Our Right to Poison – part 1: Lessons from the Failed War on Drugs

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Jochen-Martin Gutsch and Juan Moreno, February 22, 2013 (Photo Gallery).

The global war on drugs has cost billions and taken countless lives — but achieved little. The scant results finally have politicians and experts joining calls for legalization. Following the journey of cocaine from a farm in Colombia to a user in Berlin sheds light on why … //

… A Global War on Drugs:

  • On July 17, 1971, then-US President Richard Nixon announced: “America’s public enemy No. 1 is drug abuse.” A new archenemy had been born: drugs. It was the opening salvo in the “war on drugs.”  
  • To this day, the war on drugs is being waged against anyone who comes into contact with cocaine, marijuana or other illegal drugs. It is being fought against coca farmers in Colombia, poppy growers in Afghanistan and drug mules who smuggle drugs by the kilogram (2.2 pounds), sometimes concealed in their stomachs. It is being fought against crystal meth labs in Eastern Europe, kids addicted to crack cocaine in Los Angeles and people who are caught with a gram of marijuana in their pockets, just as it is being fought against the drug cartels in Mexico and killers like Popeye. There is almost no place on earth today where the war is not being waged. Indeed, the war on drugs is as global as McDonald’s.
  • In 2010, about 200 million people took illegal drugs. The numbers have remained relatively constant for years, as has the estimated annual volume of drugs produced worldwide: 40,000 tons of marijuana, 800 tons of cocaine and 500 tons of heroin. What has increased, however, is the cost of this endless war.
  • In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration pumped about $100 million into drug control. Today, under President Barack Obama, that figure is $15 billion — more than 30 times as much when adjusted for inflation. There is even a rough estimate of the direct and indirect costs of the 40-plus years of the drug war: $1 trillion in the United States alone.
  • In Mexico, some 60,000 people have died in the drug war in the last six years. US prisons are full of marijuana smokers, the Taliban in Afghanistan still use drug money to pay for their weapons, and experts say China is the drug country of the future.

Is Legalization the Answer?

  • One of the best ways to understand why, after more than 40 years, this is still an unwinnable war is to track one of the invincible enemies.
  • Take cocaine, for example. The story begins with a coca farmer in the Colombian jungle, then leads to smugglers on the Caribbean island of Aruba, past soldiers and drug cops, across the Atlantic to Europe in a ship’s hold, then to Berlin, where the drugs end up in the brains of those whose demand is constantly refueling the business: we, the consumers.
  • It’s also helpful to examine an idea that could change the world, an idea being contemplated by presidents, turned over in the minds of influential politicians and studied in a New York office. The idea is the regulated legalization of drugs.
  • After decades of the war on drugs, the desire for an alternative is greater than ever. The eternal front in the war is crumbling.
  • When about 30 national leaders met in Cartagena, Colombia, in April 2012 for the Summit of the Americas, there was only big, behind-the-scenes topic: a new drug policy. Suddenly Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was saying: “If the world decides to legalize (drugs) and thinks that that is how we reduce violence and crime, I could go along with that.”
  • General Otto Pérez Molina, president of Guatemala, wrote: “Consumption and production should be legalized but within certain limits and conditions.”
  • Uruguayan President José Mujica said: “What scares me is drug trafficking, not drugs”.
  • Vicente Fox, the president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006, wanted to wage the “mother of all wars” against organized crime, sending the Mexican army into the drug war. Today, Fox says that the war was a “total failure.”
  • The possession of small amounts of marijuana is no longer a crime in Portugal. After studying drug policy in Great Britain, an independent commission concluded that a policy of stiff penalties is just as costly as it is ineffective. Although the report does not advocate the legalization of drugs, it does call for a rethinking of drug policy. Too rarely “do lawmakers admit (that) not all drug use creates problems,” the report’s authors write. They argue that the possession of smaller amounts should no longer be a punishable offense and that cannabis cultivation by ordinary consumers should be decriminalized and perhaps even legalized.

Drug Anxiety in Germany: … //

… (full text).

Part 2: From Leaf to Powder;
Part 3: Prices, Premiums and Demand;
Part 4: Like a Never-Ending Arms Race;
Part 5: Growing Global Support for Legalization

Chart Link: from green leaf into white gold.

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