Sunday, 12 February 2012

War On Drugs: Let's Stop This Insanity! By Gart Valenc

War on Drugs Supply: The Face of Drugs Imperialism

I do think it is fair to say that for people like me, who look in horror at the disastrous consequences Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs have had and continue to have on millions upon millions of people around the world, 2011 ought to be regarded as a pivotal year.

This was the year that saw the publication of the Global Commission on Drug Policy report, the launch by the Bleckley Foundation of the Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform, as well as the publication of a letter signed by sixty major public figures, including twelve Nobel Prize winners, stating that the War on Drugs has failed and that it is time for politicians and the public at large to press for policy changes.

This was also the year that witnessed the delivery of a passionate, brave and candid lecture by former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox , at the Cato Institute, and the year in which Bolivia announced it was resigning from the UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics, after it failed to obtain the necessary support for its call to amend the Convention and have “mambeo” (i.e. chewing of coca leaves) removed from the list of activities prohibited by said convention.

Equally, if not more  significant, this was the year in which the current presidents of the two countries more savagely affected by the policies concocted by the prohibitionist regime, Colombia and Mexico, appealed to the international community, and the US government in particular, to recognise that the War on Drugs has been a futile enterprise and that a new approach is urgently needed.

The current president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, used the US media and the UN General Assembly to exhort the US, by far the most belligerent war on drugs warrior, to consider “market alternatives” to solve the so-called drug problem.

«We are living in the same building. And our neighbour is the largest consumer of drugs in the world. And everybody wants to sell him drugs through our doors and our windows… We must do everything to reduce demand for drugs»[1]

«More than ever, consumer countries, where drugs are consumed, must take effective action to radically cut demand. I will be told that this is not possible. That the demand for drugs continues to rise, as indeed is the case here in the United States, where nearly 30 percent of young people consume drugs. What is the solution? [...]Consumer countries are morally obliged to reduce their vast economic demand. If you can’t cut it, cut the economic profits. You have to find how to staunch this demand. Seek out all possible options, including market alternatives, so that drugs trafficking ceases to be a source of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean and several African countries.»[2]

On the other hand, for the first time ever, a sitting president of Colombia, the strongest and more devoted ally of US fight against drugs, has openly expressed the need to consider alternatives to the one that has been in place for the last 40 years.[3]

«[…] for Colombia, this is a matter of national security. Drug trafficking is what finances the violence and the irregular groups in our country. I would be crucified [by the international community] if I took the first step. We need to insist on more multinational actions on drug trafficking and innovate the ways we are dealing with it. […] In other countries [Europe and the U.S.] this is mainly a health and crime issue. We need to look at all components,[...] But we need to do so on a global level.[…] We must discuss a new approach, looking at all the components: The profit and the crime that follows drug trafficking, the fight against money laundering, trade with arms and so on. These are all effects of drugs.»[4] [5]

Last but not least, last September the current president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, asked UNASUR, a bloc of Latin American countries, to “decertify” the US for failing in its counter narcotics efforts.[6]

«If the United States can certify or decertify, why can’t UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations) decertify the United States if the origin of drug trafficking is U.S. consumption of cocaine?»[7]

In a different context, other than the War on Drugs, Evo Morales’ proposal should be laughed at and dismissed as a tantrum rather than a serious request. However, it is its “childishness”, precisely, what makes it so poignant, for turning the table on the US allows Morales to show how hypocritical, cynical and self-serving US drugs policies are. By so doing, Morales also shows how ineffective, isolated and innocuous the position of drug producing countries has been throughout the many decades the Prohibition regime and the so-called War on Drugs policies have been in place.

What is really remarkable about the calls coming from both current and former Latin American presidents is their insistence that no significant change in drugs policies could be ever achieved, unless consuming countries are willing and able to take ownership of their responsibility on the status quo and support a radical overhaul of the international conventions that criminalise the consumption and production of illegal drugs.

Any person who cares to look at how the international community has reacted so far to their calls, especially to Bolivia failed attempt to amend the 1961 Convention, a rather symbolic change I must add, has no choice but to conclude that there is very little producing countries can do on their own to replace the War on Drugs policies with more rational ones as long as the countries with the real power to do it say otherwise. And the real power, literally and metaphorically, is in the hands of consuming countries, most conspicuously the US.

Now, the obvious question one has to ask is what has been the response of consuming countries to the repeated calls for support those countries at the other side of the fence have been making for decades?

Maybe I am wrong, perhaps I have read the wrong newspapers, have followed the wrong blogs, or all of the above, but the fact is that I have not heard any voices from those governments supporting Bolivia’s decision or Calderón and Santos’ call for “market alternatives”, let alone, promoting  more rational and effective policies regarding the supply of drugs on their own accord.

I find it rather cynical the way we, consuming countries, have completely ignored what has been happening on the other side of the drug market, the supply (production and distribution) of drugs. For we have decided that despite the havoc our demand for drugs under the current prohibitionist regime is creating in drug producing countries, what matters is what happens at home and at home alone.

As it happens, a number of countries such as the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, among many others, have in a way “quasi legalised” the demand for drugs. They have de jure or de facto depenalised or decriminalised the personal consumption of some drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

In the case of marijuana, some countries have even “quasi legalised” the domestic supply as well by allowing users to grow a number of marijuana plants in their homes and for their own consumption, by tolerating the operation of so called “cannabis social clubs”, or by authorising the cultivation of marijuana to supply dispensaries where consumption on medical grounds[8] is allowed.

