Pubdate: Sat, 13 Sep 2014
Source: Nation, The (Thailand)
Copyright: 2014 Nation Multimedia Group
Author: Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg
Page: 9A


The world's elder statesmen have a problem when it comes to drug 
policy. They are increasingly coming out in favour of broad 
legalisation, but their message is having a hard time getting through 
thanks to decades of anti-drug propaganda from the governments in 
which they participated.

Three years ago, a group called the Global Commission on Drug Policy 
released a report denouncing the "war on drugs" for increasing 
violence and failing to curb consumption. It got a lot of attention 
because its members included such luminaries as former Brazilian 
president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former United Nations secretary- 
general Kofi Annan, former US secretary of state George Schultz, 
former North Atlantic Treaty Organisation chief Javier Solana and 
former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. These are serious, 
powerful men, not potheads or irresponsible anarchists.

Now the group has issued a new report that goes further, arguing that 
an all-out war on drugs is a waste of money and a danger to public 
health. Thanks in part to restrictive policies, 37 per cent of 
Russia's 1.8 million intravenous drug users are infected with HIV. As 
many as 100,000 people have died fighting Mexico's drug wars. 
Minorities and women are disproportionately incarcerated for drug 
offences. Meanwhile, global opium production has increased 380 per 
cent since 1980, to 4,000 tonnes a year. The global population of 
drug users increased about 20 per cent from 2008 to 2012, to 243 
million, according to the UN.

The commission recommends that governments renounce prohibitive 
policies and treat drugs as they do alcohol, tobacco and strong 
medicines. This would entail experimenting with legal, regulated 
markets "beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and 
certain novel psychoactive substances", as well as allowing 
restricted access to highly addictive drugs such as heroin, primarily 
for treatment purposes.

As the report puts it: "Ultimately the most effective way to reduce 
the extensive harms of the global drug prohibition regime and advance 
the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control 
through responsible legal regulation."

The voting public isn't nearly as progressive. Uruguay's recent 
marijuana legalisation plan  cited in the report as a positive 
example - is now in danger of collapsing because 64 per cent of 
Uruguayans oppose it. In the US, where a majority supports marijuana 
legalisation, most would draw the line at permitting other 
psychoactive substances. According to recent Huffington Post/YouGov 
polls, 83 per cent oppose the legalisation of cocaine and LSD, and 79 
per cent support the ban on methamphetamine and MDMA, also known as 
ecstasy. Support for their legalisation is in the single digits.

These public prejudices were shaped when the retired politicians who 
make up most of the commission were in power.

Whatever their private opinions might have been, they had no 
appreciable effect on the policies of governments, which delivered 
relentless antidrug propaganda that the media bought and carried.

Perhaps propaganda is the most dangerous drug of all. The US Congress 
appeared to understand its corrosive effects back in the 1970s, when 
it banned the distribution on US soil of government-funded propaganda 
from outlets such as Voice of America (the law is no longer in 
force). The noholds-barred war of lies between the governments of 
Russia and Ukraine shows propaganda machines maintain their deadly 
effectiveness even today.

Governments' power to influence public opinion should be restricted 
as tightly as the most dangerous drugs, and free media - where they 
still exist - need to pay special attention to how they relay 
government messages.

Otherwise, when officials grow older and decide something was done 
wrong, their wisdom will fall on deaf ears.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom