Streams

Is the Global War on Drugs a Failure?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, founder and director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelman and César Gaviria president of Colombia from 1990 to 1994 and a commissioner on the Global Commission on Drug Policy, discussed the Global Commission on Drug Policy report and why they say the global war on drugs has failed.

Since President Nixon declared the "war on drugs," there has been very little to show for it, according to former President of Colombia, César Gaviria. In the last 40 years the results have been disappointing and the increase in spending has shown no improvement, he said.

The report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, released earlier this month, reflects his opinion.

So, what needs to change?

Gaviria said the U.S., and other countries who criminalize drug use, need to take a different approach to dealing with drugs.

What the world needs at this moment, and the U.S., is to look at the problem of consumption of drugs as a sickness, as a problem of health, but not as a criminal activity...it's not using enough money on information and prevention and the problem of using marijuana is totally out of hand...it's time that the U.S. at least look at Europe that has been handling this in a much more intelligent way. They use the word harm, less harm for society, and I really think that is a much better approach.

Ethan Nadelman of the Drug Policy Alliance agreed that the European tactic is a very different one.

If they're going to have a drug czar it's more likely to be somebody with a health background than what we have in the U.S. which is somebody who's a former police chief, a military general or a professional moralist.

The wrong bottom line

Those in favor of the way we fight the "war on drugs" through criminalization, measure drug use and its decline in a way that doesn't reflect the truth about drug use, according to Nadelman. He said those that claim success are looking at the wrong set numbers.

The drug war-ers will say, well look, the 1980's were a great success because the number of Americans who admitted to using illegal drugs dropped from 40 million to 20 million. Now I'll say, look back at those numbers. First of all, most of the people using drugs in 1980 were you know, people smoking marijuana or yuppies doing cocaine, most of whom do not have a problem. Keep this in mind, in 1980 nobody's heard of crack cocaine but by 1990 it was a national epidemic. In 1980 nobody had heard of drug related HIV or AIDS, but by 1990, a quarter million Americans were dead or dying because of drug related AIDS...

Gaviria added that this number counting takes the fight in the wrong direction. In fact, it proves the opposite.

The authorities in the US can not keep measuring success about how many people they put in jail, about how much amounts of drug they seize because that is totally un-useful for us. It's only proof that things are getting worse and not better.

The market

Ethan Nadelman said the importance of decriminalization is also a matter of economics.

There's no question that if you take a commodity which is used by tens of millions of people, maybe hundreds of millions of people around the world, that provides black market revenue that amounts to many, many tens of billions of dollars a year and if you instead choose to tax, control and regulate than that will remove a major source of capital and power for criminal organizations.

He said the tactic of legalization and regulation needs to be on the table for an informed discussion to take place around how to deal with drug use. This is the path we took with prohibition, he added, and it worked.

 

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Comments [20]

Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Elizabeth

Yes, here is the banal, moronic, risible "public safety" argument rearing its stupid head. Many drugs are not approved by the FDC and are still sold OTC - you can sell anything, from Yohimbe to Ephedra soaked cola so long as it carries the disclaimer 'Not approved to treat or prevent any disease". More people have die from Aspiring and other OTC prescribed drugs than illicit drugs by a HUGE margin every year.

I worked for Pfizer in the WWS "Adverse Events" reporting center for years - you people who think the drugs you're taking are "safe" are dolts, and guinea pigs to boot. Coca, opium and marijuana have been used for millenia by human beings, their safety and efficacy has been proven for that long and our brains have ADAPTED (neurally) to metabolize them. What a bunch of scared, lilly livered losers in this county.

Jun. 27 2011 04:24 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Elizabeth

Yes, here is the banal, moronic, risible "public safety" argument rearing its stupid head. Many drugs are not approved by the FDC and are still sold OTC - you can sell anything, from Yohimbe to Ephedra soaked cola so long as it carries the disclaimer 'Not approved to treat or prevent any disease". More people have die from Aspiring and other OTC prescribed drugs than illicit drugs by a HUGE margin every year.

I worked for Pfizer in the WWS "Adverse Events" reporting center for years - you people who think the drugs you're taking are "safe" are dolts, and guinea pigs to boot. Coca, opium and marijuana have been used for millenia by human beings, their safety and efficacy has been proven for that long and our brains have ADAPTED (neurally) to metabolize them. What a bunch of scared, lilly livered losers in this county.

Jun. 27 2011 04:23 PM

How can the government legalize drugs like ecstacy, cocaine, meth...etc. while protecting the public by FDC. They would have to leg to stand on to disapprove of any prescription or over-the-counter drug while allowing poison. It's unrealistic, unpragmatic, and dangerous.

Jun. 27 2011 12:59 PM
jonny goldstein from pittsburgh, pa

Thanks for discussing this important topic Brian. There are so many harms associated with our prohibitionist approach that it is a challenge to list all of them. I am very glad that major establishment figures are speaking out in favor of a rational approach to regulating drugs. Time to end the madness.

