Sunday, 24 April 2016

A war on drugs is not an effective policy -why global policy towards drug reform needs to change

Our generation is increasingly aware of the scale of the global issue that is illegal drug use. Those of us who are lucky enough to live in developed countries are educated on the matter through school, on the street and on social media. In short, we know that illegal drugs are a bad thing and should be taken seriously. Now it’s the latter point here that I want to talk about; if our generation is to genuinely take illegal drug use seriously, we must begin to think and act a whole lot more effectively, as the present attitude has failed. We currently see a culture that has declared a war on drugs by focusing on criminalising and punishing those involved and vigorously destroying supply chains, without considering the significant and dramatic economic, human and social costs this results in. It’s now time to start focusing on how we can truly help those caught up in the industry by seeking more regulatory and inclusive solutions.

In 1971, US President Richard Nixon famously declared a ‘war on drugs’ with the objective of “stemming the tide of drug abuse” by vigorously fighting the supply of narcotics in the US and beyond. This attitude spread rapidly to the extent that today, world leaders still believe in it. In real terms, it has failed. Drug related criminal law enforcement costs the UK alone £3.3 billion a year with little return in terms of victim reform and safety. In the USA, an astonishing $51 billion is spent on the war on drugs every year, with 1.6 million annual arrests and 47,000 related deaths in 2014. Furthermore, 83% of those charged were merely done so for possession. These figures are worse than those of 1971, which clearly confirms that the war on drugs has worsened the crisis, not improved it. Continuously prioritising punishment over supporting drug victims is not good enough for the 21st century. As the next generation we must begin to impose regulation, improved health services and social inclusion programmes to tackle what is becoming an ever more human threat to both national and international society.

Furthermore, it’s not just social and health problems that are the resulting factors of the failure of the war on drugs. In third-world areas such as West Africa, it is responsible for a huge proportion of the spread of blood-borne infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C, with a lack of the use of clean needles that are supported in better off countries by charitable schemes; third world countries simply do not have the funds or resources to do this. Why do they not have the relevant funds or resources? Mainly because incompetent governments are spending funds on maintaining criminal centres, using powerful herbicides to eradicate crops (that often cause land and water pollution and health problems), and missions to disrupt black markets. Globally, governments spend an estimated $100 billion a year on this. And still, 75% of the world’s population are without access to any pain-relieving alternatives. The fact that we are simply aware of these figures should be enough to convince leaders to take bold action on enacting more effective and humane policies. By investing $100 million in a war on drugs, law enforcement are effectively acting as a seed for funding an extensive criminal industry, now seeing estimated annual turnovers of $320 billion. So despite this excessive investment, the global drug trade is now almost completely controlled by violent criminal organisations- including terrorists- who have little or no concern for the consequences of their criminal actions. One could compare this to the current migrant smuggling crisis, which governments across the globe are now thankfully attempting to tackle. Well the illegal drug industry is an issue causing even more deaths than the smuggling crisis, with little prospect of improvement; while in many cases, the victims are not as vulnerable and desperate as the refugees and migrants, millions in West Africa and South America use such substances as their only means of pain relief or energy, often unaware of what they contain or their effects.

It is evident that as a global society, we must begin to work towards a more effective and sustainable system of tackling this issue, through taking a more supportive approach to vulnerable victims and by putting the vast criminal organisations that run the industry, out of business. This could be done through investing in government regulation via doctors, pharmacists and in some cases, licensed retailers. Illegal drugs are literally worth more than their weight in gold. World leaders must recognize that using the criminal justice system as an effective deterrent has failed and therefore, access to information and social support should be put in its place. In turn, we must support this cause and demonstrate that it is in generation Y’s interest to publicly tackle this taboo issue, in order to achieve a less manipulative criminal justice system when it comes to the issue of drugs. Obviously, this is one of those imperfect issues that we’re realistically never going to truly solve, but we can at least take gradual steps such as diverting funds used in criminal justice to boosting information services and access to health clinics in deprived communities.

Here’s a link to a really good campaign I’ve discovered, who are tackling the issue of the war on drugs, Support Don’t Punish:

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