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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Global Commission on Drug Policy articulates the known

 “War on drugs” fails nations, kills people
Re-reporting, editing, brief comment by Carolyn Bennett 
Looking to protect its global interests, the United States, in a way, “has imposed this war against narco-trafficking on [the people of Mexico]. That was how it was born even though it has since acquired the tone of a war against organized crime. 
 “It was a war against narco-trafficking that they forced on us — since the U.S. has the highest number of drug users. They also have something more terrible than drugs…. They have guns, which are overwhelming and widespread. In four and a half years, those weapons have legally armed the military and the police, but they have also illegally armed traffickers and the cartels. … 
“This has left citizens in a state of total defenselessness. Those weapons are killing us. Those guns are wiping us out.” [English translation at Democracy Now, poet Javier Sicilia whose son in Cuernavaca, Mexico, was murdered and tortured]

David Heath has done extensive coverage of “Operation Fast and Furious” and gun trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico border. A senior reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, Heath, said Tuesday on Democracy Now, “In the past two years there were roughly 30,000 guns that Mexican authorities asked the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] to trace. Often, these guns come with incomplete serial numbers or they are entered incorrectly into the database so there are many times when they cannot do a match. However, of those that they were able to trace, 70 percent of the weapons — about 20,000 weapons — were traced back to the United States. There are 8,500 gun dealers along the U.S.-Mexico border and a person can buy assault weapons very easily at any of these gun shops.”

In the past four years, Heath said, “there have been about 34,000 drug-related deaths caused by firearms in Mexico; 15,000 just last year.” There has been, he said, “an explosion of violence in Mexico” related to lifting the ban on assault weapons. The drug cartels “are multibillion-dollar organizations equipped like armies. They have helicopters and grenades and military-style weapons — all being funded by America’s appetite for illegal drugs.… If you could stop the flow of drugs, then you would also simultaneously be stopping the flow of guns.”

A report released this month by the Global Commission on Drug Policy made up of leading global citizens who have served as heads of nations and with the United Nations, entrepreneurs, financiers, economists, and champions of human rights said —
“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is reported saying, “Every year we continue with the current approach billions of dollars are wasted on ineffective programs. Millions of citizens are imprisoned unnecessarily and millions more suffer from the drug dependence of loved ones who cannot access health and social care services. Hundreds of thousands of people die from preventable overdoses and diseases contracted through unsafe drug use.”

Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs — 40 years after U.S. President Richard M. Nixon launched the U.S. government’s war on drugs — fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed, the Global Commission reported.

Criminalization packs prisons, fails people

“Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or one trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures in reducing HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use. Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction. …

“While national governments have considerable discretion to move away from repressive policies.… For most of the past century, the U.S. government has led calls for the development and maintenance of repressive drug policies.

“The United Nations system must provide leadership in the reform of global drug policy. This means promoting an effective approach based on evidence, supporting countries to develop drug policies that suit their context and meet their needs, and ensuring coherence among various UN agencies, policies and conventions.”

The Commission recommends health measures over harm and simplistic slogans

“In all societies and cultures, a proportion of individuals will develop problematic or dependent patterns of drug use, regardless of the preferred substances in that society or their legal status,” the report said. “Drug dependence can be a tragic loss of potential for the individual involved, but is also extremely damaging for their family, their community, and, in aggregate, for the entire society. Preventing and treating drug dependence is therefore a key responsibility of governments – and a valuable investment, since effective treatment can deliver significant savings in terms of reductions in crime and improvements in health and social functioning.” 
Offer a wide and easily accessible range of options for treatment and care for drug dependence, including substitution and heroin-assisted treatment, with special attention to those most at risk, including those in prisons and other custodial settings.

The most valuable investment would be in activities that stop young people from using drugs in the first place and prevent experimental users from becoming problematic or dependent users. Prevention of initiation or escalation is clearly preferable to responding to the problems after they occur.

“Most early attempts at reducing overall rates of drug use through mass prevention campaigns were poorly planned and implemented. While the presentation of good (and credible) information on the risks of drug use is worthwhile, the experience of universal prevention (such as media campaigns, or school-based drug prevention programs) has been mixed. Simplistic ‘just say no’ messages have no significant impact.”
Invest more resources in evidence-based prevention, with a special focus on youth.

The majority of people arrested for small-scale drug selling are not gangsters or organized criminals. They are young people who are exploited to do the risky work of street selling, dependent drug users trying to raise money for their own supply, or couriers coerced or intimidated into taking drugs across borders. These people are generally prosecuted under the same legal provisions as the violent and organized criminals who control the market, resulting in the indiscriminate application of severe penalties.

While the idea of decriminalization has mainly been discussed in terms of its application to people who use drugs or who are struggling with drug dependence, we propose that the same approach be considered for those at the bottom of the drug selling chain. 
Promote alternative sentences for small-scale and first-time drug dealers.

The United Nations conservatively estimates that there are currently 250 million illicit drug users in the world and that there are millions more involved in cultivation, production and distribution. We cannot treat them all as criminals.

Many policymakers currently reinforce the idea that all people who use drugs are ‘amoral addicts’ and that all those involved in drug markets are ruthless criminal masterminds. The reality is much more complex. To some extent, policymakers’ reluctance to acknowledge this complexity is rooted in their understanding of public opinion on these issues. 
Challenge instead of reinforcing common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.

The current system of measuring success in the drug policy field is fundamentally flawed.

Currently the impact of most drug strategies is assessed by the levels of crops eradicated and arrests made, seizures from and punishments of users, growers and dealers.

The demonstrable fact is that arrests and punishment of drug users do little to reduce levels of drug use. Taking out low-level dealers simply creates a market opportunity for others. Even the largest and most successful operations against organized criminals (that take years to plan and implement) have been shown to have, at best, a marginal and short-lived impact on drug prices and availability. Eradication of opium, cannabis or coca crops merely displaces illicit cultivation to other areas.

