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War on Drugs: Have the Hippies Won?

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Occupy PosterLater this month, at the Summit of the Americas, a number of Latin American presidents are expected to call for a change in global policing of the drugs trade, labelling the current approach “a failure.” In the words of Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina,

The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated.

So, have the hippies won? Are we about to witness the legal right to get out of our gourds on whatever substances take our fancy?

Before you fire up the bucket bong or head out for a new syringe to celebrate, slow down. First of all, this is only a conference, a talking shop where our “betters” will mutter about needing to do something before heading home to try and get re-elected. You seriously think Barack Obama is going to start making noises about needing a more effective drugs policy? This year? Put that pipe down, I think you’ve had enough.

A dirty little secret is that in addition to the War on Drugs being a failure, it is also highly profitable for certain people. Think of the task forces who get extra equipment and funding, the extra legal fees that can be charged by lawyers, or the fees that private prisons can generate from incarcerating drug users. That is not small change, and invested parties would be loath to see that revenue stream dry up. It may be cheaper for addicts to receive treatment and counselling, but those private entities who have built their business models on a never-ending (and it is never-ending) supply of drug offenders are not going to put down that cookie without a fight.

Then, despite the fact that tobacco and alcohol are arguably at least as harmful as illicit drugs, there is the moral panic aspect. Say that you’re thinking of decriminalisation and some Nervous Nellies will think that you’re going to start forcing toddlers to snort cocaine at kindergarten, or teach high school students how to correctly identify magic mushrooms in biology class. Empirical facts or no, there will be some people who will see any loosening of drugs laws as a sign of the coming Apocalypse.

Additionally, even if all currently illegal drugs were legalised, tomorrow, what makes the politicians and lawmakers think that the cartels would cede control over supply and distribution? They have been running this business for time, making bank and living very well off the back of it, thank you very much. You think a couple of laws here and there are going to change much for them? Like I said, put down that pipe.

The global trade in illegal drugs in a business, and no matter how many initiatives are launched to educate, counsel or treat victims, the War on Drugs is destined to continue. And to fail. Until the production, distribution and sale of these drugs are fully legalised, control still lies with the criminals, and no amount of legislative fiddling will change that.

I don’t take illegal drugs. Not only do I not like the idea of getting arrested, but I would also be mortified to end up as a warning portrait on Faces of Meth. But I do recognise that the system is broken. Will it change, after the Summit of the Americas? Well, that would require the entire United Nations to agree on something. Good luck with that.

(Image by Occupy* Posters)

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