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Friday, June 03, 2011

War on drugs a failure

The Global Commission on Drug Policy releases its report today that the "war on drugs" has failed. This is big news, not only because the Commission features former UN Chief Kofi Annan and prominent businessmen such as Richard Branson, together with the former Presidents of Columbia and Mexico, but because it counters the logic used by many governments as to our burgeoning rates of incarceration.

War on Drugs 'Failure'

The global war on drugs has failed and governments should explore legalising marijuana and other controlled substances, according to a commission that includes former heads of state, a former United Nations Secretary-General and a business mogul.

A new report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy argues that the decades-old "global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world".

The 24-page paper will be released today.

"Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won," the report said.

The 19-member commission includes former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former US official George P. Schultz, who held Cabinet posts under presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

Others include former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, Virgin boss Richard Branson and the Prime Minister of Greece.

Instead of punishing users who the report says "do no harm to others," the commission argues that governments should end criminalisation of drug use, experiment with legal models that would undermine organised crime syndicates and offer health and treatment services for drug-users in need.

The commission called for drug policies based on methods empirically proven to reduce crime, lead to better health and promote economic and social development.

The commission is especially critical of the US, which its members say must lead changing its anti-drug policies from being guided by anti-crime approaches to ones rooted in healthcare and human rights.

At a global level, the War on Drugs has clearly failed. World drug use is going up, and the aggressive policies designed to curb its use through force are having devastating effects - just look at the number of drug deaths in Mexico for example, while Americans have become one of the top consumers of drugs sitting just across the border. Ever since former US President Richard Nixon declared the phrase in 1971, the policies have been related to an increase in violence and an incarceration rate that is unfairly weighted against ethnic minorities and the poor.

In New Zealand, we have one of the highest rates of incarceration in the western world, meaning that this report is something that our government should look at. The Department of Corrections website states that 7 out of 10 arrests in 2007 were of people who were under the influence of drugs, a statistic that highlights how much a punitive approach to justice in this instance inhibits people's ability for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Prison sentences often function as an introduction to criminal connections for those who did not have them before, and there must be some distinction within our legal system between those who have made minor offences that are best treated with a restorative approach.

This high rate of offending is fuelled in New Zealand by popular opinion, where a hard line approach to justice is seen as reducing crime despite a dearth of evidence to the contrary. This means higher costs for tax payers in rough times for the NZ economy. While Judith Collins is attempting to claim responsibility for a declining crime rate that is effectively the equivalent of the 2004 levels, National's proposed new prison and the funding of 600 more frontline police indicate that the current Government is not really convinced by its own rhetoric.

These comments are further supported by those who are in the industry of dealing with NZ's drug problems:

New Zealand has 'Homer Simpson approach' to drug use

Executive Director of the Drug Foundation, Ross Bell, told TV ONE's Breakfast the report lends further support to arguments that the current system is outdated.

"What this report says is we should use modern thinking and not base our drug policy on thinking that's more than 50 years old," he said.

"The Law Commission, which has just done a huge review of New Zealand's 36-year-old drug law, is essentially saying the same thing - we need to rebalance our priorities and put more focus into health.

"The drug problem is fundamentally a health issue and you can not solve a health issue in the criminal justice system," he said.

He said New Zealand spends more money on police, courts and locking people up than it does on alcohol and drug treatment and he considers that the wrong approach.

Methcon managing director, Dale Kirk, is a former detective and now an drug use educator.

He told Breakfast he agreed the current system needed to change, but warned about removing the criminal aspect of drug use.

"The Homer Simpson approach we've had over the past 50 years - which is to keep on doing the same thing despite a lack of success - is not the way to go," he said.

"We need to invest a lot more money into education and dealing with users as addicts rather than criminals.

Statistically, the people most likely to use drugs in New Zealand are youth, those within the age group 18-25. They are also the group facing the 5th highest unemployment in the OECD within our society.

Justice Minister Simon Power is making moves in the right direction with the notion of a separate drugs court, but it does seem counterintuitive that it is only for people with serious drug problems rather than dealing with people across the board. The Drug Court was proposed by the Law Commission Review, which recommended a serious overhaul of NZ drug policy. Police Association President Greg O'Connor remains opposed, claiming that it will encourage young people to take up drugs by giving them a free ticket to ride on the first offence.

O'Connor needs to recognize that the current drug laws are having a dire effect on our society. The solution was never going to be extending our prisons using shipping containers, building more prisons, outsourcing the prisons, more frontline police, arming the police, extended warrants and so on. Such measures are the so-called 'ambulance at the bottom of the cliff'. Let's hope that the addition of prominent voices and solid evidence to the discussion offers NZ the ability to deal with the effects of drug use at a time when NZ really needs our youth on board.


At 3/6/11 2:44 pm, Blogger Nitrium said...

The lamest thing about the whole issue of legalising drugs, is that the politicians endlessly bloviate that it will lead to disastrous levels of drug use, with half the population zoned out all day and being unproductive/dangerous etc. This, as I have come to expect from politicans generally, is ENTIRELY DISHONEST. Why? Because The Netherlands has actually already reformed drug policy DECADES AGO, and it has not resulted in any adverse effects. Indeed, hard drug use actually declined after legalisation. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_policy_of_the_Netherlands for more information. "The War on Drugs" is PROVABLY 100% bullshit. Why voters continue to consent to the clowns in power is totally beyond me.

At 3/6/11 4:19 pm, Blogger Tim Selwyn said...

What an amazing report - with so many respected leaders - this must have some impact on official global drug hysteria policies.

At the moment it's more like a riot squad - than an ambulance - waiting at the bottom of the cliff.

At 3/6/11 4:55 pm, Blogger AAMC said...

"What this report says is we should use modern thinking and not base our drug policy on thinking that's more than 50 years old,"

Seems this comment could be applied to most of the thinking in our society.

At 5/6/11 12:39 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best thing to do would be to take all drug traffickers out and hang them - basically follow the Singapore example. No exceptions. No mercy.

And for drug users, take them out and whack the fuck out of them, beat some fucking sense into them. And if they get caught a second time take them out the back and shoot them in the back of the head.

The fact is most people who take drugs are weak minded and dissolute anyway. So getting rid of a few would improve the quality of the population.

That is the way to deal with things. And it is guaranteed to work.

At 5/6/11 12:43 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The lamest thing about the whole issue of legalising drugs, is that the politicians endlessly bloviate that it will lead to disastrous levels of drug use

Fuck you are full of shit. The result of the British forcing opium down the throats of the Chinese people (one of history's greatest crimes) led to massive levels of drug addiction, with all the associated social harm and decay that any sensible person could envisage.

It is amazing that rich spoilt Westerners have all day to discuss the legalization of cannabis (1/2 a kg gets you rightly hanged in Singapore) while people in the developing world have to deal with spending 80 or 90% of their income on food, because of the policies of these same white cocksuckers and parasites.

At 5/6/11 8:30 am, Blogger Nitrium said...

Yeah, in Singapore only the rich and connected get to do drugs. Nice one!


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