High-Profile Drug Panel: “We Lost the War on Drugs” It’s been 40 years since Richard Nixon declared America’s “war on drugs.” According to a report just issued by a high-profile panel of world leaders, the war on drugs has failed. The report was issued by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group that includes former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, a former United Nations Secretary-General and the past presidents of Columbia, Mexico and Brazil. The panel called on world governments to find new ways to regulate drugs and stop drug cartels from reaping profits from illicit drugs.
40 Years Later “the War” is Unsuccessful
The report recognizes that drug addiction is harmful for both individuals and society and calls for effective programs to deal with the problem of addiction. Members of the panel believe that U.S. policy that criminalizes the production, transport, sale and use of drugs has not worked, citing as evidence the ready availability of drugs and the high rate of crimes related to drugs.
The report criticizes the astronomical costs of housing prisoners for drug-related charges. In 2009, approximately 2.4 million American adults were incarcerated in federal, state, and local prisons and jails on drug charges. This equates to 1 in every 99 adults, the highest drug incarceration rate in the world. An even greater toll has been exacted in Mexico. The Los Angeles Times reports that the crackdown on drug cartels that has taken place over the past 4 years has resulted in the loss of 38,000 lives in Mexico.
According to a commentary written by George Shultz, the panel is not calling for the legalization of drugs, but instead advocates open debate on the subject. The leaders on the panel would like to find effective methods for discouraging drug abuse that are less costly than criminal prosecution. They call on nations to provide better addiction treatment and to minimize the power of organized crime. One suggestion for implementing this approach is to focus law enforcement on drug dealers instead of on drug users. Money that is saved by this change should then be spent on drug treatment centers. The report expresses the belief that drug users will be more likely to seek treatment if there is no fear of arrest. The Obama Administration was swift to dispute the panel’s findings and many of its recommendations. Drug czar Gil Kerlikowske has stated that the legalization of dangerous drugs would lead to an increase in use and in harmful consequences. The administration believes that drug abuse and arrests can be fought with increased education and has requested $1.7 billion for drug education programs in the 2012 federal budget, a roughly 8% increase from the previous year. The federal government promotes the use of drug courts where judges can send offenders to treatment in place of jail.
The White House is also trying to provide more reentry assistance for the 750,000 drug offenders who are released from prison each year and who have a high rate of relapse and re-arrest.