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Big Name Panel Calls Global Drug War a "Failure" [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #687)

The global war on drugs is a failure and governments worldwide should shift from repressive, law-enforcement centered policies to new ways of legalizing and regulating drugs, especially marijuana, as a means of reducing harm to individuals and society, a high-profile group of world leaders said in a report issued last Thursday.

Richard Branson blogs about being invited onto the global commission, on
The Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, said the global prohibitionist approach to drug policy, in place since the UN adopted the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs a half-century ago, has failed to reduce either the drug supply or consumption.

Citing UN figures, the report said global marijuana consumption rose more than 8% and cocaine use 27% in the decade between 1998 and 2008. Again citing UN figures, the group estimated that there are some 250 million illegal drug consumers worldwide. "We simply cannot treat them all as criminals," the report concluded.

The report also argued that arresting "tens of millions" of low-level dealers, drug couriers, and drug-producing farmers not only failed to reduce production and consumption, but also failed to address the economic needs that pushed people into the trade in the first place.

Prohibitionist approaches also foster violence, most notably in the case of Mexico, the group argued, and impede efforts to stop the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. Governments should instead turn to science- and evidence-based public health and harm reduction approaches, the group said. It cited studies of nations like Portugal and Australia, where the decriminalization of at least some drugs has not led to significantly greater use.

"Overwhelming evidence from Europe, Canada and Australia now demonstrates 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," said former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss. "These policies need to be adopted worldwide, with requisite changes to the international drug control conventions."

The report offered a number of recommendations for global drug policy reform, including:

  • End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.
  • Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs (especially cannabis) to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.
  • Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available -- including not just methadone and buprenorphine treatment but also the heroin-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada.
  • Apply human rights and harm reduction principles and policies both to people who use drugs as well as those involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers.

"Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government's global war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed," said former president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso. "Let's start by treating drug addiction as a health issue, reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives, and legally regulating rather than criminalizing cannabis."

"The war on drugs has failed to cut drug usage, but has filled our jails, cost millions in tax payer dollars, fuelled organized crime and caused thousands of deaths. We need a new approach, one that takes the power out of the hands of organized crime and treats people with addiction problems like patients, not criminals," said Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and cofounder of The Elders, United Kingdom. "The good news is new approaches focused on regulation and decriminalization have worked. We need our leaders, including business people, looking at alternative, fact based approaches. We need more humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs. The one thing we cannot afford to do is to go on pretending the war on drugs is working."

The Obama administration is having none of it. "Making drugs more available -- as this report suggests -- will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe," Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy told the Wall Street Journal the same day the report was released.

That sentiment is in line with earlier pronouncements from the administration that while it will emphasize a public health approach to drug policy, it stands firm against legalization. "Legalizing dangerous drugs would be a profound mistake, leading to more use, and more harmful consequences," drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said earlier this year.

But if the White House isn't listening, US drug reformers are -- and they're liking what they're hearing.

"It's no longer a question of whether legalizing drugs is a serious topic of debate for serious people," said Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a 34-year veteran police officer from Baltimore, Maryland. "These former presidents and other international leaders have placed drug legalization squarely on the table as an important solution that policymakers need to consider. As a narcotics cop on the streets, I saw how the prohibition approach not only doesn't reduce drug abuse but how it causes violence and crime that affect all citizens and taxpayers, whether they use drugs or not."

"These prominent world leaders recognize an undeniable reality. The use of marijuana, which is objectively less harmful than alcohol, is widespread and will never be eliminated," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "They acknowledge that there are only two choices moving forward. We can maintain marijuana's status as a wholly illegal substance and steer billions of dollars toward drug cartels and other criminal actors. Or, we can encourage nations to make the adult use of marijuana legal and have it sold in regulated stores by legitimate, taxpaying business people. At long last, we have world leaders embracing the more rational choice and advocating for legal, regulated markets for marijuana. We praise these world leaders for their willingness to advocate for this sensible approach to marijuana policy."

"The long-term impact of the Global Commission's efforts will be defining," predicted David Borden, executive director of (publisher of this newsletter). "Most people don't realize that there are leaders of this stature who believe prohibition causes much of the harm commonly seen as due to drugs. As more and more people hear these arguments, coming from some of the most credible people on the planet, legalization will come to be viewed as a credible and realistic option."

Other commission members include Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Canada; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil (chair); Marion Caspers-Merk, former State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health; Maria Cattaui former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland; Carlos Fuentes, writer and public intellectual, Mexico; Asma Jahangir, human rights activist, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Pakistan; Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria , France; Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and public intellectual, Peru; George Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece; George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State, United States (honorary chair); Javier Solana, former European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy , Spain; Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway; Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board; John Whitehead, banker and civil servant, chair of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, United States; and Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico.

While the Obama administration may be loathe to listen, the weight of world opinion, as reflected in the composition of the global commission that issued this report, is starting to create stress fractures in the wall of prohibition. A half-century of global drug prohibition has showed us what it can deliver, and the world is increasingly finding it wanting.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


maxw22d (not verified)

Time to ask for more detailed "studies of nations like Portugal and Australia, where the decriminalization of at least some drugs has not led to significantly greater use."  In the case of cannabis, at least, it can be argued that laws making it "hazardous" to possess or exhibit Harm Reduction Equipment, such as a vaporizer or a single-toke utensil, drive especially cowed youngsters to roll a hot burning overdose (THC-destroying) joint-- a "significantly greater use" quantitywise which does not lead to greater benefit to the user (just more heat shock and carbon monoxide causing "drug symptoms" prohibbers can blame on the cannabis).


Thu, 06/02/2011 - 8:30pm Permalink


The War on Drugs failed Billions of dollars ago!  This money could have been used for outreach programs to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing, free rehab, and clean needles.  Harmless drugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy.  Cannabis can provide hemp for countless natural recourses and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every state in our country out of the red!  Vote Teapot, PASS IT, and legalize it.  Voice you opinion with the movement and download my FREE poster at

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 9:07pm Permalink
Anonymous Dog (not verified)

  • Maybe the mainstream press will finally continue to follow the story.  The press has the power to wake up the American people, but they will do the same thing with this story,  they do with the SWAT raids. Post the story and then let it die.
Fri, 06/03/2011 - 1:37am Permalink
Paul Pot (not verified)

Do a little reading on the end of alcohol prohibition and you will see that the last couple of years of that disaster looks surprisingly like the situation today. People are waking up to the lies. Several US states next year will have legalization on the ballot and just watch out for the media storm there will be. At least one state will legalize and then there will have to be a confrontation between the states and federal government. And with growing support for change prohibition will end in the states within six months of that.And of course there will be a lot going on at the UN as well. So prohibition only has about 2 years left to live. 

Prohibition has poured trillions into the hands of the worst people on the planet to fund their wars and corruptions and save their banks in economic crisis (Wachovia bank drug money scandal).

I am desperate to see the end of prohibition but much more than that I want to see the prohibitionists stand trial for their crimes against humanity and spend the rest of their lives in prison for what they have done to us and our once beautiful world.

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 5:21am Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In reply to by Paul Pot (not verified)

And may the universe grant this wish as well, few deserve a prison sentence more than these:

I am desperate to see the end of prohibition but much more than that I want to see the prohibitionists stand trial for their crimes against humanity and spend the rest of their lives in prison for what they have done to us and our once beautiful world.

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 5:43pm Permalink
McD (not verified)

In reply to by Paul Pot (not verified)

"I am desperate to see the end of prohibition but much more than that I want to see the prohibitionists stand trial for their crimes against humanity and spend the rest of their lives in prison for what they have done to us and our once beautiful world."

Moreover, I'd go back to the time of the birth of the War on Drugs and revive a hippy dream: prohibition and capitalism march bravely together hand-in-hand into the dustbin of history, where ideas which once seemed like answers, and may have done much to help us climb that greasy pole of evolutionary development, may rest in peace.

It's called evolution: the baggage you need to make and carry to get you from one stage to the next becomes a hindrance and falls by the wayside once it's no longer needed. It must be difficult for those who have interwoven their fates with outdated ideas. They must have seemed like good ideas at the time.

Sun, 06/12/2011 - 4:24am Permalink
kickback (not verified)

The Pres. of the USA objected to the drug war being a failed policy. Yet when the Pres. of the USA  was running for election, he said publicly that the drug war was a " colossal failure " .  2012 Pres. candidates will see Cannabis leafs in their dreams whether they like it or not .  Washington 2011 .  Behold , the Green Tsunami is arriving .

Sat, 06/04/2011 - 3:22am Permalink
CrackCocaineNinja (not verified)

It is well known war on drugs is a failure,yet it is not all that simple: there are interests of powerful people which will be damaged by legalization, then, what are we going to do about it. We as people have the power to stop all the nonsense, stop being ignorant pussies

Sat, 06/04/2011 - 5:20pm Permalink
Jack (not verified)

They always say; "It's easier for children to get illegal substances than the regulated ones."

And I just wanted to confirm that, I'm 15 and I can get any of them with the click of my fingers.


But alcohol is very hard to get (unless it's out of your parents fridge - which mine don't have)

I just wanted to reinforce that, I've only ever smoked once.


It was interesting, but people say children should be drug-free as their brains develop, if that's what they say.

Then do something about it, sheesh.


Plus here in Oz, I've never seen any educational video in school about drugs - only smoking and alcohol.

I've done all the research myself, I thought that 1 year ago, marijuana turned you into a vegetable.


There's so many lies out there, something needs to change.

Decriminalization is a start, but it's definitely not the answer.

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 5:07am Permalink
Anonymous123412 (not verified)

It's about money.  The money the DEA gets ($2.415 billion/yr).  The money the banks launder ($378.4 billion from Wachovia).  The money the corrupt cops, prosecutors, judges, and politicians steal (you pay off the police first when you're slanging).  The money the prisons make off of young men's slave labor, the money the companies make to build prisons, and the continuing revenue stream of legal fees and fines that continue forever when someone is arrested for non-violent, personal drug use.

I decided long ago that the United States is a failure.  The empire is illegitimate and nuclear, with the police forces striking aimlessly abroad and extraordinarily focused domestically.  The real war is on the domestic populace.  We are living in Mao China, Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia all at once.  Go ahead and type in "cops" into youtube and watch countless videos of drug-addled corrupt cops executing innocent citizens.


Good luck America.  Before they let you smoke a joint in peace they'll deploy 50 brigades of regular Army and mass exterminate you.

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 6:54pm Permalink
sicntired (not verified)



In case no one has heard we had an election up here that was a fight between the big business conservatives and their lies and half truths and more money than god.Now that the country has lost it's mind and given this fascist a majority government I can guarantee that all the cash that has gone to rehabilitation and harm reduction will now go for prisons,police,mandatory minimum sentences,harsh drug laws and an endless campaign to snuff out insite.(the safe injection site)The Harper majority was the result of less than one percent more of the vote than last time.Now the conservatives,who can raise a billion dollars with a few phone calls are changing the rules and the $2 per vote that was given to all political parties will be no longer there.Harper tried this before and had to shut the government down to save his job.Now he is changing the way things are done to make it virtually impossible for the other parties to compete.This is the most evil anti drug government on the planet.They have proven time and time again that they care nothing about addicts,people,poverty,the planet,only power and money.Don't look to Canada for any more progress on the harm reduction front.We are now under a dictator who is an evangelical zealot.

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 1:30am Permalink
Brinna (not verified)

In reply to by sicntired (not verified)

Sorry to hear that the cancer has spread to Canada. 

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 11:42am Permalink
Steve Newcomb (not verified)

Why isn't the White House listening?

Frankly, I don't know.  But I've noticed that wherever this White House is demonstrably not listening -- e.g., most recently on Libya -- it's a matter in which the military-industrial complex might lose money if it *did* listen.  This White House thinks of itself as the world's "guys in the white hats".  If they are doing it, it can't be wrong, by definition.

To me it seems obvious that the real problem is not drug addiction, or the threat of drug addiction.  It's the addiction of the U.S. economy to organized violence.  Where is the real money in the U.S. economy?  Who's still hiring, or is in a position to hire?  Who can raise money on Wall Street?  What are the employment opportunities available to ex-soldiers?  How many are employed by prisons?  Are in prison?  Are employed in criminal enterprises?  If you look at the numbers, they tell an awful story, and here it is in a nutshell: America's economy depends on, and is mainly focused on, industrialized violence.

I will now make a very unpopular but very true remark: "Things would start to get better if EVERYONE, without exception, were REQUIRED to spend at least two years as a foreign and/or domestic footsoldier."  Yes, I'm advocating a return to the draft, for the simple reason that the "all-volunteer" system we have now is tantamount to enslavement.  The current system cannot continue unless we keep a large portion of the population ignorant and poor, so they will "volunteer" for wars of aggression that serve only the interests of the wealthy.  If the wealthy had to serve, the U.S. would start to move away from its focus on industrialized violence.

The drug war may soon be over, but the real war has yet to be recognized.  The real war is against the enslavement of our children, and we're losing it.  Our media does not know the meaning of the word "freedom".  Every generation must pay a price for the next generation's freedom, and our generation's bill has not been paid.  Our generation is content to slaughter the children of those less wealthy than we are.  Our generation denies its connection to the web of life.  

I'm old enough to remember Lyndon B. Johnson's many wars.  He liked "wars" because this term could be used to excuse his abuses of executive power.  (The Vietnam War was only one of his "wars" -- and the only one he resisted calling a "war" -- perhaps because it really was a war.)  I also remember him saying, very movingly, that he would use his executive authority to stop criminals from "SELLING SLAVERY TO OUR YOUNG PEOPLE!!!"   In retrospect, the irony of that rhetoric is almost unspeakable, because in the decades since, the net effect of that argument has been the enslavement of young people by our benighted government, in several ways.  Enslavement by imprisonment, by poverty, and by "volunteering" to waive one's civil rights by joining the military.

Please think about it, folks.

Thu, 06/09/2011 - 3:03pm Permalink
WarHippy1 (not verified)

An interesting fact about Pres. Johnson and the Vietnam War: His wife, Lady Bird, had major financial interests in the rubber plantations, located in South Vietnam. His family had alot to lose, financially, if the South fell to the North. Hence, the saying: Michelin Tires will give your car such a smooth ride, because they're riding on the Souls of the 58,000+ Vietnam War Dead.

   I guess I was a dumb young man, I spent 25 months fighting in Vietnam. I thought we were fighting for their Freedom. I didn't find out til later that our elected leaders are far less than honorable people, they'll kill our young to further their careers or financial gains.

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 12:12pm Permalink

We can encourage countries to make the laws of the adult use of marijuana, and sold through the legal, tax business people in the stores specified. Finally, we have the world's leaders to embrace a more rational choice, and respect for law, market regulation of marijuana. We applaud that they are willing to advocate for marijuana policy wise to these world leaders.

Tue, 02/07/2012 - 11:12pm Permalink

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