Jun. 27 2011 12:50 PM

In the same way that terrorism is NOT an enemy, drugs too are not an enemy. We have failed miserably in our feebled-minded approach to both. You don't solve problems with billion dollar military contracts.

You kill people, instead.

Jun. 27 2011 12:07 PM

Hmmm...

Religious nuts and the mafia... unlikely partners in crime!!

Jun. 27 2011 12:06 PM
dboy from nyc

@ Elizabeth

zzz!

Jun. 27 2011 11:39 AM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca

@hjs11211:

Don't forget the usefulness of being able to arrest just about anyone in certain parts of town, or at least have a credible reason for breaking down their doors.

And, I have to say, among my upper-middle-class white friends, dope _is_ pretty much anathema---they don't want to see users in prison, especially if it turned out to be their kids, but they can't admit that there might be some good in some things which are formally tabu-tabu...and since those are the people about whom the legislators care, to the extent that they care about any of the walking un-rich.....

Jun. 27 2011 11:36 AM
dboy from nyc

Personally, I think if you need to use drugs, there is something wrong. I don't use 'em. On the other hand, the current policy is a unmitigated debacle and needs to be aggressively changed. The victorian, paternalistic approach of prohibition DOES NOT WORK. Case in point: Booze prohibition permanently imposed organized crime into the American culture and NEVER kept folks from drinking!

It seems the same religious nuts that enjoy looking over other peoples sex lives also enjoy attempting to prevent people from making bad decisions with punitive puritanical policy.

Legalize, decriminalize and tax. Use the tax dollars and the savings from the militarization solution and incarceration and then treat and educate! There will be a net HUGE savings and many saved lives!!

Jun. 27 2011 11:33 AM

Bottom line: U.S. borders need to be thicker, stronger and more reinforced. The government needs to put its strength behind its policies.

Jun. 27 2011 11:31 AM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

Just like many shorthand American policy pronouncements - like the "War on Terror," "The War on Drugs," "The War on Poverty," etc. - these are meaningless rhetorical flourishes.

Wars - potentially - have a conclusion. When there CANNOT EVER be a conclusion to an ongoing process (e.g., sale and use of drugs), than people who use such terms are deceiving themselves and and creating a pointless and even harmful system of deception.

Jun. 27 2011 11:30 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Most drug users don't need "help", they just want to enjoy their lives. "Addiction" is not a problem caused by drugs, that is a myth that serves the economically profitable rehabilitation model and excuses individuals and society from facing up to the truth: coke and heroin are great recreational drugs and anyone who has tried them know you can have LOTS of fun if you don't ruin the party by abusing it - even then you can usually reign yourself in if you have an ounce of will power.

The problems is poverty, inequality and family abuse (for kids) that drive people with no hope to abuse the harder drugs because they have nothing to live for - if I knew I was going to spend my life as a Wal-Mart greeter or retail peon I'd be cooking meth like no tomorrow, I mean, why not? The reason legalization works in European countries is because the strong social safety net keep people from fgeling like their life is an endless trial, and permanently economically disadvantage.

The small Hard core drug users are usually childhood abuse victims or people with similar types of extreme emotional disfunction - they do need help, but focusing on the way they "treat" their emotional pain is why most rehab services have such an abysmal success rate - Lyndsay Lohan is the poster child for this sort of tortured, self destructive child abuse victim.

Jun. 27 2011 11:29 AM
Jeter

WOW!! Why are pro drug people so incredibly hostile. They complain about not having access to drugs as the most egredious social injustice.
A liberal college professor of mine,called his limited experence with marajunia as the phonies esperience of his life.

I know this doesn't speak of Brian's guests; but there are people that believe in a laissez faire legalization. That's worse than illegalization.

Jun. 27 2011 11:26 AM
dboy from nyc

It's cheaper to legalize, treat and educate than to incarcerate.

Jun. 27 2011 11:22 AM
Peter from Manhattan

What about the huge rise in prescription drug abuse? More kids are now starting their experimentation with Vicodin rather than marijuana.

Jun. 27 2011 11:20 AM
dboy from nyc

@ hjs11211

... don't forget the gun industry!!

Jun. 27 2011 11:16 AM
dboy from nyc

D I S A S T E R ! ! !

So dumb.

Jun. 27 2011 11:14 AM
mgduke from nyc

The “Drug War” has been a vicious swindle from the git-go.

No thoughtful American ever believed that outlawing drugs would do anything but put the full force of capitalism--the most powerful economic engine the world has ever seen--behind the spread of drugs.

Given the profit motive, how could anyone ever have thought that criminalizing drugs would do anything but increase their use and their price, create large numbers of addicts, build up extraordinarily wealthy and powerful cartels, and provide an ever-growing windfall of government funding for enforcement agents, courts, prisons, and social services providers?

Jun. 27 2011 11:11 AM

How could it be a failure.
Think about the jobs created for police and prison guards.
Think about the construction jobs buildings jails.
Think about the upstate economy!

Jun. 27 2011 10:18 AM
barent

the ugly bottom line is too many people make money on the illegality of drugs. the core discussion basicly begins and ends there.

Jun. 27 2011 10:07 AM

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