Common Sense Comes to Town!

Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have. (Descartes)

Drugs and the Ostrich

Posted on | June 3, 2011 | 1 Comment

Proponents of strict policies against the consumption of illegal drugs received a resounding slap in the face yesterday. A hitherto little-known organization, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, just published a report highlighting the uselessness of repression tactics  in order to lower drug use. In fact drug use has risen constantly in the past 10 years, an estimated 9% to 35% depending on the various substances involved.

Behind this commission lies the IDTC (International Drug Policy Consortium), an umbrella organization for various more or less obscure NGOs and advocacy groups. The report however has been back by prestigious (Kofi Annan, Louise Harbour, Mario Vargas Llosa) hailing from various countries, which ensured considerable media exposure to its conclusions.

So what do we learn in this report? That drug use is in the end not related to its criminalization. For example in Portugal (which decriminalized drugs in 2001) the growth of drug use was the same than in the rest of the world, and actually lower for heroin use. We also learn that users residing in countries with tougher repressive approaches against injected drugs have higher rates of HIV than those residing in countries where access to a supervised injection site is possible.

While it is obvious that repressive strategies has done nothing to curve demand, and has even worsened public health issues, the recommendations of the report, while worthy of praise, are not backed up by evidence. It is suggested to offer more recreation activities to youth in order to drive them away from drug use, to promote alternative sentences for small-time criminals, to break taboos, and so on. All these measures hold obvious social benefits, but it is far from clear that they will lower rates of drug use.

The reports state that we should act urgently, but to do what exactly? It stops exactly where the problem begins: why do people take drugs in the first place? Is it really a problem? Over 90% of users take drugs for recreational purposes without addiction problems. Why are we even waging a “war” against drugs? Maybe these questions were left aside in order not to provoke North American governments. Still, Mexico, the USA and Canada have already objected its diluted recommendations.

We might as well face the obvious fact: the most efficient recommendation and the report we are waiting for will tell us how to effect the transition from a multinational criminal market to a state controlled and regulated one.


One Response to “Drugs and the Ostrich”

  1. Cynthia Dudley
    June 3rd, 2011 @ 17:24

    The War against drugs was a stupid idea in the first place, following up the criminalization of what was once a recreational issue. It really does come down to small and seemingly dilute solutions. Though the first step is changing how we treat drug users and then how we regulate drug sales, manufacturing and distribution networks. Since we already have a system for regulating drug sales, manufacturing and distribution networks that may not be the biggest problem, t would just be a matter of putting some real muscle behind the regulatory framework that already exists for medical pharmaceuticals. The other step is to treat drug users like people and not criminals- treatment, social help and clearly defined spaces and behaviours that are available and acceptable- sorta like we treat alcohol. Being drunk is fine- being stupid while being drunk, not so acceptable.

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