Pubdate: Tue, 09 Sep 2014
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Jose De Cordoba


Report Recommends Treating Drug Abuse as Public-Health Problem

MEXICO CITY--A commission composed mostly of former world leaders 
will recommend Tuesday that governments move beyond legalizing 
marijuana and decriminalize and regulate the use of most other 
illegal drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

The international drug-control system is broken, says a report to be 
released Tuesday in New York by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. 
Governments should be allowed wide latitude to experiment with the 
regulation of drugs, except for the most lethal, says the commission, 
whose 21 members include former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul 
Volcker, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, and former 
presidents such as Brazil's Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Mexico's 
Ernesto Zedillo and Colombia's Cesar Gaviria.

"We have to control drugs, which are out of control," Mr. Cardoso 
said in a telephone interview. "Some lethal drugs have to be 
prohibited...but the guiding principle has to be to guarantee the 
health and safety of people." The report is the latest indication 
that the U.S.-led war on drugs is faltering--even in the U.S., where 
23 states now allow for medical marijuana, while two, Washington and 
Colorado, voted in 2012 to legalize marijuana. Last year, Uruguay 
became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana use and 
regulate its production. Latin American presidents whose countries 
have been on the front lines of the drug war, including Colombia's 
Juan Manuel Santos and Guatemala's Otto Perez Molina, have called for 
a rethinking of drug policy.

The United Nations General Assembly Special Session, which will meet 
in 2016, will be a key opportunity to change drug policy to reflect 
these concerns, the report said. Until now, the U.N., the world's 
leading body in setting international drug policy, has taken a hard 
line on the issue. The 2016 session, moved up from 2019 at the 
request of the presidents of Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia, was 
supposed to detail the progress made in eradicating drug production and use.

Mr. Cardoso said Latin American governments such as Mexico, Colombia, 
Guatemala and Uruguay are mobilizing to change the existing agreement 
at the U.N. meeting. But he said it would be a struggle given tough 
opposition from conservatives Arab states and Russia, among others. 
"It's going to be very difficult," he said.

The report says that 43 years of drug-reduction efforts based largely 
on a law-enforcement approach that criminalizes users has fostered 
violence, instability and corruption. Government efforts to tackle 
drug use should be based on so-called harm reduction, which treats 
such use and abuse as a public-health and social problem, rather than 
primarily a law-enforcement issue. "The main thrust of [drug] law now 
is prohibition with violence, which does no good to either people's 
health or security," Mr. Cardoso said. "The concept now is that there 
has to be regulation with the objective of maintaining the health and 
security of people and respecting human rights." Among the drugs 
which Mr. Cardoso said should be regulated are cocaine and heroin. He 
pointed out that some countries in Europe see heroin addiction as a 
public-health problem and seek to substitute methadone for heroin to 
prevent overdoses.

 From Mexico to Afghanistan, efforts to curtail drug use by police 
and military crackdowns have increased the wealth of drug 
traffickers, and the violence associated with the drug industry has 
led to a spike in human-rights abuses, generated instability and 
created major obstacles to economic development, the report said.

In 2005, the world-wide retail drug trade was valued at $332 billion, 
with only $13 billion of that going to producers, and the rest going 
to middlemen, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and 
Crime, the report said.

In Mexico, for instance, since former President Felipe Calderon 
declared war on drugs in 2006, estimates of the dead and disappeared 
in drug violence range from 60,000 to 100,000. Meanwhile, drug capos 
spend more than $500 million a year on bribing government officials, 
the report said, citing a 1998 academic study.

In Afghanistan, drug profits fuel violence and instability by 
providing about $500 million a year to armed paramilitary groups 
operating on the border with Pakistan, the report said.

And while Colombia used aerial spraying on 2.6 million acres of land 
to attack coca-leaf and opium cultivation between 2000 and 2007, the 
land under cultivation actually increased during this period, the 
report says. Earlier this year, Colombia's communist guerrillas, the 
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, who are in 
the midst of complex peace negotiations with the country's government 
to end a 50-year civil war, agreed to end their involvement in drug 
trafficking if a final peace deal is reached. In exchange, the 
Colombian government has agreed to stop aerial spraying of coca and 
opium fields, and push an ambitious program of rural development and 
crop substitution.

Under any regulatory system, the commission recommended that sales to 
minors not be allowed. It also said that the most dangerous forms of 
drugs--such as crack cocaine or "krokodil," the street name for a 
devastating, flesh-eating injectable morphine derivative--continue to 
be prohibited. The report said that law enforcement should "refocus" 
its efforts from incarcerating users to attacking the most damaging 
aspects of drug trafficking, such as violent drug gangs. It 
recommended more investment in strengthening the criminal justice 
system of countries affected by the drug trade, as well as 
international efforts to combat money laundering and corruption.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom