David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 1/21/05
Iran, we report this week, has carried out mass arrests of tens of thousands of drug users -- 50,000 in greater Teheran alone -- and the campaign will doubtless continue. As with the US, where drugs are illegal and the drug war is fiercely prosecuted, those 50+ thousands did break their nation's laws. But does that mean they should they be rounded up? In my opinion such a belief would reflect too narrow a view.
Two months ago, my "Spirit of Lawfulness" editorial attracted a fair degree of interest. In that piece, I wrote, " [t]hat which is lawless in its essence is not made truly lawful through the passage of mere laws." Even in a democracy, even one such as ours that is not confined by autocratic exercise power to theocracy, there is something not lawful in spirit, not respectful of basic rights in their essence, in the locking inside cages of human beings for their personal choices where those choices do not violate the safety or property of others.
Though drug policies in Western Europe, for example, are far from perfect -- even in the Netherlands, marijuana is technically illegal, for example -- Western Europe's drug prohibition is far less extreme than that of the United States. Though the European Union has more people in it than the United States, fewer EU denizens sit now in jail or prison for all crimes combined than the half a million the US incarcerates for drug offenses alone, and Europe's "tolerance" approach to drug use continues to gain ground, albeit gradually and with occasional setbacks.
The "zero tolerance" spirit which leads sometimes to mass police roundups of people is something with the US shares in greatest measure with countries like Iran, or Thailand or the Philippines with their governmental anti-drug death squads, or China with its mass "International Anti-Drugs Day" executions each year. Indeed, we permit our anti-drug agencies to forge ties with some of the most rights-abusing governments in the world. Such cooperation with our anti-drug objectives then gets portrayed in the halls of power as evidence that maybe they are not so bad after all, or that they should be appeased even if they are.
The US also uses its leverage as a top international donor to ensure the continued dominance of the UN's anti-drug treaties that bind signatory nations into prohibitionist legal systems. For that matter, we encouraged the UN to provide funding to the Taliban for opium eradication, despite dire warnings of that movement's violence -- though ironically, marijuana law at least was one area in which the Taliban's policies were less punishing than ours. Note that this newsletter condemned the Taliban in 1997. We continue today to point out the disjuncture -- not consonance -- between the war on drugs and democracy and human rights, in principle and policy and effect.
Secretary of State nominee Condoleeza Rice this week named Iran as one of several "outposts of tyranny." Perhaps Iran's government merits such a title, though tyranny prevails in many nations not appearing on Rice's short list. Unfortunately, I don't expect the State Department under George Bush to count mass arrests of Iranian drug users among the sins it protests or even observes.
Also unfortunately, I doubt that a Kerry administration would have done so either. The hegemony of prohibitionist international drug policy emanates from, and is reflected in, a near uniformity of prohibitionist ideology within mainstream political groupings in the US -- Democrats and Republicans alike are unfortunate bedfellows in the perpetration of the drug war against our fellow citizens of this country and others.
But that's why getting our message out is so important. Only by making the public at large aware of the case against drug prohibition, can the drug war's lock on our state and national and international institutions be broken. Only then will leaders recognize that if democracy and rule of law and human rights belong on one side of the global ideological divide, the drug war is rather on the other. There is no drug exception to human rights.