The war on drugs is lost

Written By: - Date published: 12:01 pm, June 17th, 2011 - 28 comments
Categories: crime, drugs - Tags:

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

28 comments on “The war on drugs is lost ”

  1. randal 1

    yahoo. free methedrine and heroin. yummy yummy.

  2. Rusty Shackleford 2

    I agree. Governments should stop all forms of violence. Direct or implied.

  3. MikeE 3

    Finally a post on here I can 100% agree with

    • Lanthanide 3.1

      The funny thing is, when these drug issues come up, almost everyone seems to agree that the current punitive system is a waste of time and money. People have differing opinions on how far we should change the system (decriminalisation of pot, legal selling of pot + ecstasy + lsd, or total legalisation of all drugs), but almost everyone agrees it should be made more lenient.
       
      And yet the government never changes it at all – if anything they make it harsher. Why?

      • RedLogix 3.1.1

        Why? Because however informed and liberal we may think we are as adults, when it comes to our children we hope something better for them than drug addiction.

        • Rusty Shackleford 3.1.1.1

          Or get chucked in jail for acting peacefully?

          • RedLogix 3.1.1.1.1

            Lanth asked why. That’s a large part of the answer, if not most of it. People act in congruence with their self-image, and their hopes for their children are an important part of that. For many parents it’s their future, their hope, their reason for getting out of bed and going through the grind every day.

            It’s deeeply embedded and emotive and … reason has little to do with it.

            • Lanthanide 3.1.1.1.1.1

              But if drug laws were properly reformed and the stigma taken away from being an “addict”, then actually these people wouldn’t have much to worry about…

              As pointed out elsewhere, alcohol is more destructive than many of the currently restricted drugs, so surely these parents should be screaming for prohibition to stop their kids become drunks? And we already have a huge drinking problem, yet not much is being done to properly fight it.

              • burt

                Agree. Opposition to any new laws should use alcohol and tobacco to demonstrate either a) why the law needs to change or b) What sort of fun stuff we would miss out on with the new law.

                No win, it’s a distraction – no more no less.

                • RedLogix

                  This country has been a booze-saturated hell-hole from the beginning of colonisation, where alcohol has been an ESSENTIAL part of people’s lives. It’s the antidote many need to the fears and anxieties generated by the extremes of wealth and poverty in our capitalist world… just to function.

                  And again it’s entwined right into the roots of our self-image as a people. Rugby, racing and beer, or perhaps Rugby World Cup, Party Central, Tui ads is the current idiom… and yet remains our self-image as a people, as a nation.

                  However much harm alcohol causes, nothing will change until we change what we believe about ourselves.

  4. Dotty 4

    Yep, because our approach to alcohol has been *such* a success!

    • Lanthanide 4.1

      Alochol is much more harmful than many of the low-level drugs, including cannabis, ecstasy and LSD. People on those three drugs don’t tend to get violent, whereas violence and irritability are two common effects from alcohol.

      The biggest lobbyist against California’s proposition to legalise marijuana was the liquor industry.

    • Luxated 4.2

      Strange, I don’t think anyone is proposing establishing a multi-billion dollar corporate industry to hawk currently illegal drugs onto the public.

      • bbfloyd 4.2.1

        nobody needs to establish an illicit drug corporation, they have been prolific for decades. in some countries they are called “government”… in others they get called “sir”.

        if anyone needs to know why our government seems to be going against all the research findings in order to harass pot smokers, look for the largest donors to their campaign funds. and find out what sinecures have been accepted for after politics. (the second suggestion an impossibility, without inside info).

        then, we might be able to spot the real “drug pushers”. the ones who profit the most from harsh prohibition laws.

  5. Lanthanide 5

    Good timing:

    Government to crackdown on sales of Kronic within weeks
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/5159027/Govt-moves-to-curb-Kronic-sales

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      Things like Kronic show that we have our drug regulations backwards. What we do is specifically name a few drugs that are banned and hope that no one introduces a drug that’s not on the list. Result: Introduction of drugs that are probably more dangerous than some of the ones that are banned.

      It should be illegal to introduce an unknown drug onto the market. That at least would minimise the potential for seriously dangerous drugs to be brought onto the market as legal highs.

  6. ianmac 6

    Drugs war has had the same effect as the Prohibition era. Mob/gang war, vastly increased cost of the drugs, cost of survellance border control, and with little success. Answer is ….ummmmm

  7. Sam 7

    Very well said.

    You know the law is a right cunt when you can smoke some ‘kronic’ on the steps of wellington central, yet be arrested should the police happen to be passing by when you are smoking a spliff on your front deck.

    Its a complete ass, and i cant even begin to disect how wrong that scenario is.

    One could argue to ban Kronic, etc, but the problem is that there are so many variants of synthetic cannabinoids that as soon as a particular one is banned, another is used in its place. New cannabinoids will continue to be developed and be used to circumvent current laws.

    With this in mind, sometime in the near future, these synthetic cannabis products are going to force governments and society to take a good, long hard look at existing drug laws. because just as the OP points out, these products make existing laws a complete farce.

    • Lanthanide 7.1

      From my link above:

      “It needs to be the other way around. They will need to prove that their products are safe or they will not be able to sell them.

      “We cannot have this ongoing situation where we have to wait to a product is already on the market and then, authorities have to prove that it is unsafe, and when we do, they change an ingredient or two and we are back to square one.

      “They are making the money; they are producing a product and they need to prove that it is safe; not the other way around,” Mr Dunne said.

  8. The reverse onus of proof for drug possession is incompatible with the rule of law and is therefore unconstitutional in all jurisdictions.

    More: The universally unconstitutional war on drugs.

    • burt 8.1

      Yes but it sounds good to the sheeple with an election coming. Such a law would also stifle all human consumed product innovation. All this advertising for Kronic is making me think it must be worth trying… better get some asap.

      • Deadly_NZ 8.1.1

        I really wouldn’t do that Burt, you do not know what’s in it. Better to stick to the real stuff.

  9. Hugh Jayhole 9

    Because New Zealand is doing such a great job with alcohol?

  10. her 10

    They could legalise just pot and close two NZ prisons tomorrow and save over half a billion dollars each year. Not to mention give a lot of the Northland unemployed jobs and get a whole new tourist market.

    Who will have the guts to turn a liability into an asset?

  11. So much has been said and done about trying to put an end to drug abuse but instead of eliminating it, there seem to be a bigger market now. A failure, yes because sadly more and more people are eaten up by greed and drugs offer to bring in tons of cash.

  12. Lord Zealand 12

    Prohibition is solely about protection of profits by political puppets in parliament.
    (Cannabis cures cancer!)

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