The global drug war has failed, says a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, “with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” It is time that governments consider legalizing marijuana and similar substances.
The commission includes, among others, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, former US Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and business tycoon Richard Branson. They are urging today’s leaders to “have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately — that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.”
Instead of punishing users who “do no harm to others,” the commission argues that governments should end criminalization of drug use and experiment with legal models that would undermine organized crime syndicates and offer health and treatment services for drug users in need.
America’s war on drugs, which is being waged both within the nation’s borders and across Central America, is utterly futile. Tens of thousands of law enforcements officers and civilians have lost their lives in the struggle and drug use in America has not declined. Rather the country is funding both sides of the war, with the government spending almost the exact amount on law enforcement and foreign aid as American citizens buy in drugs.
A just government doesn’t dictate what products its citizens can and cannot consume or enjoy. It is not the government’s responsibility to protect people against themselves.
Proponents of a repressive drugs policy argue that drug use poses a threat to the community, because people on drugs, like people who are intoxicated with alcohol, have less control over their behavior and might act erratically if not aggressively. They further allege that use would undoubtedly rise when drug laws are loosened.
Both claims are demonstrably false. The most popular drugs, including marijuana and ecstasy, do not make people more aggressive. Drug addiction and abuse are serious problems but hardly more so than alcohol abuse. It makes no sense to criminalize the one and control the other with sensible legislation.
As for the fear that drug use could increase if it were legalized; there is no evidence to support this claim. The one country that has virtually legalized “soft” drugs, the Netherlands, has proven the contrary. The number of teenagers and young adult who have experimented with drugs in the Netherlands pales in comparison with American statistics.
Yet the United States maintain among the toughest drug laws among developed nations, including mandatory prison sentences for the slightest of offenses. The result is something of a police state. Regularly, all across the country, SWAT teams barge into peoples’ houses on the suspicion of drug possession, arresting ordinary people, even parents, because they had the audacity to smoke pot in the privacy of their own homes. Teenagers who try marijuana once could be imprisoned and their lives are ruined because of it.
Every day, more people are arrested in the America on drug charges than all other crimes combined. In 2008, 1.5 million Americans were arrested for drug offenses. 500,000 were imprisoned. Marijuana constitutes almost half of all drug arrests.
No matter the futility of the war on drugs; no matter the thousands of deaths and lives ruined; no matter the fact that law enforcement is becoming evermore brutal in its pursuits and that America is slowly turning into a prison nation because of its prejudice, the question ultimately boils down to one of civil liberties. Either we own our body or we don’t.