Pubdate: Sun, 20 Apr 2003
Source: Daily Times (Pakistan)
Contact:  2003 Daily 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


We must recognise 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

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 United Nations 
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 Programme (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."

On April 16-17, the international community will re-convene in Vienna to 
reckon with the results of the policies the UN has pursued. But five years 
into the programme, one thing is clear: the results are grim. According to 
a UNDCP report issued in 2002 called 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 post-communist 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 

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 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 
networks. Can the world afford to continue subsidising 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 effective? The answer to all these questions, of course, is: "No, 
we cannot."

Instead, we must recognise 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 legalisation 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: not one state has voiced its opposition to current strategies. 
But turning a blind eye to failure only increases its cost. So long as the 
UN anti-drug mandates remain in place, legalisation 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 a rare 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 criminalising it. 
Otherwise, we will all remain addicted to a failed drug war.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager