“Declaring A War On The War On Drugs”

Jon Walker heralds an important new report:

On Tuesday a broad coalition of international statesmen including former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and former Presidents from Mexico, Switzerland, Brazil, Portugal, Chile and Poland called for the world to move towards a new approach on drug policy. Their vision would end the criminalization of drug use and instead focus on health, harm reduction, and the legal regulation of drugs. The plan is laid out in a new report Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work from the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Friedersdorf gives the document a close read:

I can’t help but conclude that what they’re doing–in the accepted parlance of our political discourse–is declaring a war on the war on drugs. The attacks on drug warriors start right in the summary.

“Powerful and established drug control bureaucracies, both national and international, staunchly defend status quo policies,” the report states. “They seldom question whether their involvement and tactics in enforcing drug policy are doing more harm than good.” The zingers keep coming: “Meanwhile, there is often a tendency to sensationalize each new ‘drug scare’ in the media,” the report continues. “And politicians regularly subscribe to the appealing rhetoric of ‘zero tolerance’ and creating ‘drug free’ societies rather than pursuing an informed approach based on evidence of what works. Popular associations of illicit drugs with ethnic and racial minorities stir fear and inspire harsh legislation. And enlightened reform advocates are routinely attacked as ‘soft on crime’ or even ‘pro-drug.'”

Sullum is less enthusiastic:

The report says governments should seek the sweet spot between the “unregulated criminal market” and the “unregulated legal market”: the point where “social and health harms” are minimized.

That aspiration, which does not seem to take into account the pleasure that people get from drugs, is apt to encourage much heavier regulation than libertarians would like. The commissioners take for granted “the need to better regulate alcohol and tobacco,” and they call for “maintaining prohibitions on the most potent and risky drugs or drug preparations” (which will mean different things to different legislators), forgetting their own point that drugs should be legal “precisely because they can be dangerous and pose serious risks.” Still, Annan et al.’s “responsible legal regulation” beats the violent crusade for an unattainable (and undesirable) “drug-free society” by a mile.