Global war on drugs 'has failed' say former leaders

A tank drives past a field of poppies Opiate use rose by 35% worldwide from 1998-2008, in spite of anti-drug efforts

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The global war on drugs has "failed" according to a new report by a group of politicians and former world leaders.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy report calls for the legalisation of some drugs and an end to the criminalisation of drug users.

The panel includes former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former leaders of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, and the entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

The US and Mexican governments have rejected the findings as misguided.

The Global Commission's 24-page report argues that anti-drug policy has failed by fuelling organised crime, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and causing thousands of deaths.

It cites UN estimates that opiate use increased 35% worldwide from 1998 to 2008, cocaine by 27%, and cannabis by 8.5%.

Cesar Gaviria said the US came in for criticism

The 19-member commission includes Mexico's former President Ernesto Zedillo, Brazil's ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, as well as the former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and the current Prime Minister of Greece George Papandreou.

The panel also features prominent Latin American writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, the EU's former foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and George Schultz, a former US secretary of state.

'No harm to others'

The authors criticise governments who claim the current war on drugs is effective.


It is a damning indictment. The group of world leaders, including former Presidents of Mexico and Colombia which are blighted by the trade in illegal drugs, says urgent changes are overdue.

Their report says current policies to tackle drug abuse and the crime that preys on it are clearly not working, but result in thousands of deaths and rampant lawlessness.

It calls for an end to the 'criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others'.

The leading international figures behind the report do not pull their punches. They say sensible regulation of drugs is working in some countries but they accuse many governments around the world of pretending that the current war on drugs is effective when they know it isn't.

Drugs need to be decriminalised, they say, and addicts need to be treated as patients, not villains.

"Political leaders and public figures should 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, and cannot, be won," the report said.

Instead of punishing users who the report says "do no harm to others," the commission argues that governments should end criminalisation of drug use, experiment with legal models that would undermine organised crime syndicates and offer health and treatment services for drug-users.

It calls for drug policies based on methods empirically proven to reduce crime and promote economic and social development.

The commission is especially critical of the US, saying it must abandon anti-crime approaches to drug policy and adopt strategies rooted in healthcare and human rights.

"We hope this country (the US) at least starts to think there are alternatives," said former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria.

"We don't see the US evolving in a way that is compatible with our (countries') long-term interests."

Drug consumption chart
Many crimes

The office of White House drug tsar Gil Kerlikowske rejected the panel's recommendations.

"Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated," said a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"Making drugs more available - as this report suggests - will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe."

The government of Mexico, where more than 34,000 people have died in drug-related violence since a crackdown on the cartels began in December 2006, was also critical.

Legalisation would be an "insufficient and inefficient" step given the international nature of the illegal drugs trade, said National Security spokesman Alejandro Poire.

"Legalisation won't stop organised crime, nor its rivalries and violence," he said.

"To think organised crime in Mexico means drug-trafficking overlooks the other crimes committed such as kidnapping, extortion and robbery."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    Decriminalising drugs is the only sensible policy. Sadly our politicians will not listen to the majority of the population, they prefer to pander to the media, the religious and right wing elements of society. A huge amount of tax revenue could be generated easyily covering the health costs. Alcohol destroys far more lives then other many other drugs yet is legal and provides huge tax revenues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    As I feel that drug comsumption comes from the need of an indivual to resolve issues of his/her insecurity, whether drugs are legal or illegal, it will never address the problem.

    The body, looks for security, and if it resolves this using drugs, then the mind of such a body has to to change this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    We have been loosing the war on drugs for decades. The increasing consumption of illegal drugs over the last 40 years, despite spending hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars, demonstrates that losing reality. Continuing to fight that war & expecting to win is simply delusional. Take the big profits out drugs by legalizing them; the criminals will go away. $ for treatment. Peace and hope will result.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Legalise? Very reluctantly I say yes, but with strict caviats:
    1. Coordinated government programmes to manufacture, distribute & supply narcotics thus ensuring sale prices cannot be undercut by criminals.
    2. Intense educational programmes to both deter new customers AND treat addicts.
    3. Punitive sentencing of drug-drivers.
    4. Punitive sentencing for those who supply children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    First of all, how come these people are saying this AFTER their stint in power? Why didn't they realise it whilst they were on watch? Hypocrisy, politics or corruption (proibitionism is the dealers best friend.....)


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