Sometimes the answer to a problem is sitting right there in front of you, jabbing a finger in your face, screaming, and wondering why you can't see it. The drug problem in this country happens to be one of those problems. For decades our government has been waging a so-called 'drug war' that has been nothing short of an embarrassing joke. The saddest part of the joke is that our government knows the drug war is a joke, has known this for quite some time, yet insists on trudging down the same path toward an ending that we all know is a disaster because we've been witnessing the fallout of that policy failure in our cities for as long as the policy has been in existence.
Albert Einstein's definition of insanity would be appropriate here.
Yesterday, the Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a report that essentially said what most sane observers of the drug crisis have been saying for years, namely that the drug war waged by the United States has failed miserably. There are considerably better ways to deal with this crisis that have been proven wildly successful in other countries.
From the Global Commission on Drug Policy June 2011 Report:
A number of well-established and proven public health measures6,7 (generally referred to as harm reduction, an approach that includes syringe access and treatment using the proven medications methadone or buprenorphine) can minimize the risk of drug overdose deaths and the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections.8 However, governments often do not fully implement these interventions, concerned that by improving the health of people who use drugs, they are undermining a ‘tough on drugs’ message. This is illogical – sacrificing the health and welfare of one group of citizens when effective health protection measures are available is unacceptable, and increases the risks faced by the wider community.
Countries that implemented harm reduction and public health strategies early have experienced consistently low rates of HIV transmission among people who inject drugs. Similarly, countries that responded to increasing HIV prevalence among drug users by introducing harm reduction programs have been successful in containing and reversing the further spread of HIV. On the other hand, many countries that have relied on repression and deterrence as a response to increasing rates of drug-related HIV transmission are experiencing the highest rates of HIV among drug using populations.
An indiscriminate approach to ‘drug trafficking’ is similarly problematic. Many people taking part in the drug market are themselves the victims of violence and intimidation, or are dependent on drugs. An example of this phenomenon are the drug ‘mules’ who take the most visible and risky roles in the supply and delivery chain. Unlike those in charge of drug trafficking organizations, these individuals do not usually have an extensive and violent criminal history, and some engage in the drug trade primarily to get money for their own drug dependence. We should not treat all those arrested for trafficking as equally culpable – many are coerced into their actions, or are driven to desperate measures through their own addiction or economic situation. It is not appropriate to punish such individuals in the same way as the members of violent organized crime groups who control the market.
Finally, many countries still react to people dependent on drugs with punishment and stigmatization. In reality, drug dependence is a complex health condition that has a mixture of causes – social, psychological and physical (including, for example, harsh living conditions, or a history of personal trauma or emotional problems). Trying to manage this complex condition through punishment is ineffective – much greater success can be achieved by providing a range of evidence-based drug treatment services. Countries that have treated citizens dependent on drugs as patients in need of treatment, instead of criminals deserving of punishment, have demonstrated extremely positive results in crime reduction, health improvement, and overcoming dependence.
In a nutshell, we need to face reality and stop criminalizing drug use. Hell, if we just took the first baby step and de-criminalized marijuana the immediate benefits to our economy and our neighborhoods would be massive. In a devastated economy where too many cities are trying to figure out how to maintain a sizable police force capable of keeping the peace while still having enough money left over to keep the rest of the government functioning properly, freeing up police officers to deal with far more serious crimes that cause far more damage to far more people could be the single biggest boost needed to provide devastated communities with the resources they need to rebound.
If a drunk isn't a criminal, and a cigarette addict isn't a criminal, then who are we fooling?