You would be forgiven for thinking that countries that have “quasi legalised” the consumption or the domestic production of drugs would be vociferously demanding the immediate introduction of changes in the current drugs policies regarding the supply by major producing and distributing countries, too. Well, you could not be more wrong, I am afraid.

Rather than using our enormous political and economic clout to reform the international conventions that sustain Prohibition and the War on Drugs, we keep supporting, promoting and enforcing the illegality of the supply of drugs. And by blaming it on the existing laws, we have been able to walk away from our responsibility for the atrocious consequences it has had on producing countries.[9]

I do not have any doubts that policies such as harm reduction programmes, decriminalisation or depenalisation of the demand for drugs are sensible and necessary policies. But if we were serious about tackling the so-called drug problem, we should be accompanying those same policies with equally sensible policies towards the supply of drugs.

Moreover, I will go as far as to say that the onus is on us, drug consuming countries in the developed world. We should be the ones promoting the Legalisation & Regulation of the supply. We should be the ones making all the noises calling for a change in the national and international legislation on drugs. We should be spearheading the movement seeking to legalise the production and distribution of all drugs.

It seems that we have a very peculiar view of the world, one that depends on who is looking: “we” or “they”. By “we” I mean us, the developed world and by “they” I mean, of course, them, the developing world. Over the centuries we have colonised, subjugated, taken other people’s land, but that doesn’t count when we look at immigration issues. We have interfered in other countries when our national interests have been at stake, but that does not make us more understanding about countries that play the same card to advance their particular goals, interests or agendas. We have waged war on other countries because their policies did not conform to our commercial and trade interests (remember the Opium Wars?), but that does not get any traction when the logic of the War on Drugs is called into question.

Now, as far as drugs are concerned, we need to ask ourselves, what sort of “view of the world” or more generally, what sort of moral code is consistent with the prohibition regime and the War on Drugs policies?

When Prohibition was trumpeted as the panacea to society ‘oldest vice’, its goal was to allow us to live in a drug-free world. Well, fifty years later we are still waiting for the utopia to materialise. Meanwhile, all Prohibition and the War on Drugs have delivered is utter dystopia: massive incarceration, corruption, destruction of democratic institutions, thousands upon thousands of killings, intimidation and execution of journalists, judges, politicians and anybody brave enough to question the corrupting and murderous practices of the drug trafficking gangs that control the US$320,000 millions the illegal drug market generates in revenue every year, that’s right, EVERY YEAR.

What sort of moral code encourages a government to support Prohibition, a regime whose “positive” results (i.e. cessation of consumption and elimination of supply) are negligible, whereas its negative effects are of such extent that people with a different moral code, or at least a more consistent one, would not hesitate to consider them a price too high to pay, were them the result of any other policy but the War on Drugs.

What sort of moral code makes a government believe that is right to wage a war with such appalling consequences: almost 50,000 killings in the past five years in Mexico alone, people sentenced to death in Asia and the Middle East, systematic violation of human rights, extrajudicial killings, … and the list goes on and on and on. There is no doubt in my mind that were such levels of criminal acts been happening as a result of policies other than the War on Drugs, people with a different moral code, or at least a more consistent one, would be condemning them as crimes against humanity.

In the final analysis, Prohibition and the War on Drugs is just another chapter, a shameful chapter I am afraid, in our long history of bullying, aggression and domination. We used to have a word for that: imperialism.

  1. [1] Mexico president hints legalizing drugs may be needed
  2. [2] Calderon: Drug consumer countries ‘morally obliged’ to cut demand; consider ‘market alternatives’
  3. [3] In an interview given in December 2011 to RCN, the main radio network in Colombia, President Santos expounded and clarified his position regarding his leading the debate on drug legalisation. Interview in Spanish here:… (starts 16min 35seg)
  4. [4] Colombia President Calls for Global Marijuana Legalization
  5. [5] The requests made by Calderon and Santos were later echoed by Latin American leaders belonging to both the CELAC and the Tuxtla Mechanism
  6. [6] The US State Department evaluates on a regular basis the level of cooperation shown by different countries with the US anti-drugs policies, and depending on how strong and committed that cooperation has been in its eyes, the US gives or denies its “seal of approval”.

    Decertification can have, and do have, serious implications, it damages the credibility of that country and its stand among the international community, and it may have grave economic and financial repercussions as well, including withdrawal of US aid, difficulties to obtain loans from international lending institutions and trade sanctions.

  7. [7] Bolivia’s Morales asks bloc to condemn US on drugs
  8. [8] In the US, the consumption of marijuana for medical reasons is allowed in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, the market value of marijuana produced in the US to supply the domestic demand is estimated to be over $35 billion, making it the nation’s largest cash crop — larger than the combined value of wheat and corn.
  9. [9] How can we explain, let alone justify our schizophrenic, solipsistic and complacent attitude regarding the demand and supply of drugs?

    As I have explained it before in this blog (see, for instance, ‘Half Full of Half Empty: The Minefield of Partial Legalisations’) major consuming countries have been able to justify their double standards by hiding behind the provisions of the 1988 UN Convention, which allow them to pull the “national interest” card, as it were, when it comes to the demand for drugs, but surprise, surprise, not when those interests refer to the supply.

Posted January 10th, 2012 in WoD Policies | No Comments »