Surprising source offers signs the global ‘war on drugs’ may be ending

October 28, 2014

U.S. coast guard officers stand next to seized cocaine packages, on the deck of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell at Naval Base San Diego

The contentious debate over international drug policy was potentially transformed a few weeks ago, when the United States strongly reiterated a major shift in policy.

William R. Brownfield, assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs summed up the key idea underpinning the shift at the United Nations on Oct. 9:

Things have changed since 1961. We must have enough flexibility to allow us to incorporate those changes into our policies … to tolerate different national drug policies, to accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches; other countries will legalize entire categories of drugs.

The statement is hugely significant as it represents a new diplomatic doctrine and a potential tipping point in efforts to end the disastrous “war on drugs” that has lasted six decades.

It recognizes that immediate reform of the UN drug control conventions (the core of which is the 1961 Single Convention), while necessary, is not yet feasible. But it acknowledges that UN conventions should never serve as a barrier to improving global drug policies and that different policies will work for different regions and nations. Lastly, it accepts that member states can reinterpret the conventions in response to new scientific evidence and with careful regard to other international human rights norms and obligations — as Uruguay has done in the case of cannabis regulation.

The United States was a key architect of the international control system, begun in 1909, and has traditionally served as chief proselytizer for a repressive prohibitionist model globally. Although it initially rejected the 1961 Single Convention as too weak relative to its predecessor treaties, the United States soon embraced it as a useful mechanism to rally nations towards the global war on drugs, formally launched in the 1970s. The United States soon worked to strengthen the convention through successor treaties, funding initiatives and aggressive bilateral drug diplomacy.

Now that the United States has openly rejected the role of key bilateral enforcer the United Nations will likely cease to be a forum where states are pressured to pursue the war on drugs orthodoxy. Instead, it can become a forum that facilitates cooperation and discussion on a new range of policy approaches.

The main obstacle to this change will likely remain Russia and a coalition of conservative states that are reticent to move away from a militarized and repressive police response. Nonetheless, Russia, despite a strong grip on the UN drug control apparatus, will struggle to enforce its vision due to the post-Ukraine diplomatic freeze and a general recognition that Russia’s domestic drug policies have fuelled incarceration, human rights abuses and a HIV epidemic.

As states approach the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, Brownfield’s framework provides a practical way forward. It allows states to push ahead with various national regulatory reforms, including regulated markets around the recreational use of certain drugs. It focuses diplomatic effort on preserving the ‘core’ of the conventions — nothing to do with national cannabis or coca leaf prohibitions, and everything to do with regulating licit markets for pain medicines.

And it focuses enforcement efforts on minimizing the impact of illicit markets through effective targeting of criminal gangs, rather than blanket enforcement of impossible global prohibitions. Finally, it allows regions to move ahead with case-specific policies that reflect their local needs, rather than acting as agents of a self-destructive global ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy.

The United Nations and member states are moving toward a more nuanced understanding that places the drug conventions within broader contexts of human rights, indigenous rights and other frameworks of health and human empowerment. As Brownfield points out, part of this shift is driven by the need to make rational determinations of resource allocation and interpret implementation of the conventions accordingly.

The United States federal government does not believe making U.S. states comply with drug conventions on cannabis is a good use of resources. Other nations should make similar, case specific, determinations.

Legal reform of the international drug conventions is certainly required but only prior national reforms will make that process seem necessary and inevitable to member states.

The course outlined in the Brownfield doctrine appears the best strategy to ensure the survival and modernization of the global drug control framework for the immediate future.

 

PHOTO: U.S. coast guard officers stand next to seized cocaine packages, on the deck of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, October 6, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake

27 comments

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If we don’t want our streets filled with stoned drivers killing us, we’d better get a “policy shift” that starts making kids and all people aware that they can get help for their mental issues that make them want to get stoned, instead of getting stoned to cope.

