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Kofi Annan: Stop 'war on drugs' (cnn.com)
357 points by weedow on Nov 6, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 183 comments

"We called on governments to adopt more humane and effective ways of controlling and regulating drugs. We recommended that the criminalization of drug use should be replaced by a public health approach." So the request here is not to say that everyone should use drugs however they wish without regulation, but rather that use of certain drugs should no longer be subject to criminal penalties. A few years ago, Richard Branson's blog post on drug regulation[1] similarly pointed to reducing criminal penalties without saying that drugs should be entirely unregulated, by looking at the example of Portugal. (How is Portugal doing these days?)

The state I live in in the United States, Minnesota, has a low rate of incarceration in large part because it has a low rate of criminal prosecution of drug offenses, with even the small number of persons convicted of drug offenses being unlikely to do time in prison. But this state has a thriving private industry of drug treatment centers, drawing in people from all over the world who want to become clean, and responses to drug use often include judicially ordered drug treatment. Stopping a war on drugs waged by the police and courts and prisons doesn't have to include giving up on discouraging drug use.

[1] http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/time-to-end-the-war-on...

AFTER EDIT: I'll use the last bit of my edit window to post two more links to news reports about the experience of Portugal. These links are in chronological order, and newer than Richard Branson's blog post.



"Ten Years After Decriminalization, Drug Abuse Down by Half in Portugal"


"Stopping a war on drugs waged by the police and courts and prisons doesn't have to include giving up on discouraging drug use."

There's big business in prisons and law enforcement. There's also big business in rehab and pharma. Getting the monied interests to shift their focus from one of incarceration to one of health shouldn't be this hard. We just need to shift dollars from one big industry to another. Perhaps pharma and health companies need bigger lobbying efforts?

Man the "money" argument for the drug war is so stupid. Private prisons are a small minority of prisons even today, and were very uncommon in the 1980s and 1990s when the drug war really heated up. Blaming monied interests is a cop out here. They are just the opportunists. Its "just say no!" moms and dads, teachers and school officials, that keep the drug war alive.

I would throw in the prison workers' unions as 'monied interests' even if their members are public employees. At least in California, they are a huge lobby, and always push for longer prison sentences in legislation.

Private prisons are a small minority. However, we do pay an ENORMOUS AMOUNT of money to support our INSANE prison population, and a lot of that money does indeed go to private hands through contracting.

The money argument is not stupid. It's big business, even in public prisons.

Do you know that you can place emphasis on a word on HN by surrounding it in *?

" All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses or manufacturing textiles, shoes and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day."


To be fair it's a complete puritan/authoritarian culture thing. Most of the media avoids tackling the issue as well. If it wouldn't be for John Stossel's show, I doubt that there would be any news program talking about the positive outcome of Portugal and the negative aspects of the drug war itself.

And it perfectly matches up with the numerous other authoritarian aspects of American culture that have arisen over the last few decades.

- Criminalizing anything and everything they can

- SWAT teams abusing and murdering at will, serving warrants with extreme violence

- militarization of police forces

- the espionage state, from the NSA to the FBI

- destruction of justice, through techniques such as parallel construction

- the treatment of all individuals as potential terrorists

- the spread of the TSA and DHS throughout American society, whether it's needed or not, including trial runs of setting up checkpoints on interstates and at sporting events

- military projection by the federal government, war and bombings without any authorization by Congress

- droning, the murder of civilians anywhere and at any time just based on supposedly trying to kill terrorists

- trial balloons for arresting people based on free speech issues, eg saying something on Facebook

- using the espionage act, among other laws, to prosecute leakers and journalists; and or otherwise intimidate journalists, including with illegal spying (tapping the phones of the AP / Fox)

and on and on it goes

Not to take away from a valid point, but the McCarthyism of the 1950s was probably equally bad if not worse. And going back further, racial and gender inequality was institutionalized throughout American society. Ask a black man who lived in the 1930s-40s how arbitrarily authoritarian the government was toward him and his neighbors--it was pretty grim. And going back a few decades further, we had slavery, indentured servitude, lynchings, duels and honor killings, etc.

Freedom and equality in America has always been a work in progress, in my estimation.

Point taken. It seems like we have been moving backwards since about 1980, though. (Using "Reagan" as the poster child for friendly fascist stupidity, whether or not Gen. Francisco Franco is still valiantly struggling to remain dead)

What's your opinion on the influence wielded by the prison guards' union in California? I'm led to believe it's disproportionately active in crime-and-punishment politics, but haven't seen much solid data.

It's more than just prison owners. What would happen to the DEA? Hell, huge numbers of local police would be unnecessary without the drug war.

