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More of the same

by Claudia Isabel Rittel
There has not been any substantial success in the war on drugs in the past ten years. Nevertheless, the United Nations will not change its anti-narcotics policy. A recent summit in Vienna emphasised the need to reduce supply, while only cautiously admitting that addiction is a health problem too.

In order to stem global drug abuse, the United Nations will continue to target drug production. This decision was taken by a UN summit in Vienna in March. It passed an action plan to fight the global drug problem, replacing a strategy adopted in 1998. The new goal is to significantly reduce the production and use of drugs until 2019. This is to be achieved by the very means the UN had promised would lead to a “drug-free world” by 2008. So far, there has been no progress, however. One new aspect, at least, is that the UN wants social services and health care to play a greater role in drug control in the future.

The results of the past years are devastating. While the number of drug consumers world wide has roughly stayed stable, the war on drugs has produced corruption, fragile states, many deaths and violence-marked societies. Observers even assume that violence perpetrated in Guinea-Bissau in March was related to drug trafficking. General Tagmé Na Waié and President João Bernardo Vieira were murdered. In recent years this small West African state has become a relay station for Latin American cocaine exports to Europe.

The authors of a study carried out on behalf of the European Commission call into question the strategy of the past years. They see no evidence of the global drug problem decreasing.

Even the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa admits to global drug-control efforts’ “dramatic unintended consequence, a criminal black market of staggering proportions”. According to him, this trend is providing evidence to “a vocal minority of pro-drug lobbyists” who argue that “the cure is worse than the disease”, and suggest that legalisation of drug-use would be the real way to resolve the crisis.

Such arguments are even put forward by conservative sources. The British magazine The Economist, for example, has repeatedly pointed out the devastating consequences of the war on drugs. The Cato Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, agrees. Doug Bandow, one of its senior fellows, recently stated on the website: “Prohibition-era Chicago offered a dramatic lesson in the impact of banning a widely used drug. That city’s violent era is being played out on a larger scale in Colombia and Mexico, where urban and rural communities have been overwhelmed with drug-gang violence.” Bandow states that violence associated with drugs stems from prohibition rather than use.

Claudia Isabel Rittel