Posted by Factoidz | Report as abusive

Drug use is certainly a bad idea, but the “War on (Some) Drugs” is completely immoral and just plain stupid on a number of levels. Here are some of the reasons:

(1) Adults have the ABSOLUTE RIGHT to ingest whatever substances they please into their own bodies. No one else has the right to tell you what you can or can’t do with your own health. You are not the property of anyone else; you are not anyone’s slave. So why would you accept anyone’s mastership over your body?

There are exceptions when the rights of people other than the drug user come into play. One occurs when using drugs causes you to present a public danger, such as driving while obviously intoxicated. Another is when your employer forbids intoxication on the job. They have the right to do that, since they’re paying you in exchange for being employed on their terms.

(2) As was seen with alcohol prohibition in 1920s, drug prohibition causes criminal violence and organized crime. Gangsters like Al Capone became rich and powerful because alcohol was illegal and he was able to provide it. Not a single drug cartel in Mexico or anywhere else would exist if drugs were legal. When something that people want is outlawed, it becomes very expensive due to limited supply and high demand (Economics 101). Expensive things are profitable to sell, and when they’re illegal, the only “regulation” of the market is going to come from gang violence. Also, when addictive drugs are illegal and therefore expensive, addicts will often be forced to commit crimes to support their habits.

(3) There are plenty of ways to get high that are perfectly legal but are MORE dangerous than most illegal drugs: sniffing glue and other solvents, the “choking game,” and so on. Sniffing solvents in particular can be very addictive, and it has horrible effects on the body. Even plain old alcohol is more harmful than a lot of drugs, such as marijuana. (Among other points, alcohol is toxic enough to kill you from an overdose, whereas marijuana isn’t nearly toxic enough to OD on.)

(4) Drug prohibition doesn’t cut down on the number of people using drugs. Everyone who wishes to use them is already using them. They can be obtained anywhere, since the high profits that come from their sale make smuggling and dealing drugs well worth the risks of arrest, violence from rival dealers, etc. Even PRISONERS are able to get drugs.

(5) The “War on (Some) Drugs” has led to numerous losses of civil liberty and direct violations of the US Constitution. Among these are civil forfeitures, which allow the police to confiscate cash or other assets simply by claiming that they believe those assets are connected to the drug trade. But the Bill of Rights says that no person may be deprived of life, freedom, or property without due process, i.e., a court trial.

Another side effect of the “War on (Some) Drugs” (and now the “War on Terror”) is the widespread militarization of the police and the Big Brother spy state. America is well on its way to becoming East Germany 2.0 because of these idiotic wars that can NEVER be won.

Posted by Heretic50 | Report as abusive

Drug use is certainly a bad idea, but the “War on (Some) Drugs” is completely immoral and just plain stupid on a number of levels. Here are some of the reasons:

(1) Adults have the ABSOLUTE RIGHT to ingest whatever substances they please into their own bodies. No one else has the right to tell you what you can or can’t do with your own health. You are not the property of anyone else; you are not anyone’s slave. So why would you accept anyone’s mastership over your body?

There are exceptions when the rights of people other than the drug user come into play. One occurs when using drugs causes you to present a public danger, such as driving while obviously intoxicated. Another is when your employer forbids intoxication on the job. They have the right to do that, since they’re paying you in exchange for being employed on their terms.

(2) As was seen with alcohol prohibition in 1920s, drug prohibition causes criminal violence and organized crime. Gangsters like Al Capone became rich and powerful because alcohol was illegal and he was able to provide it. Not a single drug cartel in Mexico or anywhere else would exist if drugs were legal. When something that people want is outlawed, it becomes very expensive due to limited supply and high demand (Economics 101). Expensive things are profitable to sell, and when they’re illegal, the only “regulation” of the market is going to come from gang violence. Also, when addictive drugs are illegal and therefore expensive, addicts will often be forced to commit crimes to support their habits.

(3) There are plenty of ways to get high that are perfectly legal but are MORE dangerous than most illegal drugs: sniffing glue and other solvents, the “choking game,” and so on. Sniffing solvents in particular can be very addictive, and it has horrible effects on the body. Even plain old alcohol is more harmful than a lot of drugs, such as marijuana. (Among other points, alcohol is toxic enough to kill you from an overdose, whereas marijuana isn’t nearly toxic enough to OD on.)

(4) Drug prohibition doesn’t cut down on the number of people using drugs. Everyone who wishes to use them is already using them. They can be obtained anywhere, since the high profits that come from their sale make smuggling and dealing drugs well worth the risks of arrest, violence from rival dealers, etc. Even PRISONERS are able to get drugs.

(5) The “War on (Some) Drugs” has led to numerous losses of civil liberty and direct violations of the US Constitution. Among these are civil forfeitures, which allow the police to confiscate cash or other assets simply by claiming that they believe those assets are connected to the drug trade. But the Bill of Rights says that no person may be deprived of life, freedom, or property without due process, i.e., a court trial.

Another side effect of the “War on (Some) Drugs” (and now the “War on Terror”) is the widespread militarization of the police and the Big Brother spy state. America is well on its way to becoming East Germany 2.0 because of these idiotic wars that can NEVER be won.

Posted by Heretic50 | Report as abusive

Is there going to be an apology to the tens of millions of people whose lives that have been ruined for no good reason at by this drug war all over the last 50+ years?

Posted by TomSwirly | Report as abusive

This is the best news we’ve had for a long time. The global war on drugs has been a massive failure and has resulted in propably hundreds of millions being jailed for no real reason, at the very minimum hundreds of thousands of people dying violently and pointlessly, trillions of dollars of money being wasted on ineffective solutions to the problem and increased power and influence to terrorist and criminal organisations due to a huge amounts of money they’ve been able to gain from illegal drug trade. All this has happened without there having been any effect to the amount on the levels of drug use, and statistics and studies now proving that using more humane treatment solutions and more liberal drug policies instead of using violent law enforcement solutions are more effective in reducing drug use. More liberal drug policies also reduce the amount of drug deaths, the spread of HIV and other diseases, decrease the amount of many kinds of criminal activity related to drugs and decrease the amount of social problems associated with drug use. It’s a better solution to just about every possible problem associated with drug use and it’s high time the world leaders realize this and stop the blindly ideologically motivated war which has driven entire nations into disarray.

Posted by Nuijasota | Report as abusive

The laws will remain that give all advantage to the people who are wealthy enough to buy our supposed leaders. The interest of the wealthy is to maximize their profits and if that includes both running illegal drug trades and imprisoning massive amounts of people then so be it. Heck we outlawed hemp to protect the interest of William Randolph Hearst and other industries that couldn’t compete with hemp as a raw material. This is a truth and yet it remains a law because our leaders have and always will be just pawns to the wealthy. So, with the help of Christians who want to punish all sinners, the wealthy will still dictate the laws that are most profitable to them.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Oh yes, I should mention, the drug war was a nice excuse for CIA incursions into south america for the purpose of weakening the nations nearest to our sphere of influence. This so that we would not face a strong nation near by us. We essentially gain a buffer zone of weak nations around us and we can also controll more of their economies.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

It’s not as much about drugs and even drug dealers, but about people that buy and misuse them. If we spent just a fraction on money that we’ve spent on so-called ‘war on drugs’ on educating people about deadly consequences of drugs misuse, especially kids and teenagers, there would be no need for this costly war.
Drugs kill, but hey, pecunia non olet, right?

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

Well, some comments make it through. So it is only partial censorship. It’s apparent too that they need not be offensive, but that the content can get them censored.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Wonder what Nancy Reagan has to say? She was a shill, but the damage was catastrophic. What has always been lost on the WWIIers is that all Baby Boomers are not their children, so paternalistic, over-reaching control policies were doomed, as ws our country. Also WWIIs believe this world will end as they go gently… It will not, they are caretakers, now owners. A tough concept that has led to the American culture starting a reversible decline. They just have to give up power, stop voting or inevitably they will pass and lose power. AZ politics has been decimated by the influx of retirees. With their neo-Fascist attitudes. But this too will pass. At what cost.

Posted by ac789962 | Report as abusive

War on drugs is a waste of time .Drug dealers are happy with it .It keeps the price high hence they will make more profit.
I live in holland blow has been around here since the 70’s .It is available in coffee shops.
I don’t smoke it and so do most of my friends and family members.
Most of the time those coffee shops are filled with tourists of the USA,Germany,Italy etc.
Once some thing becomes legalized it is not exciting any more .
Most people getting killed by drunk driving and not by stoned driving .
Alcohol is a far bigger problem than smoking weed in Holland

Posted by Dillanger | Report as abusive

this is not a war on drugs its a war on people who use drugs all of the money wasted could and should be used for they improvement of the people you can not legislate moralrity they American military is policing the world while the police are acting like an invadeing army with apc tanks

Posted by mrcamillon | Report as abusive

It is about time. It only took ten years for people to realize that Prohibition wasn’t going to work. The “War On Drugs” has been a failure for far longer than that.

Posted by MassResident | Report as abusive

Prescription drugs are prescription for powerful logical simple reasons: they can be highly dangerous to the user and anyone around the user, and/or addictive, and/or easily nefariously applied, and/or require careful administration/monitoring.

To think everyone has the RIGHT to freely and privately access and consume any drug on the market is simplistic and dangerous. Pepole have many frailties and susceptibilities of body and mind. Many people have nefarious interests in mind. Many have superstitious interests in mind. Combine susceptibilites or nefarious or superstitious with dangerous things and you have active poisoning of society.

It is in the interest of most people to have society infrastructure to access, review, monitor and control dangerous substances, be they plutonium, weapons, drugs, or financial schemes.

Posted by captainhurt | Report as abusive

This falling away from the drug war is a sign of growing weakness within the US polity. For generations this war on drugs has been key to the power of the police state needful to control our poor and minorities. It further offered a fine excuse for our intervention in the internal affairs of other countries where we felt this useful to advance goals quite aside from the control of narcotics.
I seriously question the ability of the USA to survive without the most complete commitment to the traditional methods of police and prison as the controllers for the poor.

Posted by ChrisHerz | Report as abusive

Finished? You got to be joking or smoking this stuff

Posted by cynical175 | Report as abusive

Since drug use has so many ill effects on people,other than those using the drugs,maybe govt should require the users to buy insurance,to pay for damage to others,when drug users are irresponsible.Similar to Obama requiring everyone to buy healthcare insurance,even those who don’t need.

Posted by jrj906202 | Report as abusive

We are still trying to recover from, Nixon. Will we ever recover from Reagan?

Posted by gkam | Report as abusive

Hey, there, Factoidz – one thing you may have overlooked. Most people that drive “stoned” on marijuana have been doing so since they got a drivers’ license. The statistics for traffic accidents caused by marijuana use alone are minimal. Most accidents that take place while the driver was under the influence involve either alcohol or a combination of other substances, particularly prescription drugs.

Posted by shootmyownfood | Report as abusive

I wish I could share the optimism of everyone who has posted so far. But in fact there is no official, legally binding shift in US policy. The next POTUS could come in and say just the opposite.

US lawmakers will likely never be associated with abandoning the “war on drugs”, because their constituencies would see them as soft on crimes and drugs, thus immoral.

Posted by LoveJoyOne | Report as abusive

How is it a “War on Drugs” when UN forces patrol the valley where 90% of the worlds opium supply is produced and not one bust,,no money seized,,no banks busted for transferring billions of dollars,,not one crop eradicated while in the US law enforcement is kicking doors down and killing people when they smell a joint.

Give me a frigging break.

Posted by claygooding | Report as abusive

REMEMBER…..The largest manufacturer and distributor of these lethal drugs is MEXICO.

Not one US combat soldier has ever entered MEXICO during this WAR ON DRUGS.

Not one US plane has ever dropped bombs on MEXICO during this WAR ON DRUGS.

As long as US politicians continue to LOOK THE OTHER WAY as MEXICO POISONS AMERICANS and FLOODS THE US WITH THEIR ARMY OF ILLEGALS, Mexico’s illegal drugs will threaten the lives of human beings for another generation.

Posted by ciceroalamo | Report as abusive

So, basically they have finally figured out there is money in them thar fields and they will soon have cadres of agricultural workers growing what grows naturally in their countries and they will package it, import it, sell it and tax it.

They never did like “blue jean millionaires.” They couldn’t get their hands on the tax money.

Posted by Ruabean2 | Report as abusive

“Prescription drugs are prescription for powerful logical simple reasons: they can be highly dangerous to the user and anyone around the user, and/or addictive, and/or easily nefariously applied, and/or require careful administration/monitoring.”

And that is the point. If it’s thee, someone will misuse it, but the numbers that misuse prescription drugs are miniscule compared to the numbers that use it correctly, yet because our government can’t wrap their heads around the fact that if tey figure out the reason people abuse them and concentrate on fixing that, yo uwon’t have a problem.

Instead, I couldn’t get a prescription for Vicadin, when I had a tooth extraction and a root canal in the same sitting. Why? Because someone’s kid takes Mommy and Daddys unused drugs!. So I am punished because these wealthy people can’t keep track of what their kids are doing.

Why do I say wealthy people? Because if it was just kids in the ghetto, they’d toss them in prison for committing a federal crime as soon as they got their stomachs pumped.If the wealthy kids got that treatment, it would stop real quick, but they don’t. For them we pass a law that punishes people with chronic pain, who have to literally go to their dr’s office to get a refill, or people who had extreme dental work who can’t get decent drugs that will kill the pain.

Whole thing is stupid. Oh, and if a Dr. refills too many times they get a letter from the DEA threatening to have them investigated for trafficking prescription drugs. The stuff has been around forever. Why is it a problem now?

Posted by Ruabean2 | Report as abusive

“police state needful to control our poor and minorities. ”

No, it was racism – that’s why they call it the new Jim Crow.

Posted by Ruabean2 | Report as abusive

There would be a great deal of State Revenue to be acquired if all Drug Production was ratified. These immense resources could be channeled into Health initiatives to alleviate the social misery of the drug incapacitated minority resting in the greater population. Pleasurable highs afforded to the population at large should not be frozen due to the will of the small percentage who succumbs to life’s pleasures. After all, some may take shelter in a bottle of velvety Shiraz, and on certain occasions a balloon of fine cognac or frosty Vintage French Champagne. There are many amongst us in the populace who have the will, and the financial management prowess to balance dappling in the good life as against a little mindless splurging occasionally. I may not be one of those, as my propensity to succumb to finely cured buds is well documented. Many dark decades issued. However, I think I am an exception and many may benefit from a little more merriment and joy in life. I would love to sit around the Xmas table with my awkward extended family and lay into some of Columbia’s finest, or choice cuts of Mullumbimby bush. You would have to wonder what social industry the cartels would direct their creative enterprise to, if necessitated by the economics of supply. Maybe a peaceful, more joyful, and compassionate planet.

Posted by fyaox | Report as abusive

There is education. Darwinism is a solution as well.

Posted by DbPolk | Report as abusive

[…] role in the international drug control status quo? Responses to this question have been mixed. Some have heralded the statement as a major shift in US drug policy, one that opens the door to deeper and wider international reforms. Others are less convinced, […]

Posted by University of Essex – Into the breach: Drugs, control, and violating bad laws in good ways « Human Rights Centre | Report as abusive