And there wouldn't be any justification for seizing people's property before they are even proven guilty, if ever. Not that it ever was justified.

The Netherlands closed prisons after it decriminalized drugs.

Personally, I think this should be decided at the neighborhood level, like many social issues. If people are ok with it where they live, it should be allowed. If they don't want it around their kids, that should be possible as well.

> If they don't want it around their kids, that should be possible as well.

Restricting other people's rights because "THINK OF MY CHILDREN!" is how we got in to a lot of these messes in the first place.

I mean, what if your daughter got high on the marijuanas and dated a Negro? The shame it would bring on the family!

Thee is always some rational for curtailing freedom. For example, some people want to prevent me from lying down on the ground, just because some cars want to use the space to go places.

The line must be drawn somewhere. We all draw it at our own front door for example.

I think the problem is that shared spaces are usually created and governed by coercion rather than by mutual agreement governed by a contract.

When you have a contract with your neighbors, the rules are in the contract. To change it requires mutual agreement. The contract can also end. I think this is a more appropriate arrangement than forcing people to live a certain way.

If your neighborhood wants nudity and crack cocaine and bike only trails instead of car traffic, that should be your business. People that want those things can move to these neighborhoods. And those that don't can avoid them.

This seems like more freedom than we currently allow. Freedom to do and freedom to avoid. Good fences make good neighbors and this just seems like a logical extension of that.

Maybe they could keep us safe instead?

We don't need that many to do that.

If any...

"Man the "money" argument for the drug war is so stupid"

Not if you are an alcohol, tobacco, or pharmaceutical company.

Rehab and rehab drugs are already built into the prison industrial complex (in the U.S.).

But there is no incentive to "cure" people. A new therapy/drug just needs to appear effective long enough for the industry to come up with the next wave of therapies and drugs.

The real cure for rampant drug use is better schools and a move away from the growing gap between the haves and have nots. Fix that and you'll notice a change in one generation.

And the way to fix those things is by repairing a failed democracy so that public funds can be used for the good of the public instead of funneled into private hands.

And the way to repair a failed democracy is through a healthy media, dissent, active citizens willing to disrupt the status quo.

Glen Greenwald wrote a nice piece on drug decriminalization In Portugal back in 2009.


I love how whenever a major world leader comes out against the war on drugs, it is always after they are out of office and generally retired from political life.

I'm glad Kofi Annan is doing this. I've long felt that the war on drugs has backfired, much as the U.S. Prohibition on Alcohol did. Both efforts gave rise to rich, powerful crime syndicates that inflicted untold misery and suffering on the people these laws were designed to protect.

For a fraction of the cost of drug enforcement, we could fund drug treatment facilities to help people get off meth, crack, heroin, etc., and meanwhile allow marijuana to become a taxable commodity like cigarettes.

There are no perfect solutions obviously but the war on drugs has proven to be probably the worst of the lot.

Given that both drug prohibition and the War on Drugs both started as highly racist policies, it seems to be working as intended.

I'd like to read more about this. Do you have a source for this?

One random factoid, that's a favorite of mine: the Ku Klux Klan supported the right of women to vote. They did so because women voters supported temperence/prohibition. And those laws allowed them to target the Catholic Irish.


Ken Burns' excellent documentary miniseries Prohibition goes over this more in-depth in its overview of how disparate voting blocs banded together to accomplish the improbable -- passing a Constitutional amendment to ban alcohol.

It's also an eye-opener in revealing the historical origins of the expansion of police powers like wiretapping, and IIRC, overreaches of the Interstate Commerce Clause.

Once you've watched it, it's easy to draw some very damning "learn from history of be doomed to repeat it" parallels between Prohibition and the War on Drugs at a more detailed level than "drug prohibition doesn't work, just look at Prohibition."

You'd have to google around for authoritative sources, but the history is pretty straightforward. Opium/heroin prohibition started as anti-Chinese policy. Marijuana prohibition was drenched in anti-black and anti-Mexican racism, as using it for intoxication was virtually unknown in the white community (although it was often an ingredient in "patent medicines").

There's a healthy bit of conspiracy theory that says the real motivation for the marijuana prohibition was a Dupont family political move against Henry Ford, who was looking at alternative fuels based on hemp. Certainly, Harry Anslinger, the primary campaigner for anti-marijuana laws, was a Dupont in-law, lending credence to the theory. Still, it's conspiracy theory and should be taken with a grain of salt.

But in the longer political run, marijuana makes an excellent nuisance crime for harassing social undesirables - blacks, latinos, and white hippies and artists who were unduly influenced by black culture. That's not a matter of research, it's just plain obvious. And since it's kind of hard to actually show that marijuana causes black men to rape white women or that it leads directly to heroin and communism or whatever, there is quite a cottage industry in faux-science to "prove" the dangers of a basically harmless herb.

