[Vision2020] Something to think about

Ron Force ronforce at gmail.com
Fri Mar 25 09:28:45 PDT 2016


​Top medical experts say we should decriminalize all drugs and maybe go
even further
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By Christopher Ingraham
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/people/christopher-ingraham> March 24 at
12:12 PM
<christopher.ingraham at washpost.com?subject=Reader%20feedback%20for%20%27Top%20medical%20experts%20say%20we%20should%20decriminalize%20all%20drugs%20and%20maybe%20go%20even%20further%27>

Cannabis buds are shown on first day of legal recreational marijuana sales
last October inPortland, Ore. (Steve Dipaola/Reuters)

A group of 22 medical experts convened by Johns Hopkins University and The
Lancet have called today for the decriminalization of all nonviolent drug
use and possession. Citing a growing scientific consensus on the failures
of the global war on drugs, the experts further encourage countries and
U.S. states to "move gradually toward regulated drug markets and apply the
scientific method to their assessment."

Their report comes ahead of a special UN General Assembly Session on drugs
<http://www.unodc.org/ungass2016/>to be held next month, where the world's
countries will re-evaluate the past half-century of drug policy and, in the
hope of many experts, chart a more public health-centered approach going

In a lengthy review of the state of global drug policy
<http://press.thelancet.com/DrugsPolicy1.pdf>, the Hopkins-Lancet experts
conclude that the prohibitionist anti-drug policies of the past 50
years "directly and indirectly contribute to lethal violence, disease,
discrimination, forced displacement, injustice and the undermining of
people’s right to health." They cite, among other things:

   - A "striking increase" in homicide in Mexico since the government
   decided to militarize its response to the drug trade in 2006. The increase
   has been so great that experts have had to revise life expectancy downward
   in that country;
   - The "excessive use" of incarceration as a drug control measure, which
   the experts identify as the "biggest contribution" to higher rates of HIV
   and Hepatitis C infection among drug users;
   - Stark racial disparities
   drug law enforcement, particularly in the United States;
   - And human rights violations arising from excessively punitive drug
   control measures, including an increase in the torture and abuse of drug
   prisoners in places like Mexico.

"The goal of prohibiting all use, possession, production and trafficking of
illicit drugs is the basis of many of our national drug laws, but these
policies are based on ideas about drug use and drug dependence that are not
scientifically grounded," said Commissioner Dr. Chris Beyrer of the Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a statement.

For instance, the last time the UN held a special session on drugs, in
1998, it set itself the goal of a "drug-free world" by 2008
The Hopkins-Lancet commissioners also fault UN drug regulators for failing
to distinguish between drug *use* and drug *abuse*. "The idea that all drug
use is dangerous and evil has led to enforcement-heavy policies and has
made it difficult to see potentially dangerous drugs in the same light as
potentially dangerous foods, tobacco and alcohol, for which the goal of
social policy is to reduce potential harms," they write.

The commissioners cite research showing that "of an estimated 246 million
people who used an illicit drug in the past year, 27 million (around 11%)
experienced problem drug use, which was defined as drug dependence orug-use
"The idea that all drug use is necessarily 'abuse' means that immediate and
complete abstinence has been seen as the only acceptable approach,"
commissioner Adeeba Kamarulzaman, a professor at the University of Malaya,
said in a statement
<http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-03/tl-tle032216.php>. But, she
added, "continued criminalization of drug use fuels HIV, hepatitis C and
tuberculosis transmission within prisons and the community at large. There
is another way. Programmes and policies aimed at reducing harm should be
central to future drug policies."

The commissioners point to successes in drug decriminalization experiments
in places like Portugal
where drug use rates have fallen, overdose deaths are rare and new HIV
infections among drug users have plummeted. They recommend that other
countries adopt a similar approach.

And beyond decriminalization, the commissioners recommend experimenting
with the full legalization and regulation of certain types of drug use, as
several U.S. states have done with marijuana.

"Although regulated legal drug markets are not politically possible in the
short term in some places, the harms of criminal markets and other
consequences of prohibition catalogued in this Commission will probably
lead more countries (and more U.S. states) to move gradually in that
direction—a direction we endorse," they write.

Other countries, particularly in Latin America, are already looking toward
U.S. marijuana legalization experiments
a blueprint for how they might move away from overly punitive drug laws.
But one challenge toward adopting a less stringent drug policy has always
been the massive UN drug control treaties
<https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/treaties/>, which are now decades-old and
which experts say reflect outdated and even harmful ways of thinking about
drug use.

Reformers are hoping that the upcoming General Assembly Special Session on
drugs will mark a turning point in the drug war. But getting nearly 200
countries to agree on any change in direction will be a challenge. And
early indications appear to be that negotiators are setting their sights
A draft document of the resolution
 to be discussed at the special session reaffirms the UN's "commitment to
the goals and objectives of the three international drug control
conventions" -- the same conventions criticized in the Hopkins-Lancet
report. And it calls on countries to "actively promote a society free of
drug abuse," echoing the language of the failed drug control goals of the
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