The International Drug Policy Consortium is “a global network promoting objective and open debate on drug policy” and they have put out a powerful fact-based (as opposed to ideologically-based) guide to assist countries in crafting drug policy.
These are some very smart people from varying backgrounds internationally. It’s not specifically a call for legalization (although there is an excellent section on “Legal Regulation” in there). But it is about applying facts to the situation, regardless of whether you are confined by drug treaties or have more flexibility. And it’s about reducing harm – both drug harm and drug policy harm, and therefore it’s about changing the metrics of measuring success. (They note how current metrics (number of seizures, number of arrests, number of users) are useless in actually measuring success.)
When these folks talk about a balanced approach, they really mean it — and it makes even more starkly clear how intellectually bankrupt the ONDCP’s blathering about “balanced approach” really is.
So far, I’ve read “Chapter 1 -Core Principles” and “Chapter 2 – Criminal Justice” and have found them quite compelling.
Here’s a rather lengthy excerpt from Chapter 1 that demonstrates a sensibility found throughout the document:
National governments have focused much of their drug control effort on reducing the scale of drug markets through punitive means, believing that this would eventually reduce drug-related harms.1 At the time of the drafting of the UN drug conventions, these health and social objectives were assumed to be best achieved through stopping the supply of drugs, and incarcerating dealers and users. Progress in drug policy has therefore largely been measured in terms of â€˜process measuresâ€™ â€“ the numbers of drug seizures, the numbers of traffickers and users arrested, and the severity of punishments.
However, these attempts have been largely unsuccessful. Despite all the political and financial investment in repressive policies over the last 50 years, drugs are more available, and more widely used, than they have ever been. Theoretically, reductions in the scale of drug markets could lead to a reduction in harms, but in practice the opposite has often occurred. For example, successful operations against a dealing network can increase violence as competing gangs fight over the vacant â€˜turfâ€™;2 and an action against a particular drug can lead people who use drugs to switch to substances that may be more harmful.3
Experience has also shown that there is very little correlation between increases in the â€˜processâ€™ of implementing repressive drug control policies, and the achievement of outcomes that matter to individuals and communities â€“ better health, increased security, and community well-being.
In consumer markets, for example, the mass arrest of people who use drugs does not decrease use but does itself increase health and social problems. The success measures of the number of arrests, or of clampdowns on particular drugs or dealing networks, are therefore of little relevance to the achievement of the desired outcomes â€“ reductions in drug-related crime, improvements in community safety, and reductions in drug-related health problems such as overdoses and HIV/AIDS.
Similarly, the eradication of crops in source countries does not stop the flow of drugs into consumer markets, but does lead to significant social and economic problems in the communities living in drug-growing areas. The process measures applied in the field of supply reduction â€“ the size of areas of crops eradicated, and levels of drug production â€“ are also poor indicators of achievement. As these eradication programmes have ebbed and flowed in their local impact, the overall market for the drugs produced remains largely unaffected, since the areas and methods of production move around in response to law-enforcement action. The desired outcomes should rather focus on reducing violence associated with the drug market, and improving the social and economic development of the vulnerable and marginalised communities living in these areas.
Simply pursuing the long-term objective of a â€˜drug-free societyâ€™ is no longer a sustainable policy. The focus on the objective inherent in the international and most current national strategies â€“ to significantly reduce the scale of markets and use â€“ is similarly unachievable, and has led to the misdirection of attention and resources towards ineffective programmes, while the health and social programmes that have been proven to reduce drug-related harms are starved of resources and political support. On this basis, the objectives of drug policy need to be reframed.
Lots of good stuff in the criminal justice section, including some specific examples of situations in different countries, like these widely different experiences in Ecuador and Switzerland:
The Ecuadorian experience of proportionality of sentencing23
Ecuadorian drug laws were drafted in the 1980s under intense international pressure and soon became some of the harshest in Latin America. The strict enforcement of these laws led to massive problems of prison overcrowding â€“ in 2008, 17,000 individuals were being detained in a prison infrastructure that was built to hold up to 8,000 inmates. Out of these 17,000 prisoners, 34% were being held on drug charges. At the time, a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 yearsâ€™ imprisonment was imposed on all drug offenders without distinction â€“ people using drugs, first-time offenders, low-level dealers and high-level traffickers. The overuse of preventive detention further worsened the prison situation.
