Changing Views -The War on Drugs

Back in 2011 a group that consisted of Nobel laureates, former US president Jimmy Carter and the ubiquitous list of socially-conscious celebrities wrote a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron requesting that he open up a debate on the subject of the “illicit drug industry, worth £285 billion a year, the third largest industry, all be it non-sanctioned,  in the world after food and oil,” The Telegraph newspaper reported. A seemingly reasonable request but one that brings with it the weight of nearly 100 years of ingrained criminality spawning from the first drug prohibition law laid down by the United States government, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, which placed a tax on the production, importation and distribution of opiates. Since that time millions of dollars have been spent, thousands of lives have been lost and tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and chemical concoctions have been stolen, seized, traded, sold or burned in blazing public relations glory.  Drug lords who watch over the production of their figurative gold have not been weeded out but have continued to operate unregulated, pushing their industry to new heights.  Some might even go as far to say that the drug war has perpetuated the violence and criminality of the trade while doing absolutely nothing to curb, let alone stop it. Recently world leaders have begun to debate the usefulness of the ‘war on drugs’ and have started to let the pendulum swing the other way by fighting to decriminalize the use, production and distribution of major drugs, thus taking the power away from violent drug cartels. Guatemala’s president Otto Pérez Molina has made headlines recently with his new drug agenda. “Our institutions have been weakened. And this is happening elsewhere. So now I’m asking myself, are we doing things right? Do we have the right strategy? Or do we have to reflect and sit down to find new alternatives to fight drug trafficking?” Molina was quoted as saying in an Al Jazeera online article. His comments came during April’s Summit of the Americas held in Cartagena, Columbia where he was joined by the rest of the western hemisphere’s leaders to discuss common policies and future goals. Molina’s views may seem radical to some, but he’s only reacting to the policies and view points that have yet to solve any of the problems they first set out to fix. The purchasing, production and use of drugs is as strong as ever. “The decision by Pérez Molina to speak out is seen as highly significant and not without political risk. Polls suggest the vast majority of Guatemalans oppose decriminalization, but Pérez Molina’s comments are seen by many as helping to usher in a new era of debate. They will be studied closely by foreign policy experts who detect that Latin American leaders are shifting their stance on prohibition following decades of drug wars that have left hundreds of thousands dead,” the English news paper The Guardian wrote during the summit.

Nearly 12 years ago Portugal made a big step in changing its national drug policies, with an emphasis on the decriminalized of the use or possession of small quantities of drugs, harm reduction and substitution treatment.  In 2001 the south western European country “became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine,” a Time magazine online article wrote. A report conducted by the Cato Institute, a public policy research organization, found that five years following the initiation of these policies there was a drop in prolonged drug use by teenagers and new HIV infections in drug users.  The country replaced harsh sentencing for petty drug crimes with the option of sitting with a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser to have proper treatment recommended.   And if lowered drug use isn’t enough evidence of the policy’s benefits, the fact that it costs less to send drug users for treatment than to jail should be enough to spark interest in the debate. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  So, when all else fails why not utilize fresh tactics.  The real question is: what does failure mean in regards to the war on drugs?  What are the objectives?  Einstein had it right and it feels like Molina along with many others are finally opening up a dialogue that is badly needed. I am of the belief that war whether hot or cold leaves behind many more victims than victors.  The idea that a war on drugs could be successful seems irrational and the results have proved to be no more successful than Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty.  Open dialogue, creative thinking and a massive amount of education is the answer. We have reduced impaired driving, the wearing of seat belts and the consumption of tobacco through strong educational programs.  Banning drugs and jailing its victims have proved to be unsuccessful and costly.  How about a strategy for reducing drug use, drug related crime and drug violence? | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

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