Scolding from international celebrities: war on drugs has failed

An international panel criticizes the "War on Drugs." It has not brought down the consumption of narcotics. The panel pleads for legalization and falls on deaf ears.

Mexican drug lord Ricardo Estrada Perez, also known as "El Pollo," after his arrest. Picture: ap

The global fight against drugs has failed, according to a high-profile commission. This is the conclusion of the 19-member "Global Commission on Drug Policy" in a report published Thursday. The panel, founded in 2010 as an offshoot of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, includes internationally renowned politicians, artists and entrepreneurs, including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, British entrepreneur Richard Branson, Peruvian Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa and Mexican author Carlo Fuentes.

"Political leaders should have the courage to say publicly what many of them secretly know: that it is obvious that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem," the report says. "The war on drugs has not been won and will never be won."

Instead of punishing and stigmatizing drug users "who do no harm to others," the goal should be to "combat widespread prejudices about drug markets, drug use and drug addiction," the commission urges. Governments should focus more on legal regulation of drugs like cannabis to undermine organized crime. When it comes to medical aid, it is not enough to rely on programs with substitutes such as methadone or buprenorphine, the report said. International policymakers should also look to controlled-heroin-use programs, such as some in Europe and Canada, as a model, it said.

Current policies are not throttling drug use but fueling organized crime, it said. According to UN surveys, opiate use has increased by 35 percent since 1998, and cocaine by 27 percent. Instead of jailing people at the bottom of the trafficking chain, such as farmers, they needed protection and alternatives to break the chain of violence. One lever, he said, could be tax policy.

Branson, Sting, Dench and Co. in favor of defusing the problem

The U.S. comes off particularly badly with its rigorous anti-drug war against countries like Colombia and Mexico. "We hope this country starts thinking about the fact that there are alternatives," says former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria.

So far, Richard Branson and about 30 other celebrities are also biting the bullet in the United Kingdom. They have already demanded consequences in an open letter to the government. In the letter, musician Sting, actress Judi Dench and other celebrities called on Prime Minister David Cameron to rethink his policy. Those caught with narcotics for personal consumption should in future only pay a fine instead of getting a criminal record. The practice of criminalizing the use and possession of drugs has failed, the letter says. It only leads to the exclusion of drug addicts.

The government has no intention of liberalizing drug laws, a London Home Office spokesman countered. "Drugs are illegal because they are harmful. They destroy lives and cause untold damage to families and communities."

A resounding no to legalizing certain drugs also came from Mexico, where some 34,000 people have died since the anti-drug offensive began five years ago. "Legalization will not stop organized crime, nor its rival factions and violence," said a spokesman for the National Security Agency.

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