In 2008, the government announced a national campaign that included, among other components, pardon for low-level traffickers. This shift in policy was justified as follows: â€˜[The current law] establishes punishment that is disproportionate to the crime committed; in reality, the majority of sentenced persons are not large-scale traffickers or sellers but persons called â€œdrug couriersâ€, mostly women, the majority of whom have no control over narco-trafficking but are persons who rent their bodies … as drug containers in exchange for … money unrelated to the amount obtained by the scale of such substancesâ€™.24
In July 2008, the Ecuadorian Constitutional Assembly adopted a package of reforms and proposals that included pardon for low-level traffickers. By January 2009, 6,600 prisoners had been released by simplifying legal proceedings and granting pardon to those who had terminal diseases and to low-level traffickers; 1,600 of these were drug couriers.
The â€˜Four pillars policyâ€™ in Switzerland
In 1994 the Swiss government adopted a new drug strategy that integrated public security, health and social cohesion objectives. It comprised four pillars: prevention, treatment, harm reduction and law enforcement. The strategy was developed on the basis of consultations with members from the law-enforcement, public health and community sectors. The new policy involves prescribing opiates (notably heroin) to treat dependence on opiates. The progressive implementation of this policy resulted in a significant decrease in problems related to drug consumption. First, heroin use plunged radically between 1990 and 2005. Second, the policy brought about a significant reduction of overdoses and deaths indirectly related to drug use, such as from AIDS-related illnesses and hepatitis. Between 1991 and 2004, the drug-related death toll fell by more than 50%. Third, levels of injection drug use-related HIV infections were reduced by 80% within 10 years. Finally, the frequency of crimes against property and hard-drug trafficking by users on the heroin prescription programmes dropped by 90%, and shoplifting by 85%.15
One of the things noted by the report is that high levels of drug abuse are often connected to other social factors, and that it may make more sense to address those factors.
Overall levels of poverty and inequality have a greater long-term impact on the prevalence of drug use in any society than do specific national drug policies.7 The example most often quoted is in Europe, where Sweden and the Netherlands both share relatively low levels of drug use, despite pursuing very different drug policies.8 What these countries have in common are relatively affluent and egalitarian societies, with strong communities and social programmes. If a governmentâ€™s priority is to reduce the overall level of drug dependence, then they should seek to address wider challenges in social policy rather than deepen social exclusion through tough drug policies.
The above passage brings to mind a new article in The Atlantic by Emily Dufton (Thanks Evert): The War on Drugs: How President Nixon Tied Addiction to Crime
The task force on drugs […] forcefully argued for addressing the root causes of drug abuse, advocating therapy for addicts rather than incarceration or punishment. “We acknowledge that drug abuse is largely a symptom of the individual’s inability to cope with his immediate personal environment,” they conceded. “However, it must be understood that deep societal ills increase the individual’s sense of personal alienation. Specifically, our society has permitted the perpetuation of the Indochina War, of institutional and personal racism, of the pollution of our environment, and of the urban crises…. If the administration is sincere in its concern with drug abuse, it must deal aggressively with the root causes as well as implement the recommendations contained herein.”
[…] Just three months after the Youth Conference met, Nixon launched a drug war that framed drug users not as alienated youths whose addiction was caused by inhabiting a fundamentally inequitable society, but as criminals attacking the moral fiber of the nation, people who deserved only incarceration and punishment. […]
This criminalization of drug users launched a trend; Nixon’s was one of the last administrations to spend more on prevention and treatment than law enforcement and nearly every administration since […] This division has become the core of our modern war on drugs. After all, why finance a war on poverty when there’s a politically popular war against crime to fund?
The Nixon article is certainly interesting as an historical look at how we got in this mess, and the IDPC Drug Policy Guide is interesting as a hopeful look at how we might start getting out of it.
Update: If you’re interested in the rest of the series for that Nixon article, here it is:
Here’s the entire original series:
A Debate for the Ages, Part I: Nixon and Drug Abuse – “Root Causes” or “Personal Culpability”?
A Debate for the Ages, Part II: What’s God Got to Do With It? David Wilkerson, Teen Challenge, and Evangelical Anti-Drug Activism
A Debate for the Ages, Part III: Civil Rights Versus Civil Disobedience, or Doing Drugs In the Free World
A Debate for the Ages, Part IV: The Parent Movement, Or “Mama Said Knock [the Drug Culture] Out”