Pubdate: Sat, 16 Apr 2016
Source: West Hawaii Today (HI)
Copyright: 2016 West Hawaii Today
Author: Johann Hari
Note: Johann Hari is author of "Chasing The Scream: The First and 
Last Days of the War on Drugs."


Once a decade, the United Nations organizes a meeting where every 
country in the world comes together to figure out what to do about 
drugs - and up to now, they've always pledged to wage a relentless 
war, to fight until the planet is "drug-free." They've consistently 
affirmed U.N. treaties written in the 1960s and 1970s, mainly by the 
United States, which require every country to arrest and imprison 
their way out of drug-related problems.

But at this year's meeting in New York City later this month, several 
countries are going to declare: This approach has been a disaster. We 
can't do this anymore. Enough.

The drug war is now the subject of a raucous debate within the U.S. - 
and if you look at the stories of three influential people who will 
speak on behalf of their countries for change at the U.N., they might 
sound strangely familiar. The reasons why U.S. citizens are rejecting 
the war on drugs are, it turns out, also the reasons why it is being 
rejected all over the world, from the Caribbean to Europe to South America.

In August 2014, the justice minister for Jamaica, Mark Golding, had 
to make a phone call no government official ever wants to make. He 
had to explain to a mother that her son was dead. Mario Deane was 
picked up on the street because he was smoking a spliff, put into 
custody and beaten to death.

It was, for Golding, a moment that made him realize he could no 
longer support his country's drug laws. All over the world, the 
criminalization of cannabis has been used as an excuse to harass 
unpopular minorities (in Jamaica's case, the poor), and, he told me, 
it has "worsened the relationship between those young men and law 
enforcement." So he persuaded the Cabinet to decriminalize cannabis 
for personal possession. "We wanted to take ganja out of the 
picture," he says, "as a medium through which the police would use 
hard or heavy policing against younger men."

In the 15 years since Portugal decided to decriminalize drug use and 
invest instead in treatment and prevention services, use of injected 
drugs has fallen by 50 percent. Since Switzerland legalized heroin 
for addicts more than a decade ago, nobody has died of an overdose on 
legal heroin.

A key figure in shaping Colombia's strategy at the upcoming U.N. 
conference is Maricio Rodriguez, an economist and diplomat. The drug 
war, he told me in Cartagena, is "the worst tragedy we have ever 
lived in, in Colombia and probably all of Latin America." The 
combined death toll from the Latin American drug war exceeds even the 
war in Syria. "Every day that goes by is a day in which we are losing 
hundreds of people and we are losing hundreds of millions of 
dollars," he explains.

Like most Colombians, he has relatives who were murdered when 
narcotraffickers were taking over the country. "Everybody has a 
story," he says.

To explain why this carnage is happening, Rodriguez cited the late 
Nobel Prize-winning U.S. economist Milton Friedman, who grew up in 
Chicago under alcohol prohibition, and learned there what happens if 
you ban a popular substance. It doesn't matter whether the government 
targets whiskey or cocaine; a ban forces legal businesses out of the 
market - and armed criminal gangs take it over. They then go to war 
to control the trade. But once the prohibition ends, so does the 
violence. (Ask yourself: Where are the violent alcohol dealers today?)

Ranged against reform-minded countries at the U.N. conference will be 
governments that want to maintain or even intensify the global war, 
including Russia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and China. Although the U.S. has 
historically been the most hard-line country, this time, its 
representatives will arrive at the conference in breach of U.N. drug treaties.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom