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Financial Times: Why it’s time to end the war on drugs

This article by Matthew Engel in yesterday’s Financial Times is a must-read. Really great stuff all around.

For decades many academics and professionals have regarded the current blanket prohibition on recreational drugs (though not alcohol or tobacco) as absurd, counter-productive and destructive. But there has never been any political imperative for change, and a thousand reasons to do nothing. […]
But 2009 has seen a change: among the academics and professionals who study this issue, from Carlisle Racecourse to the think-tanks of Washington, there is growing sense that reform is possible and increasingly urgent. The argument is not that drug use is A Good Thing. It is that the collateral damage caused by the so-called war on drugs has now reached catastrophic proportions. And even some politicians have started to think this might be worth discussing.

It’s an extremely comprehensive article, addressing the failures in Mexico and elsewhere around the world, and noting that there is finally some potential for change in the United States – an important precursor for reform for the rest of the world, given historical U.S. international pressure.
The article also talks about the history of drug prohibition (and there’s a time-line, too), including this delightful bit of snark regarding the way British laws are established.

In Britain, there is something close to despair among academics about the political process. Drugs are classified A, B and C, allegedly according to the degree of harm. But the theory ignores the immutable constitutional provision that laws are subject to the approval of the editor of the Daily Mail.

He also gives a little dig at the pro-prohibitionists here:

It is hard to find coherent advocates on the other side of the argument. On the web, I came across Drug Watch International, based in Omaha, promising ‹current information á to counter drug advocacy propagandaŠ. The lead item on its site dates from 2002.

Engel really gets it. He talks about how UNODC’s Costa says that “drugs are, and must remain, controlledŠ and responds:

Of course drugs need to be controlled, just as alcohol, tobacco, firearms, prescription drugs, food additives and indeed UN bureaucrats with massive budgets need to be controlled. But the whole point is that illicit drugs are not controlled. The international pretence of prohibition sees to that. […]
… the case for legalisation is not about allowing baby-boom couples to enjoy a joint after a dinner party without drawing the curtains or being obliged to visit a dodgy bloke called Dave. Decriminalisation or even legalising cannabis on its own would achieve little. Something more radical is required. The crucial issue concerns the supply chain: the way prohibition has enriched and empowered gangsters, corrupt officials and indeed wholly corrupt narco-states across the planet. It was a point made eloquently by the Russian economist Lev Timofeev, when interviewed by Misha Glenny for his book about global organised crime, McMafia. ‹Prohibiting a market does not mean destroying it,Š Timofeev said. What it means is placing a ‹dynamically developing market under the total control of criminal corporationsŠ. He called the present situation a threat to world civilisation, which international public opinion had failed to grasp.
Proper reform means legitimising production and supply, precisely so it can be controlled.

Outstanding article.

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