Despite opening with an attack on legalization, the UN's new World Drug Report 2009 is refreshingly candid about the limitations of the criminal justice approach to drug use. Ryan Grim at Huffington Post notes that the report praises Portugal's decriminalization policy, which is remarkable considering that the UN had previously "suggested the policy was in violation of international drug treaties and would encourage 'drug tourism.'"
Attitudes are beginning to change at the UN, as this passage from the report clearly illustrates:
At times, drug possession can serve as a pretext to detain an otherwise dangerous or suspect individual, but otherwise, the law must allow for non-custodial alternatives when a police officer stumbles upon small amounts of drugs. It is important that the incident be documented and the opportunity availed to direct the user to treatment if required, but it is rarely beneficial to expend limited prison space on such offenders. According to surveys, between a quarter and a half of the population of many countries in Europe and North America has been in possession of illicit drugs at one time or another in their lives. Most remained productive citizens. In only a small share of these cases would arrest, and the lifelong stigma it brings, have been appropriate.
Yes! Stop arresting people for drugs. Good call, guys. This is a pretty straightforward endorsement of decriminalization, and it's exciting to hear this kind of rhetoric coming from the United Nations. Decriminalization won't solve many of the worst consequences of the war on drugs, but ending prohibition is impossible without first establishing a consensus that arresting drug users is bad policy. It looks like this concept is beginning to sink in.