Pubdate: Wed, 16 Apr 2003
Source: Taipei Times, The (Taiwan)
Copyright: 2003 The Taipei Times
Author: Emma Bonino
Note: Emma Bonino is a member of the European Parliament, a former EU 
commissioner and a prominent member of the Transnational Radical Party.


The world must develop a different approach to combating narcotics 
trafficking before we all become addicted to the UN's failed strategy of 
prohibition By Emma Bonino

Wednesday, Apr 16, 2003,Page 9 The world's attention has been focused on 
the war on Iraq. But another war -- this one UN-sanctioned -- has been 
going on simultaneously -- the war on drugs. In my view, every sensible 
person should want this largely ignored war to end as well. While the UN 
should play a role in leading Iraq toward a free and democratic society, it 
must also change dramatically its own course in the war on drugs and lead 
the world to a saner policy.

In 1998, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the third 
Convention on Narcotic and Psychotropic substances, the UN convened a 
special General Assembly session to discuss the issue of illicit drugs. At 
the end of that forum, UN member states adopted a political declaration 
that mandated the UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP) "to develop strategies 
with a view to eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit 
cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant, and the opium poppy by 
the year 2008."

Today and tomorrow the international community will reconvene in Vienna to 
reckon with the results of the policies the UN has pursued. But five years 
into the program, one thing is clear -- the results are grim. According to 
a UNDCP report issued last year, Illicit Drug Trends, new markets for 
narcotics are expanding faster than old ones are being shut down. Drug 
dealers, like sharp businessmen everywhere, have gone out and found new 
markets. Eastern countries (the postcommunist world in Europe and the 
richer countries of Asia) are consuming more and more drugs, because the 
older markets of Western Europe and North America are saturated.

Across the world, narcotics trafficking is on the increase, not only 
because new markets are coming online, but also because new countries have 
taken up production. Moreover, new synthetic and chemical substances, which 
are more potent and often less expensive than the "classic" ones, are being 
invented. It is time to acknowledge that the "war on drugs" is lost -- 
indeed, a monumental failure -- and that hostilities should end.

Every aspect of the war strategy has failed. Harsh new domestic laws in 
many countries have not only failed to control the spread of drugs 
throughout the world, but have delivered a vast new source of state 
intrusiveness into the lives of millions of people. Prohibition created a 
pretext for authoritarian regimes to resist the abolition of the death 
penalty; yet even states that execute people for drug-related crimes have 
not been able to stem the tide. To circumvent the harsh legal regime now in 
place narcotics mafias have forged ever-tighter alliances with terrorist 

Can the world afford to continue subsidizing this failure? Can our money be 
wasted for much longer on fumigating Colombian valleys or arresting 
non-violent drug offenders? Can we -- including those of us who are elected 
officials -- pretend that prohibitions on illicit drugs will one day prove 

The answer to all these questions, of course, is: "No, we cannot." Instead, 
we must recognize that prohibition, rather than curtailing use, generates 
crime, because it makes trading in illicit drugs a lucrative business. As 
politicians everywhere remain loath to be seen as "soft on drugs," 
something must be done to call attention to this remorseless failure. One 
ploy taken up by some members of my Transnational Radical Party in France, 
Belgium, the UK and Italy has been to "denounce themselves" to their 
national authorities and then to disobey the prohibitionist laws by 
distributing drugs to passers-by during political demonstrations. By openly 
inviting the police to jail otherwise respected members of the community, 
these activists hope to show the absurdity of harsh anti-drug laws.

These Gandhian acts of non-violent civil disobedience have had an effect. 
Recently, 109 members of the European Parliament introduced a 
recommendation calling for reform of the UN Conventions on drugs. An 
International Anti-Prohibitionist League is now at work, calling for repeal 
or amendment of the UN treaties in order to allow for experimentation with 
legalization by individual nations.

At the upcoming Commission on Narcotics meeting in April, UN member states 
will have an opportunity to reassess the effectiveness of the 1998 Plan of 
Action. Sadly, however, the reality of its failure to come anywhere close 
to achieving its stated goals has not dented the minds of national governments.

But turning a blind eye to failure only increases its cost. So long as the 
UN anti-drug mandates remain in place, legalization of treatments, cures 
and drugs that today are illicit -- and recall that it was the end of 
prohibition alone that ended the reign of gangsters like Al Capone in the 
1920s -- will remain impossible.

The Vienna meeting offers an opportunity to change course. Instead of 
insisting on replicating our failures, the world needs to adopt new 
approaches that treat the disease of drug use, instead of criminalizing it. 
Otherwise, we will all remain addicted to a failed drug war.
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