Is this something ALL politicians could finally agree on? De-criminalising drugs WORKS.

Posted: July 18, 2012 in Political musings, Popular Culture et al
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Rehab? I don’t think so.

Leading politicians, police, church leaders and social policy experts occasionally take to the airwaves to argue publicly that drugs should be de-criminalised. They believe that the so-called “war on drugs” is comprehensively lost, that it does little or nothing to protect drug users, and merely fuels a criminal underworld that feeds off the illegality of the substances.In some countries it completely skews civil society.

In Mexico the “War on Drugs” (and the internecine war between drug barons) has cost 50,000 lives. Here we see Mexican troops during a gun battle with a drug gang in Michoacán, in 2007.

It has tossed Mexico into a virtual multi-faction civil war. It bedevils attempts to drag Afghanistan into a modern, plural society.

Yet every time those in favour of trying a different tactic speak up, they are howled down by a combination of rednecks, right-wing bigots, people ignorant of hardcore research on the topic, and cowards on both sides of politics.

Well here’s some facts that appear to emphatically support the argument for decriminalization.

On July 1st, 2001, Portugal decriminalized every imaginable drug, from marijuana, to cocaine, to heroin. Some thought Lisbon would become a drug tourist haven, others predicted usage rates among youths to surge.

Eleven years later, it turns out they were both wrong.

Over a decade has passed since Portugal changed its philosophy from labeling drug users as criminals to labeling them as people affected by a disease. This time lapse has allowed statistics to develop and in time, has made Portugal an example to follow.

First, some clarification.

Portugal’s move to decriminalize does not mean people can carry around, use, and sell drugs free from police interference.

That would be legalization.

Rather, all drugs are “decriminalized,” meaning that drug possession, distribution, and use is still illegal. While distribution and trafficking are still criminal offences, possession and use is moved out of criminal courts and into a special court where each offender’s unique  situation is judged by legal experts, psychologists, and social workers.

Treatment and further action is decided in these courts, where addicts and drug use is treated as a public health service rather than referring it to the justice system, (like in the U.S.), reports Fox News.

The resulting effect? A drastic reduction in addicts, with Portuguese officials and reports highlighting that this number, at 100,000 before the new policy was enacted, has been halved in the following ten years. Portugal’s drug usage rates are now among the lowest of EU member states, according to the same report.

One more outcome: a lot less sick and dying people.

Drug-related diseases including STDs (such as Hepatitis and HIV) and overdoses have been reduced even more than usage rates, which experts believe is the result of the government offering advice and treatment with no threat of legal ramifications to addicts.

Whilst Portugal’s policy switch is by no means news, the statistics and figures, which take years to develop and subsequently depict the effects of the change, have just hit the wires, and seem to demand serious discussion.

In countries like America, Britain and Australia, which many believe take the philosophy of criminalization a bit far (more than half of America’s federal inmates, for example, are in prison on drug convictions, in Australia the figure for drug us or drug related offences is over 80%), other alternatives must surely be discussed.

Especially when, with many states in the US still using “three strikes and you’re out” mandatory 25 year or even life sentences for even minor drug convictions, suffering from drug dependency can see you locked away until you die. Locked away in an environment, of course, where drug use and the illnesses associated with it is common, fuelled by corruption and money.

America now has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Why? Simple: drugs. In 1994, it was reported that the “War on Drugs” resulted in the incarceration of one million Americans each year. Of the related drug arrests, about 225,000 are for possession of cannabis, the fourth most common cause of arrest in the United States.

In 2008, 1.5 million Americans were arrested for drug offenses and 500,000 were imprisoned.

The illegalisation of drug use is therefore also hideously expensive public policy. That’s partly why, in June 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a critical report on the War on Drugs, declaring “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.” Predictably, the report was immediately criticized by organisations that oppose a general legalization of drugs.

“The War On Drugs Has Failed”, said a self-appointed 19-member commission on June 2, 2011, including former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Mexico’s former President Ernesto Zedillo, Brazil’s ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, as well as the former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and the then-current Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou.

The panel also featured prominent Latin American writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, the EU’s former foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and George Schultz, a former U.S. Secretary of State. Hardly a bunch of wild-eyed radicals.

The War on Drugs has been a highly contentious issue since its inception. A poll on October 2, 2008, found that three in four Americans believed that the War On Drugs was failing.

At a meeting in Guatemala in 2012, three former presidents from Guatemala,Mexico and Colombia said that the war on drugs had failed and that they would propose a discussion on alternatives, including decriminalization, at the Summit of the Americas in April of that year. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said that the war on drugs was exacting too high a price on the lives of Central Americans and that it was time to “end the taboo on discussing decriminalization”. At the summit, the government of Colombia pushed for the most far-reaching change to drugs policy since the war on narcotics was declared by Nixon four decades prior, citing the catastrophic effects it had created in Colombia.

A 2008 study by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron has estimated that legalizing drugs would inject $76.8 billion a year into the U.S. economy — $44.1 billion from law enforcement savings alone.

Imagine if the money spent on the War on Drugs was diverted. Just a fraction of it would be needed to care for the drug-addicted. Imagine what the left over funds could be spent on … jobs, hospitals, education, roads.

For policymakers or people simply interested in this topic, cases like Portugal are a great place to start.

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