Pubdate: Mon, 25 Nov 2013
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2013 New Zealand Herald
Author: Alexander Gillespie
Note: Alexander Gillespie is a professor of law at the University of Waikato.


Model for Dealing With Problem Has Not Reduced Demand or Supply So We 
Should Go Way of Some US States

Illegal drugs are the scourge of the modern world.

They have the capacity to destroy everything in their path. It is 
critical that this problem is adequately dealt with. But the global 
war on illegal drugs that was declared five decades ago has been a 
disaster for all except criminals.

First, demand and supply for illegal drugs is much larger now than 
when serious attempts at prohibition began in the 1960s. Since 1998 
when the UN held an event entitled "A drug-free world: we can do it", 
consumption of cannabis and cocaine has risen by about 50 per cent, 
while for opiates, it has more than trebled.

Globally, 16 million people use heroin and opium each year. About 
33.8 million people use amphetamine-type stimulants, and 
methamphetamine in particular each year. Cannabis remains the most 
widely used illicit substance globally by an estimated 180 million 
people, or 3.9 per cent of the global population aged between 15 and 
64 currently use cannabis at least once a year.

New Zealand has a usage closer to 14 per cent. Around 15 per cent of 
these people smoke cannabis at least 10 times a month.

Such traditional drugs are being eclipsed by the rise in new 
psychoactive substances. These are proliferating quicker than law 
enforcement agencies can track them. Their number, having doubled in 
fewer than five years, now exceeds the total number of traditional 
substances (234) under international control.

Society suffers more harm in terms of damage to its security because 
of illegal drugs that at any point in the last five decades.

This comes from the creation, transit and sale of the illegal drugs 
as part of an industry worth, by the very roughest of guesses, US$300 
billion ($366 billion) a year. This is a powerful catalyst for new 
drugs, routes, methods of transit and an endless supply of criminals 
or addicts willing to take all of the associated risks.

Crime, conflict and corruption follow quickly.

In worst-case scenarios, drug profits fuel wars from Columbia to Afghanistan.

In less terminal, but equally cancerous cases, drugs rot society from 
the inside.

An estimated 5 per cent of all murders in the United States are 
drug-related, while in Mexico the estimate is 90 per cent. In 
addition to homicide, the need for cash for illegal drugs is closely 
linked to money-related crimes, such as shoplifting, robberies and 
burglaries, of which more than 50 per cent in many countries, is not uncommon.

These social costs are multiplied when the opportunity cost of the 
police effort is put into this equation, as their work is diverted 
trying to stop an avalanche of drugs in the market and drug-related crime.

More people are addicted and suffering from illegal drugs than ever 
before. About 200,000 people worldwide die from drug abuse every 
year. Cocaine and heroin claim 27 million dependents. For the rest 
alternative? An attempted answer is found in breaking the silence 
around this subject and asking the heretical question whether 
prohibition of all of the illegal drug trade is still the right thing 
to do. This is especially the case with illegal drugs which probably 
cause less social impact than comparable, but legal, substances such 
as alcohol and tobacco.

It is this answer which is being tested before the United Nations 
holds a special session to discuss alternatives to the current global 
drug policy in 2016. Uruguay, Columbia, Mexico and Guatemala are at 
the forefront of this effort, calling for an urgent review of the 
approach of the international community in this area. Uruguay is now 
planning for its own authorities to grow and sell cannabis of a high 
quality for US$1 a gram, to combat drug trafficking and undermine the 
illegal trade.

But the risk that they become a magnet for tourists with many 
undesirable results, including leakage to unappreciative neighbours, 
as has happened in the Netherlands, cannot be discounted.

Undeterred, similar measures have now been adopted in the states of 
Washington and Colorado in the United States, where both have adopted 
rules governing the sale of cannabis.

These states will tax the profit of the growers.

Colorado is expecting a US$60 million tax windfall in the first year.

In most of the above situations, the following steps include age and 
location restrictions, consumer warnings, quality control and 
education about risk, and social management and influence - not legal 
prohibition - towards phase-out goals.

Next, the stigmatisation and marginalisation of people who are 
dependent on drugs is changed to see them as patients in need of 
treatment, instead of criminals deserving of punishment. When these 
people are no longer seen as an enemy to be fought, but as part of an 
interlinked health and social challenge to be managed, then a large 
perception of their coolness and associated attraction tends to disappear.

However, even if legalised, drug abuse will never vanish.

Drug liberalisation does not remove addicts any more than alcohol 
liberalisation removes alcoholics. But these abusers can be managed 
in more constructive ways. More than that, if done correctly, the 
economic incentive which drives the cancer may be removed and may 
even be turned into a revenue stream that can be diverted to help 
those in need.

Of course, such approaches may not work. There are many uncertainties 
in this area, but we owe it to ourselves to start these debates.

This is not because we like drugs, but rather, we realise that the 
traditional model of dealing with the problem has not reduced demand 
or supply, made communities safer, or dealt adequately with abusers and addicts.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom