public health interventions.

Among drug war countries, ours qualifies as the most epic fail. You’ve probably forgotten that the “War on Drugs” was started by Richard Nixon, a guy mostly remembered for his other big mistakes. Since then, the US has spent over one trillion dollars without making any lasting, tangible, or durable progress. People use drugs as much as ever, criminals profit from drugs more than ever, and we jail more citizens (per capita) than any other country in the world.

The vast majority of drug users are not even abusers. They use drugs casually (mostly marijuana.) Their recreational use never interferes with work or family or civic life. Sure, more than a few users drive drunk or steal to support addictions; that’s a real problem. But they are a small slice of all drug users. The World Health Organization found that 42.4% of all Americans used marijuana. Don’t you think it would be obvious if four in ten of us were stoned every day? Tomorrow at work, look around and count the buzzed coworkers.

Researcher Louisa Degenhardt of the University of New South Wales debunks another common myth, that harsh laws reduce consumption.

“Globally, drug use…is not simply related to drug policy, since countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones.”

Yet funding the war has been taken for granted as public policy ever since Nixon first declared it.


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