Treatment and Compassion, Not War
It’s easier to start a war than to end it. And harder still is admitting defeat.
In the War on Drugs no one really wins. Even drug traffickers with all their riches kill each other off. For these reasons and more, the possibility of global drug reform represented by April’s special United Nation’s session on the topic symbolizes hope for many people.
The session, known as UNGASS, was accelerated for this year after Mexico and other Latin American countries requested it after enduring decades of unstoppable and fatal consequences in their home countries.
UNGASS can potentially reorient the world’s priorities and resources in the global response to drug consumption. Such a reorientation could signal the end of a prohibitionist paradigm towards one of medical treatment and compassion.
Clearly, new approaches are necessary especially in the face of a number of uncontroverted facts detailed by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
More than half a century of the institutionalization of drug prohibition with its criminalization of the consumption, production and sale of illegal drugs the War on Drugs is admittedly a failure. Just taking opium by way of example, today the production of opium increased 400% since 1980 and it is even purer and cheaper now in the United States. This basic economic model of supply and demand makes a laughing stock of today’s prohibitionist paradigm.
The threats to public health that accompany the War on Drugs have worsened during this prohibition. Thousands of addicts die by using uncontrolled and contaminated drugs, needle exchange programs are outlawed for the most part, and Naloxone which can combat drug overdoses is hardly available in most countries.
In the United States in 2014 more than 10,000 persons died of heroin overdose, a 25% increase from the year before. At the other extreme an estimated 5.5 billion people live in countries without access to opiates that may be used to alleviate pain.
As in any war, human rights compliance is the first casualty. Close to a thousand persons annually are executed in 33 countries where drug crimes lead to the death penalty in violation of international law. More women globally are incarcerated for drug crimes than for any other crime and in Latin America the number of women incarcerated for these offenses grew by 50% in fifteen years.
In the United States the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans and Latinos is fueled by the War on Drugs which explains why the country has 5% of the world population but 25% of the world’s prisoners.
Today illegal drug trafficking is a $322 billion dollar enterprise worth more than coffee, tobacco, cereal, wine and beer combined. Drug cartels, easily the most violent sector of civil society, are enriched by the profits of this War on Drugs.
At the same time the violence against civilians has no end. In Mexico alone since 2006 when its government enlisted its military to fight the drug trade, at least 60,000 persons were murdered, thousands have been disappeared, and thousands more have been displaced from their homes.
The global response is manifested in a wasteful investment of billions of dollars in our law enforcement, military, criminal justice and correctional systems. In the Caribbean, Central and South America the violence embedded in the drug war halts economic development in the public sector and deprives it of resources that could be used to improve education and social institutions.
These are the facts. In light of these we must demand an end to this drug war at the UNGASS.
This article was originally published in Huffington Post, you can read the article on Huffington Post here
Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of Latino Justice PRLDEF