26 APRIL 2012
We humans have a strong propensity to invent and embrace universal systems of belief, which we label religions, ideologies, or myths.
Communism, for instance, one of the mightiest of recent religions, claimed the power to suppress the human drive for personal or family wealth, and to replace it by an urge for collective prosperity. After 70 years of bloodshed and torrents of lies, this ideology dramatically collapsed, following the disastrous Soviet intervention inAfghanistan.
The dogma that the human instinct for inebriation can be suppressed, for most or all inebriants, gathered international influence following the Opium Convention of 1912, which was followed by a series of treaties culminating in the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, and its offspring of 1971 and 1988. The growth of these anti-narcotics treaties reflected the rise to world hegemony of theUnited States, a country which, in the decades following its independence in 1783, had been gripped by an epidemic of alcoholism second to none.
The tensions and contradictions of the current global ideology, the War on Drugs, are now generating a political explosion which may yet lead to a collapse as dramatic as that of Communism in 1989. TheUnited States, leading proponent of the dogma that humans should reject narcotic inebriants, is itself the world’s largest consumer of narcotics. Meanwhile, civil society and government in the states of Central and South America, in which, and through which, these substances are grown or transported on their way to North America, are seriously threatened by the effects of narco-trafficking.
The Organisation of American States has finally summoned up the resolve to insist that the War on Drugs is failing, and must be re-assessed. The former Presidents of Brazil,MexicoandColumbia, and now the ruling Presidents of Colombia,GuatemalaandEcuador, have declared that alternatives, including regulation, must be considered, and theUShas agreed that the issue may be discussed. This is the crack in the dyke.
The principal cause of this development was the decision of President Calderon of Mexico, when he came into office in 2006, to try to resolve the appalling conflict in Mexico’s northern states by sending in the army. In a manner similar to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistanin 1979, his intervention has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the War on Drugs in Central Americacannot be won by military means.
Justice and common sense dictate that the northern consumer countries must take responsibility for the disruption that their demand for narcotics creates in producer and transit countries.
It is time to face the fact that prohibition is not going to eradicate the demand for psychoactive substances – in fact the experience of those countries that have applied partial decriminalisation, such as Portugaland the Netherlands, shows that removal of prohibition tends to reduce the demand for drugs, particularly the more dangerous
The UN drug conventions act as a straight-jacket, enforcing conformity and preventing experimentation with new policy options which could lower harms. We must remember that the Conventions are not sacred tablets miraculously handed down from heaven. They are the fruit of good intentions, but also of tragic misconceptions, which have created massive unintended collateral damage. Under the conventions, countries have given up sovereignty to adopt domestic policies best suited to their own national needs. They cannot even experiment with sub-national pilot studies to test the feasibility of a taxed, strictly-controlled market. Thus, so far, there is no evidence-base to inform policy, and in any case, up till now there has been a lack of resolve to debate and experiment with the options of regulated markets.
Scientific knowledge and experience have advanced dramatically in the last 50 years, and we need to be able to amend the conventions in order to form policies which reflect these advances, and better suit the different needs of different countries.
That is why the Beckley Foundation has commissioned a Draft Framework Convention on Cannabis Control and Rewriting the UN Drug Conventions, both of which offer blueprints on how the conventions could be amended to permit more flexibility in the face of changing circumstances and needs.
The two policy options particularly addressed in these reports are:
1) How to bring about clear decriminalisation of the non-commercial possession of controlled drugs; and
2) how to adapt the conventions to permit the establishment of a strictly regulated and taxed legal market.
It is important to remember that an illegal market is a totally unregulated market, and that our children and our communities would be better protected if these important commodities were controlled by the governments of the world rather than by criminal cartels.
President Otto Perez Molina ofGuatemalafears that, unless the war on drugs is abandoned in favour of more sophisticated policies, probably including a regulated market, Guatemalan society and the Guatemalan state will be subverted and corrupted by drug cartels. And he hopes that all affected Latin American states can unite with other countries favouring reform, to promote changes of policy. In reforming drug policies, there is certainly strength in like-minded countries forming collaborations.
Drug policy analysts must respond to this courageous Latin American initiative by deepening their study of the crisis in these countries, and investigating how new policies, including a regulated market in some, or all drugs, might help bring an end to the violence.
But the most likely conclusion of such analyses will be that to stop the killing and social decomposition, some form of regulation for drugs must be introduced, not only in the producer and transit countries of Latin America, but also in the northern consumer countries, and in particular in the greatest consumer of them all, the United States.
The willingness in recent months of ruling Latin American presidents to call publicly for a review of current drug policies is an historic turning point, which offers hope that more rational, sensible methods of dealing with this global problem may be explored. I salute their courage and wisdom, and hope that other world leaders will have the courage to join in support of them.
Hopefully, following the lead ofColumbia,GuatemalaandEcuador, and supported by new scientifically-evaluated drug policy analyses, world opinion will persuade theUSgovernment and people that their cherished policy of prohibition is not only unjust toLatin Americabut unworkable. Then the prohibition of drugs, a major ideological obsession of the contemporary world, may be abandoned and replaced by more practical and humane policies, which remove this vastly profitable industry from the control of criminal cartels.