Pubdate: Fri, 03 Jun 2011
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2011 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Tony Norman


The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for 
individuals and societies around the world."

That's just the first line of the first paragraph of the Report of 
the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The paragraphs that follow 
don't mince words, either:

"Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on 
Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US 
government's war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global 
policies are urgently needed," the report continued.

The 24-page policy paper is a blunt, logical and morally coherent 
analysis of the war on drugs. It is refreshingly free of hysteria and 
political double talk. That's the first hint that it wasn't authored 
in Washington.

The report wasn't cooked up by an unholy cabal of celebrity pot 
smokers like Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson, Bill Maher and Snoop Dogg, either.

It was crafted by a 19-member blue ribbon commission that included 
such notable "hippies" as former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, 
former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, writer Mario Vargas 
Llosa, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and former U.S. 
Secretary of State George Shultz.

The commission's recommendations are buttressed by data showing the 
benefits of taking a more humane approach to dealing with drug abuse 
as a public health crisis versus the traditional one rooted in 
increasing militarization of the police.

The report challenges common myths about addict behavior, how drug 
markets work and the likelihood that drug abuse goes up dramatically 
in nations that experiment with alternatives to the drug war model.

"Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures 
directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs 
have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption," 
the report continued in a burst of unadulterated realism.

"Apparent victories in eliminating one source of trafficking 
organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other 
sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers 
impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities 
and other harmful consequences of drug use.

"Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and 
incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based 
investments in demand and harm reduction."

This may be sensible, but the international flavor of the commission 
will kill its recommendations in Washington, where it is fashionable, 
even by the Obama White House, to discount rational alternatives to 
the bloody and counterproductive status quo.

Office of National Drug Control Policy spokesman Rafael Lemaitre 
didn't waste a moment in attacking the policy paper as short-sighted 
because of its emphasis on ending criminalization of drugs and 
treating substance abuse as a public health crisis.

"Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and 
treated," Mr. Lemaitre said days before the paper was officially 
released. "Making drugs more available -- as this report suggests -- 
will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe."

Never mind that once upon a time, a certain Illinois politician named 
Barack Obama favored an unsentimental look at decriminalizing drugs. 
The pre-presidential version of Mr. Obama would have gladly vouched 
for the commission's conclusions.

It is often difficult to know whether administration officials are 
being ironic or are genuinely clueless when an official describes our 
drug-saturated communities as "healthy and safe."

America currently has the highest incarceration rates for drug use 
and drug abuse in the world. There isn't a city, town or hamlet in 
this country where someone determined to buy any desired drug can't 
score it quickly, cheaply and with minimal risk. Drug abuse on a 
massive scale in this country is already a daily reality. The only 
thing that distinguishes one neighborhood from another is how local 
law enforcement reacts to it.

Drug abuse cuts across all socio-economic lines, though the bulk of 
the war against drugs is waged in America's inner cities and rural communities.

We didn't need a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy to 
know that the war on drugs has been a colossal failure. What we 
really need is visionary leadership in Washington that is willing to 
buck conventional wisdom to pursue drug policies that actually work.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom