Sunday 15 April 2012

Rethinking the War on Drugs

At the recent (April 10-12) Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, several presidents (from Colombia to Mexico) proposed a radical change in thinking about the War on Drugs. After 40 years of failure to win this war -- one might even argue that not even a battle has been won, let alone with was -- it's definitely time for new thinking on the issue.

That new thinking is a proposal to legalize drugs, from top to bottom. That is, to legalize the cultivation of coca plants, their harvesting, and subsequent manufacture of cocaine, all the way to its legal distribution in some sort of regulated market along the lines of the alcohol market.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama want no part of this. For my part, I cannot think of a single good reason to oppose legalization, and lots of reasons for it.

First, the War on Drugs has been lost, and despite such efforts as giving billions to South and Central American countries to fight the war with military force, not to mention active participation (Canada for example provides frigates to patrol the oceans near Colombia, Peru and other points of exit).

Second, several South and Central American nations are at serious risk of becoming narco-states. Guatemala is the murder capital of the world. Mexico is no slouch in this department, either.

Third, on both ends of the supply chain, billions and billions of dollars are flowing into the wrong hands, and out of the reach of taxation. Add to this the vast sums expended on police officers, equipment, snitch funds and all the ancillary spin-offs, all of which do virtually nothing to stem the flow of drugs, or their consumption, or the crimes committed by users to finance their habits.

All in all, the current picture makes no sense at all. Unless, of course, we are asking the wrong question. Perhaps the question should be, How does the status quo benefit the US and Canadian governments? Perhaps the easiest answer is that it shores up support among the religious segments of the voting populace. A slightly more cynical answer may be kickbacks, whether direct or in the form of campaign contributions. Another answer might be more sinister: confiscation of shipments leads to subsequent re-sale of same, resulting in funds that cannot be traced back to the governments involved, and thus available to fund off-the-books activities. Early examples of this sort of thing date back to Oliver North's adventures, and further.

In my view, the real problem is that the issue of drug abuse is framed in a context of criminality rather than in a context of health. Imagine the consequences of, say, making it a criminal offence to be poor, or schizophrenic.

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