A new set of indicators is needed to truly show the outcomes of drug policies, according to their harms or benefits for individuals and communities. Policymakers can and should articulate and measure outcomes related to victims of drug market-related violence and intimidation and levels of corruption generated by drug markets; petty crime committed by dependent users; social and economic development in communities where drug production, selling or consumption are concentrated; drug dependence in communities; overdose deaths; and HIV or hepatitis C infection among drug users.  Expenditure of public resources should focus on activities that can be shown to have a positive impact. In the current circumstances in most countries, this means increasing investment in health and social programs and improving targeting of law enforcement resources to address the violence and corruption associated with drug markets. 
Establish better metrics, indicators and goals to measure progress.

If national governments or local administrations feel that decriminalization policies will save money and deliver better health and social outcomes for their communities or that the creation of a regulated market may reduce the power of organized crime and improve the security of their citizens — the international community should support and facilitate such policy experiments and learn from their application.

The debate on alternative models of drug market regulation has too often been constrained by false dichotomies — tough or soft, repressive or liberal. In fact, we are all seeking the same objective: a set of drug policies and programs that minimize health and social harms, and maximize individual and national security.

It is unhelpful to ignore those who argue for a taxed and regulated market for currently illicit drugs. This policy option should be explored with the same rigor as any other. 
Encourage governments’ experimentation with models of legal regulation of drugs (cannabis, for example) designed to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.

A key idea behind the ‘war on drugs’ approach was that the threat of arrest and harsh punishment would deter people from using drugs.

In practice, this hypothesis has been disproved. Many countries that have enacted harsh laws and implemented widespread arrest and imprisonment of drug users and low-level dealers have higher levels of drug use and related problems than countries with more tolerant approaches.
Similarly, countries that have introduced decriminalization or other forms of reduction in arrest or punishment have not seen the rises in drug use or dependence rates that had been feared. 
Replace the criminalization and punishment of people who use drugs with the offer of health and treatment services to those who need them.

Political leaders and public figures must have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem and that the ‘war on drugs’ has not been won — and cannot be won.

Governments have the power to pursue a mix of policies that are appropriate to their own situation and to manage the problems caused by drug markets and drug use in a way that has a much more positive impact on the level of related crime as well as social and health harms. 
Break the taboo. Pursue an open debate and promote policies that effectively reduce consumption, and that prevent and reduce harms related to drug use and drug control policies. Increase investment in research and analysis into the impact of different policies and programs.

In a connected policy disaster, Isabel Garcia has pointed out that “Immigration policy has been a total failure and needs to be changed. It has not prevented people from attempting to cross the border but has put the lives of thousands of men, women, and children in serious danger. Their deaths are the direct result of U.S. policy.”

Today on KPFA’s “Letters and Politics” program, lawyer and activist Isabel Garcia characterized the current situation created and executed by officials in Washington and individual U.S. states as “Death by Policy.”

The crisis, indeed the crises we face domestically and globally are the direct result of a persistent failure in governmental leadership. Therefore, Garcia astutely concludes — 
The time has come to “put forward what is right, to build a movement based on real education, a movement for basic human rights, a movement simply for what is just.”

Sources and notes

“Mexican Peace Caravan Arrives in U.S. to Call for End to Deadly Drug War Policy — Mexican Peace Caravan Arrives in U.S. to Call for End to Deadly Drug War Policy: A caravan of Mexican anti-violence protesters arrived in the United States over the weekend calling for a massive shift in U.S. drug policy. Mexican poet Javier Sicilia led the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity following the brutal murder of his 24-year-old son by drug traffickers earlier this year. The caravan’s demands include an end to the Merida Initiative, in which the United States provides training and support for the Mexican army in its ‘war on drugs.’” Democracy Now spoke with Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Policy Program of the Center for International Policy, and played an excerpt from Carlsen's interview with poet Javier Sicilia as she traveled with him to document the caravan’s journey, June 15, 2011, http://www.democracynow.org/2011/6/15/mexican_peace_caravan_arrives_in_us

REPORT OF THE GLOBAL COMMISSION ON DRUG POLICY JUNE 2011, WAR ON DRUGS, http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Report

COMMISSIONERS: Asma Jahangir, human rights activist, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Pakistan; Carlos Fuentes, writer and public intellectual, Mexico; César Gaviria, former President of Colombia; Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil (chair); 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; John Whitehead, banker and civil servant, chair of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, United States; Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ghana; Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, President of the International Crisis Group, Canada; Maria Cattaui, Petroplus Holdings Board member, former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland; Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and public intellectual, Peru; Marion Caspers-Merk, former State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health; Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, France; Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the United States; Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board; Richard Branson, entrepreneur, advocate for social causes, founder of the Virgin Group, co-founder of The Elders, United Kingdom; Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs; Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway
Global Commission on Drug Policy, http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Report

Isabel Garcia

Isabel Garcia is the co-chair of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, a Tucson, Arizona-based grassroots organization promoting “respect for human and civil rights and fighting the militarization of the border region in the American Southwest.”

Garcia is legal defender of Pima County, Arizona, and since 1976 has been at the forefront of immigrant and refugee rights. As a lead speaker on behalf of Derechos Humanos, she holds press conferences and interviews, hosts media crews, leads demonstrations, weekly vigils, symposiums, and marches to draw attention to the unjust policies and inhumane treatment of immigrants.

She works to counter anti-immigrant hysteria and to change stereotypes and misinformation about immigrants.

Garcia has received many awards for her work, including the 2006 National Human Rights Award from the Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos de México. http://www.lannan.org/lf/bios/detail/isabel-garcia/


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