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Commission declares drug war a failure, urges legalization

Report says US should base policy on health care

By Jonathan M. Katz
Associated Press / June 2, 2011

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NEW YORK — The global war on drugs has failed, and governments should explore legalizing marijuana and other controlled substances, according to a commission that includes former heads of state, a former United Nations secretary general, and a business mogul.

A new report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy argues that the decades-old “global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.’’ The 24-page paper will be released today.

“Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately, that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem and that the war on drugs has not and cannot be won,’’ the report said.

The 19-member commission includes Kofi Annan, a former UN secretary general, and George P. Schultz, who held Cabinet posts under Presidents Reagan and Nixon. Others include former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker; former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia; writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa; UK business mogul Richard Branson; and the current prime minister of Greece.

Instead of punishing users who the report says “do no harm to others,’’ the commission argues, governments should end criminalization of drug use, experiment with legal models that would undermine organized crime syndicates, and offer health and treatment services for drug users in need.

The commission called for drug policies based on methods empirically proven to reduce crime, lead to better health, and promote economic and social development.

The commission is especially critical of the United States, which its members say must lead in changing its antidrug policies from being guided by anticrime approaches to ones rooted in health care and human rights.

“We hope [the United States] at least starts to think there are alternatives,’’ former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria said by phone. “We don’t see the US evolving in a way that is compatible with our [countries’] long-term interests.’’

The office of White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said the report was misguided.

“Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated,’’ said spokesman Rafael Lemaitre of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Making drugs more available, as this report suggests, will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe.’’

That office cites statistics showing declines in US drug use in the past 30 years and a 46 percent drop in cocaine use among young adults in the past five.

The report cited UN estimates that opiate use increased 34.5 percent worldwide from 1998 to 2008, cocaine use 27 percent, and marijuana use 8.5 percent.

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