Almost 100 years after the League of Nations first law on narcotics (drugs), the International Opium Convention of 1912, a report released yesterday, June 2, 2011, says the global war on drugs is a failure and governments need to initiate other policies, including legalising marijuana and other currently controlled substances.
The report, War on drugs by the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), a think tank that includes former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, the current prime minister of Greece, the past presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, along with distinguished world leaders and statesmen, said ‚”the global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world‚”.
Commissioner Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and co-founder of The Elders, United Kingdom, said: “The war on drugs has failed to cut drug usage, but has filled our jails, cost millions in tax payer dollars, fuelled organised crime and caused thousands of deaths. We need a new approach, one that takes the power out of the hands of organised crime and treats people with addiction problems like patients, not criminals.‚”
According to former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss ‚”Overwhelming evidence from Europe, Canada and Australia now demonstrate the human and social benefits both of treating drug addiction as a health rather than criminal justice problem and of reducing reliance on prohibitionist policies.‚”
War on drugs recommends governments ‚”invest in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems‚”.
It recommends governments ‚”focus repressive actions on violent criminal organisations‚”, while ‚”law enforcement efforts should focus not on reducing drug markets per se but rather on reducing their harms to individuals, communities and national security‚”.
No war on drugs means no WHO & US government aid money
In the USA the Obama administration and the Mexican government ‚ who are in the midst of a 4 1/2 -year-old drug war against cartels that has seen more than 38,000 people killed in Mexico ‚ immediately dismissed the report’s recommendations, with White House Office of National Drug Control Policy spokesman Rafael Lemaitre saying, ‚”making drugs more available will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe”.
However, commissioner and former Colombian president, Cesar Gaviria, said: ‚”When you have 40 years of a policy [the term ‚”war on drugs‚” was first used by US president Richard Nixon on June 17, 1971] that is not bringing results, you have to ask if it’s time to change it.”
Change won’t come easy in most parts of the world though as a requirement of membership of the World Health Organization (WHO) and access to large pools of aid money, as well as to official aid from the US Government, requires recipients to criminalise cultivation, manufacture, extraction, preparation, possession, offering, offering for sale, distribution, purchase, sale, and/ or delivery of narcotics covered by the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and/ or the US Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
Changes in 1986 to the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 require the President of the US to report to Congress the counter narcotic compliance of major narcotic-producing and transiting countries, with those that fail to comply liable to decertification and placing at risk US aid money and approval of multilateral loans.
Ideologically based drug laws flawed
First enacted in 1961 and tracing its origins back to the League of Nations International Opium Convention of 1912, the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty forms the basis of many member states individual national drug policies, including the US Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and the United Kingdom’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, both of which were drafted to fulfil treaty obligations and contain parallel methods of drug scheduling.
However, the Commission says governments should ‚”replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights, recommending they ‚”review the scheduling of drugs that has resulted in obvious anomalies like the flawed categorisation of cannabis, coca leaf and MDMA‚” as a priority.
Cannabis was first regulated in 1928 by an amendment vigorously championed by the US Government to the International Opium Convention, with the same government largely responsible for Cannabis being listed in the same category as opium, coca, and derivatives, such as morphine, heroin, and cocaine, in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs bill in 1961. ( Continues … )
In 1994 the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the “war on drugs” results in the incarceration of one million Americans annually, with marijuana accounting for almost half of all drug arrests. US FBI statistics show marijuana offences account for about 800,00 of the 1.8 million drug arrests annually in the USA, at a cost of more than $7 billion, while between 1990 and 2002 it represented 82 per cent of all offences involving narcotics.
For many years academics and others have claimed the US government’s ‚”war on drugs‚” is nothing more than a smokescreen for military or paramilitary operations, with much of the money spent internationally provided to organisations who themselves are involved in large-scale narcotics trafficking.
It’s a matter of public record that the CIA, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), State Department, along with several other U.S. government agencies have been implicated in a number of drug trafficking enterprises which were used to fund illegal covert activities in foreign countries.
Legalizing and taxing drugs would add $76 billion to the US economy
This latest report is not the first to proclaim the war on drugs a failure. In 1993 Alberto Fujimori, president of Peru between 1990 and 2000 said that despite large amounts of money being spent by the US and Peruvian governments between 1980 and 1990, coco leaf production there grew 10-fold.
One of the war on drugs biggest critics was esteemed American journalist Walter Cronkite who, in 2006, proclaimed in Telling the Truth About the War on Drugs in The Huffington Post, “the war on drugs is a failure”. No stranger to controversy, Cronkite, the person regarded as ‚”The Most Trusted Man in America‚”, was a living legend and a stalwart of journalism integrity. When he reported in 1968 that the war with Vietnam was a failure everyone from United States president Lyndon Johnson down listened and took notice.
In 2008 a study by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron estimated that legalizing drug use would inject $76.8 billion a year into the US economy ‚Äì $44.1 billion from law enforcement savings, and at least $32.7 billion in tax revenue ($6.7 billion from marijuana, $22.5 billion from cocaine and heroin, and the balance from other drugs).
In its 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment the US Department of Justice (DoJ), said more than 43 million individuals, about 14.2 per cent of the American population, used illicit drugs or abused prescription drugs in 2008 and that 20 per cent of state prisoners and 53 per cent of federal prisoners were incarcerated for drug offences.
