Pubdate: Sat, 30 May 2015
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2015sThe Australian
Author: Ross Fitzgerald
Note: Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics 
at Griffith University. His memoir, My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic's 
Journey, is available as an e-book and a talking book from Vision Australia.


If Bans Do More Harm Than Good, It's Time to Try a Different Approach

Who suffers most from drug prohibition? The conventional wisdom is 
that Western countries pay a very high price for illicit drugs 
originating from and transiting through some developing countries. 
But the truth is the highest price for our failed "war on drugs" is 
paid by those relatively few countries where the drugs are produced 
or through which they move.

This perspective was usefully analysed in a recent report from the 
United Nations Development Program, headed by former New Zealand 
prime minister Helen Clark. Entitled Perspectives on the Development 
Dimensions of Drug Control Policy, it shows the worst damage from 
global drug prohibition is not in places such as Sydney, Melbourne 
and Brisbane, but in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, 
Myanmar, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Mexico.

These are the producer and transit countries where civic institutions 
have been eroded, their highest courts bought, the environment 
trashed, politics corrupted and lives severely damaged.

The report notes the international drug-control system regards the 
health and welfare of humanity as its overarching concern. Hence it 
strives to ensure "adequate availability of narcotic drugs, including 
opiates, for medical and scientific purposes, while ... preventing 
illicit production of, trafficking in and use of such drugs". But the 
report acknowledges that drug control policy has not only failed to 
achieve its objectives, it also has generated considerable harm to 
health, social and economic development, peace, security and stability.

Indeed it seems clear that improved global security would be a key 
benefit of transnational drug policy reform.

While the unintended negative consequences of drug prohibition are 
worst for some of the most vulnerable countries, it is difficult to 
bring this international perspective to rich countries, including 
Australia. Politicians fighting to be elected or re-elected here 
would have a tough time explaining to anxious parents that we should 
be concerned about vulnerable populations in faraway places.

Australia cannot make illicit drugs disappear. But efforts to repress 
the industry, which is worth billions of dollars a year, have had 
dramatic unintended consequences, including a criminal black market 
of staggering proportions.

Unsurprisingly, voters in middle Australia are concerned about what 
they see as threats to their loved ones, especially children, 
ignoring the fact legal drugs - alcohol and tobacco - pose a much 
greater threat. Many of these parents will even support policies that 
have been tried again and again and haven't worked, and that attempt 
to shift the costs and blame to people living far away.

This is an even greater problem in Struggle Street, where the battle 
for survival is much harder and parents are even more desperate for a 
quick fix to protect their children.

The reality is that the blowback from the failed war on drugs in 
countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Colombia is like chickens 
coming home to roost.

As long ago as 2008 the US Joint Forces Command concluded: "In terms 
of worst-case scenarios for the world, two large and important states 
bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico."

This annual review of US national security stated: "The Mexican 
government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are 
all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug 
cartels." The assessment concluded that a serious threat to US 
national security was an end result of attempts at drug prohibition.

Australia and the US spent much blood and treasure across more than a 
decade in Afghanistan for very little gain. Afghanistan would not 
have become so unstable without a huge opium and heroin industry.

Seventy per cent of the opium cultivated in Afghanistan comes from 
the two southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, which have been 
run by the Taliban. The profits from the opium and heroin trade 
helped fund the Taliban's weapons, aimed at Australian and other 
soldiers of the International Security Assistance Force.

Endemic corruption and instability in drug producer and transit 
countries have many terrible consequences. Those responsible for 9/11 
didn't seek refuge in Pakistan and Afghanistan by accident. Both 
countries had been destabilised by decades of drug production and 
trafficking, and their legal and political systems were and still are corrupt.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the halfbrother of former Afghan president Hamid 
Karzai, was known to be an opium war lord.

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, a former president of Pakistan, was thought to 
have been involved in opium trafficking, and his death in a 
mysterious plane crash was attributed by some commentators to opium rivalry.

Multiply this by 10 times for countries such as Colombia, Peru and 
Bolivia, where the narco-traffickers have had an even stronger grip 
on government and civic institutions.

The West's indifference to the havoc visited on producer and transit 
countries changed after the violence seen in Mexico following the 
declaration of a war on drugs by incoming president Felipe Calderon 
on December 1, 2006. In the next six years, drug traffickers, police 
and the army murdered more than 70,000 Mexicans. Kidnappings and 
extortion went through the roof. Foreign investment dried up. US 
security agencies became nervous about the potential for Mexico's 
problems to spread across the border.

For decades the war on drugs has been used to win elections around 
the world, but global prohibition clearly is approaching its use-by 
date. Dismounting from a tiger is not easy. But if it is to be 
effective, global drug policy is going to have to change its target 
to something well beyond and quite different from prohibition.

A useful beginning would be to redefine illicit drugs as primarily a 
health and social issue; increase funding for health and social 
interventions; improve treatment for drug users; and try to regulate 
as much of the drug market as possible. A good start would be taxing 
and regulating cannabis.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom