Time for a New Policy on Drugs

The time has come to end the criminalization, repudiation and branding of drug users who do not harm others.

"The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.... Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption."

This was the conclusion of the Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, released Thursday, to mark the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

The war on drugs has exacted a heavy price. Tens of millions of people have been criminalized and incarcerated. Their lives and those of their families have suffered irreparable damage. Dangerous and sophisticated crime organizations have taken over the market. Growers, mostly poor farmers from developing nations just trying to make a living, are being prosecuted as criminals, and addicts have not been given proper treatment.

The report's conclusion is crystal clear: Drug use is not a crime. The time has come to end the criminalization, repudiation and branding of drug users who do not harm others. We must deal with common misconceptions about the drug market, as well as the use of and dependence on drugs. Governments must study models of legalization and regulation, particularly of cannabis, and replace the policy of zero-tolerance with educational programs to reduce use.

The panel that signed off on these recommendations included the former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, authors Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. They are all representatives of the establishment, who have come to the conclusion that policies, as they now exist, are flawed and destructive.

Their report should also engender public discourse about a change in policy in Israel, where supporters of legalization of drugs are considered weird, and the idea is beyond the pale of legitimate political discussion. The Israeli "solution" of down-sizing enforcement in recent years (for example, by relaxing drug-use-related criteria for security clearance and permitting the use of medical cannabis ) is no substitute for revisiting a policy whose time has passed - a policy that steals resources from the police, the courts and the prisons, exacting a high societal price without achieving its goals.