The same report said that “overall, the availability of illicit drugs in the United States is increasing … the prevalence of four of the five major drugs ‚Äì heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, and MDMA (also known as ecstasy) was widespread”. It further said that in 2008 “more than 25 million individuals 12 years of age and older reported using an illicit drug or using a controlled prescription drug (CPD) non-medically”
According to the DoJ, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the USA, with 25.8 million individuals 12 years of age and older (10.3%) using it in 2008, consistent with previous years, while In 2008 about 2.9 million people tried an illicit drug or used a prescription drug non-medically for the first time ‚Äì almost 8,000 initiates per day.
Drug arrests in Thailand increased by 1,796% between 2004 and 2009
A 2009 report by Rand Corporation, a US-based nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision making through research and analysis, methamphetamine use in the USA cost the country between $16.2 and $43.8 billion in 2005 and the DoJ says indications are that the number of methamphetamine labs producing (as opposed to that being imported) in the USA is increasing.
If, as proclaimed in the book The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics by Richard Davenport-Hines that less than 15 percent of illicit heroin and 30 per cent of illicit cocaine is intercepted, increasing levels of detection and seizure are only the tip of an extremely large iceberg that is only increasing in size.
In February 2003 the government of Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a ‚”war on drugs‚” in response to increasing quantities of methamphetamine (locally called ya-baa), flooding the Southeast Asian nation from neighbouring countries, predominantly Burma.
Wildly proclaimed by some with vested interests as being a bloody orgy of extra-judicial executions by the Royal Thai Police (RTP) in which 2,275 alleged drug offenders were killed in the first three months‚ “the official figure is 72 killed in 58 incidents involving police and 70,000 people arrested” statistics show that the only time the number of drug offences decreased in Thailand between 1999 and 2009 was in this period.
In the ensuing five year period following the ‚”Thaksin war on drugs‚” the number of drug cases has risen by 1,797 per cent, with Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board says there was 223,294 drug offences detected in Thailand in 1999, but in 2004 only 55,243. ( Continues … )
Methamphetamine Thailand’s most used drug
For the 2009 year 155,013 drug offences involving 168,013 offenders were detected in Thailand, with the biggest growth seen in arrests involving ice (methamphetamine Hydrochloride crystal) where the number of offences detected increased by a staggering 1,411 percent over the five year period (195 to 2,948) resulting in 3,464 offenders apprehended in 2009.
While the number of drug cases in Thailand involving heroin, cocaine, ketamine, and ecstasy have all fallen since 2004, those involving less expensive drugs have grown. Between 2004 and 2009 the number of cases involving Kratom leaves (a locally indigenous plant traditionally used for medicinal purposes with mildly addictive properties) increased by 342 per cent, marijuana by 72.5 per cent and ya-baa (methamphetamine) by 256 per cent.
Though the growth in ya-baa offences in Thailand appears relatively modest, it represents the largest number of drug offences detected in Thailand involving 131, 950 people and more than 120,000 cases in 2009.
Thailand’s prison system is notorious for its harsh conditions and overcrowding but the extent of such was only highlighted recently by human rights watch group the Union for Civil Liberties (UCL) who reported late last month that the country’s 143 prisons are running at 200.53 per cent of capacity, with 212,058 inmates housed in jails designed for 105,748, making them the eighth most crowded in the world.
According to Danthong Breen, chairman of the UCL, 60 per cent of prisoners in the Thailand penal system are incarcerated on drug offences, many of them minor charges.
The UCL figures correspond with undated figures on the Thailand Department of Corrections (DoC) website, which claims a total prison population of 212,058 – 182,138 males and 30,020 females.
According to the DoC the number of prisoners incarcerated in Thailand for narcotics offences is 56.42 per cent overall, with female prisoners convicted on narcotics charges representing about 57.2 per cent of the entire female prison population, while the proportion of males is 39.23 per cent. The figures are somewhat misleading however, as the DoC figures for prisoners classified by type of offence fail to take into account another 52,518 people detained, but not classified as prisoners.
The level of drug use in Thailand cannot be judged on the prison population alone, as since 1991 those apprehended with possession or personal use quantities of category 1, 2, or 5 drugs have been ordered to compulsory treatment and rehabilitation centres, provided they were charged with no other jailable offence at the time of their arrest (See excellent report on drug rehabilitation approaches in Thailand and Malaysia: Aljazeera English 101 East, Asia’s speed trap).
According to the ONCB in 2009 there was 39,287 people undergoing compulsory drug rehabilitation, 7,338 under DoC management and a further 15,740 people who voluntarily sought treatment.
Though the number of all people undergoing treatment fell by almost 45 per cent over those in 2008, its figures show that about 80 percent of those undergoing drug rehabilitation were do so for methamphetamine addiction.
The GDCP report is just the latest in a series of reports over the last few years to urge a change in the attitude and enforcement policies relating to the illicit drug industry and like those that preceded it is likely to end up on the shelf gathering dust.
Until the US government stops using its failed anti drugs campaign to control the purse strings on millions of dollars in humanitarian and military aid to developing nations – exercising it’s economic power behind the scenes to shape global treaties – countries such as Thailand and others that rely on this money will be forced to maintain tough anti-drugs policies, depleting huge amounts of money from national coffers against a war that was lost before it even started (See: Leaked cable shows USA influencing Thai law & justice system for 60 years).
See: Excellent report on drug rehabilitation approaches in Thailand and Malaysia: Aljazeera English 101 East, Asia’s speed trap
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Footnote: AVAAz, a global web movement aimed at bringing people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere is running an online petition calling for the UN to end the war on drugs.
He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.
He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.
In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.
Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me
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