The Global Commission on Drug Policy have just released their latest report on the global war on drugs. Its message is quite simple; the war has failed, and it is time to begin new dialogue on what has become the greatest social failure of the last fifty years.
In fact, the drug issue is something quite relevant in New Zealand at the moment; Synthetic marijuana products are laughing in the face of our archaic beliefs surrounding drugs and the related laws. The time for discussing the wider drug issue is now; New Zealanders must be willing to open their minds to see the potential benefits that come with changing our opinions on drugs and their use.
The Report by the Commission is comprehensive, easily readable, backed up by various case studies and statistics accumulated over the last few decades and I would encourage anyone with an opinion on this issue to read it in full.
“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs; fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.
End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.
Offer health and treatment services to those in need. 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. Respect the human rights of people who use drugs.
Invest in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems. Eschew simplistic ‘just say no’ messages and ‘zero tolerance’ policies in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences.”
The report lays down four key principles for approaching drug reform:
1) Drug policies must be based on solid empirical and scientific evidence. The primary measure of success should be the reduction of harm to the health, security, and welfare of individuals and society.
“The 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs made it clear that the ultimate objective of the system was the improvement of the ‘health and welfare of mankind’.”
2) Drug policies must be based on human rights and public health principles. We should end the stigmatization and marginalization of people who use certain drugs and those involved in the lower levels of cultivation, production and distribution, and treat people dependent on drugs as patients, not criminals.
“many countries still react to people dependent on drugs with punishment and stigmatization. In reality, drug dependence is a complex health condition that has a mixture of causes – social, psychological and physical
(including, for example, harsh living conditions, or a history of personal trauma or emotional problems). Trying to manage this complex condition through punishment is ineffective – much greater success can be achieved by
providing a range of evidence-based drug treatment services.”
3) The development and implementation of drug policies must be a shared global responsibility.
“As with all multilateral agreements, the drug conventions need to be subject to constant review and modernization in light of changing and variable circumstances”
4) Drug policies must be pursued in a comprehensive manner, involving families, schools, public health specialists, development practitioners and civil society leaders, in partnership with law enforcement agencies and other relevant governmental bodies
“repeated studies have demonstrated that governments achieve much greater financial and social benefit for their communities by investing in health and social programs, rather than investing in supply reduction and law enforcement activities.”
The report goes on the make recommendations: break the taboo on policy discussions; stop the persecution of users as criminals and begin treating them as patients; challenge misconceptions; invest resources in evidence based prevention, especially in youth; and most significantly, act now.
We must act; as I posted last year on The Standard Blog, the time for us is now.
Since writing that piece something interesting has happened in our country; the sale and
use of products like Kronic has proliferated. What an embarrassment for the prohibition
pioneers; and yet where is the outcry from these very same lobbyists, and action from their
allies in Parliament? These legal highs are having a dangerous influence on our youth, who
are choosing them over the ‘illegal’ option in the belief that it is somehow safer; that
because a product is sold in a shop, it can’t be that bad.
It becomes obvious this problem is quite acute within our communities; yet what meaningful action is being taken?
None! My point being that communities are concerned about this issue and want some dialogue on it and that is understandable; but is it that the solution to this issue, representative of a much wider social dilemma, is more than simply removing a product from dairy shelves?
Health authorities are extremely concerned by the rapidly increasing use of Kronic like products,
“Dr Tim Parke, the clinical director of Auckland City Hospital’s emergency department, said the products should be illegal. An increasing number of people, particularly those aged 16 to 21, were seeking treatment after using products such as Kronic.
“They come in with severe anxiety, very rapid heart rates – about double what’s normal. Some of them don’t understand what’s happening, some of them think they’re going to die.”
St John senior clinical education tutor Dr David Anderson said St John in Auckland dealt with patients who had used the synthetic products – a very rare outcome for users of natural cannabis.”
It would be understandable for someone in Dr. Parke’s position to take the line that these drugs should be illegal; they’re dangerous and the first thought when a dangerous crack emerges in the dinghy of social stability is to cork it with a nice piece of legislation. Sure it stops any leakage in that moment and keeps the dinghy afloat; but these cracks are expensive to fix and you can’t keep bailing forever. The boat is inevitably going to sink and unless you find a more buoyant one, you’re going down with it.
“ Creating a tightly controlled market with the Government receiving significant revenue streams would allow for the creation of significant support structures for those using the drugs, and begin workable anti-drug campaigns in schools.”
Instead, we create laws to sweep the issue of drug use under a rug. Unfortunately a few smart entrepreneurs uncovered the reality of the situation; they saw a market, and in they went with a product that simply laughed in the face of our drug laws, exposing our children to a substance that is obviously harmful and we failed to respond.
This is also a failure in the education of our youth: failing to say that drugs are not simply bad because the law says they are; they’re bad because they harm you, and they have damaging side effects which prior to consuming each you should be fully informed of. Because whether we like it or not people will take drugs and we should not stigmatise them,
rather we should help reduce the harm to themselves and our wider communities.
What is more is the increasing use among working New Zealanders, another failure of our drug policies. We’ve allowed a drug to slip through uncontrolled, and we’ve unmasked our own fallacious logic on drugs. We have thought that by making these products illegal for a generation people would see them as dangerous and they wouldn’t want them; yet because we’ve failed for years to take the right approach to drugs we’re dealing with an emerging crisis. People see this drug as fine to use at work, fine to take at school because we’ve not justified our policies with evidence and broad logical thinking, but rather a simplistic belief that criminalizing them will eventually lead to their use being properly controlled.
We need to act to control substances and educate our society on the dangers of their use. We need to find ways to encourage responsible use for those who will inevitably abuse them; just like an obese man abuses pies, or an overworked nightshift worker abuses caffeine.
The White House has moved quickly to denounce the Global Commissions report, yet one must ask what motivations back their position if not to reduce harm within their society; the report mocks American policy by providing statistics showing over 25% increases in Opiate and Cocaine consumption from 1998 to 2008.
Do we listen to the wisdom of American policy or empirical evidence?
… in the mean time it seems we’ll just keep wasting our resources prosecuting people like Dakta Green … obviously a true criminal if ever there were one!
– Riley B