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The GCSP and Transform hold public discussion on International Drug Control

On July 6, 2016, The GCSP held a public discussion on the War on Drugs, in association with the Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Senior Programme Advisor and Senior Fellow at the GCSP, Dr Christina Schori Liang started the discussion by highlighting the failure the International War on Drugs has had on curbing the growing problem of drug use and organized crime. Its failure has not been from lack of effort. The United States, which leads the war on drugs, has 22 percent of the world’s prisoners, and 17 percent of its 2.2 million prisoners are in jail for non-violent drug offenses. Many believe that the costs of incarceration – economic and social -- far outweigh the benefits. She highlighted the case of Lenny Singleton, a casualty of the 90s legacy of excessive prison sentencing. Singleton is currently serving two life sentences and 100 years. His crime, threatening harm but never actually hurting anybody while feeding a crack cocaine habit.  

The discussion was then turned over to Danny Kushlick, founder of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. Mr. Kushlick believes that when it comes to drugs, the U.N. is “united in war, rather than peace”. The prohibition of drugs is, in fact, a bigger problem than the drugs themselves. According to a UNODC report, the war on drugs has created “unintended consequences.” Indeed the ban on drugs has failed to stop the market for them; it has instead created organized crime which now threatens stability in at least 60 nations. And even if the war is being won in one region, it will be lost in another, as production simply follows the path of least resistance. “If you do not stifle demand, all you do is create immense wealth and firepower that can now challenge the nation state.”

When it comes to drugs, the U.N. is “united in war, rather than peace”

Mr. Kushlick, however, believes that attitudes toward the War on Drugs are changing. Marijuana is being legalized in a number of nations, and has become legal in a growing number of U.S. states. The more legal drugs become domestically in the U.S., the harder it will be for the government to fight the war abroad.

The floor was then given to Dr Khalid Tinasti, Executive Secretary of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Dr Tinasti agrees that drug enforcement has merely enriched and strengthened organized crime. Legal systems misunderstand how drug markets work, as they more heavily punish the non-violent aspects of the drug trade, like farmers and mules. When the state cracks down on these mid-to-low level non-violent workers it pushes them to rely on the protection of the violent aspects of the drug trade for protection.

Drug enforcement has enriched and strengthened organised crime 

Dr Tinasti believes that we must refocus our efforts towards more attainable goals rather than the impossible task of eradicating drug use and production. It would be more useful to, for example, put resources towards limiting the harms of drug use, and economically develop areas reliant on the drug trade as their only source of income.