The bigger problem in modern years, imho, has been the rise of the private drug testing industry. It doesn't hurt the self-image of big businesses to demand that potential employees pee in a cup to prove their competence, but it's completely shameful socially. It's ridiculous.

Last Call: The rise and Fall of prohibition is a very interesting read on the topic.


The New Jim Crow by Stanford professor Michelle Alexander is a treasure trove of policy and Supreme Court decisions that have calcified a racial undercaste.

More sectarian than a pure race thing it was Nativist Protestant's vs recently immigrant Catholics.

the KKK started out as an Anti catholic group

This is not true, or is only partly true depending on which KKK you are talking about. The original group formed in the 1960s as an anti-reconstruction organization and used terror tactics to chase politicians and businessmen they didn't like out of certain communities in the South. It didn't last long though and was disbanded in the early 1870's.

The 'second' Klan was originally a merchandizing effort surrounding the movie "Birth of a Nation." It quickly turned into an actual political organization which adopted the white nativist views which were in vogue at the time. It was largely anti-immigrant focusing on Catholics, but also targeting Jews and Eastern Europeans.

It's worth noting that in all of it's incarnations, the Klan was racist and anti-black. It wasn't until the 1960s that this became the center-point of their politics, but it was always there.

FYI, you have a typo. The first clan started in the 1860's.

Unless they started in the 1960s and wrapped up in the 1890s due to time-travel.

The Irish & Southern Europeans were looked upon as lesser races at the time. It was only later that "white vs black" became the socially accepted racial classification.

I remember reading, quite a while ago, some 19th or 18th Century piece of fiction in which a Caucasian lad with black hair was referred to as a "little black boy".

Well its still withing living memory that Irish people with darker complexion and black hair where refered to as "black" Irish.

Wanted to recommend this as well. Really interesting documentary, it features (among others) David Simon, creator of The Wire.

Here's a quick review from the Guardian to get you a taste: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryCfjX7DRqM

In a far off yet inevitable future of bounty and abundance... physical and emotional pain have been edited out of our genetic code, replaced by neurochemically enhanced empathy & bliss & a lavish minimum income frees our leaders to put social good ahead of job security.

Until then, we're still living primitively... in the jungle as a savage, infant race.

Emotional pain is critical for empathy. Unless you believe in the purely rational theory of human behavior, people have to feel what will be emotionally painful for others before acting in a way that minimizes emotional pain.

Physical pain is also important. It keeps you from doing stupid things that end up with you getting hurt.

Both mental and physical pain can be modulated/reduced somewhat through psychological training (one form of which would be meditation). I think making pain reduction any easier could cause more problems than it solves.

Sounds like the Maximum Fun-Fun Ultra Super Happy People from this short story. (Page 3/8)


It goes through the horror of what that implies.

is that from a movie?

Going to guess Arthur C. Clarke, but I've never actually read any of his books.

Do you risk your career and your livelihood for your innate principles often?

While I agree with this, it's exactly the reason many governments right now get almost nothing done (and what they do get done is awful): People in power who care more about their job security than their -- or anyone else's -- principles.

A politician's career should be based on reconciling principle with reality. Their livelihood should be linked directly to their ability to do this successfully.

That comes with a certain level of idealism, true, but without that we have to concede that our lives are in the hands of people we don't even expect to care.

It's more complicated than that. Politicians have a limited amount of political capital, and in American politics even getting little things done requires spending a lot of it. Obama put up some huge numbers and ultimately spent all his political capital just doing two things: 1) getting us out of Iraq; and 2) passing the Affordable Care Act.

Ending the drug war is important to some people, but there are tons of people who support the drug war for moral reasons, on both sides of the aisle. Meanwhile, with an aging populace people are much more concerned with Medicare, Social Security, healthcare, pensions, etc, than the justice or injustice of the drug war.

Even a politician who does care sincerely about ending the drug war wouldn't waste his political capital actually doing it, not in face of all the more important things that people want done.

Support the drug war ... for moral reasons?

That mother showing pictures of her 4 missing boys in the article this thread is about, I think she would argue the war is immoral.

I think the people who think the drug war is moral, would change their mind if they spent more than 30 seconds thinking about it.

Baffles my mind, and when pressed in person, even pious blowhards admit there are serious violent death problems with their methods --- but the people who support them seem totally oblivious to the violent oppressive death that their war causes.

How the fuck is it a moral war?

Not everyone has the same system of morals. A lot of people, probably most, think that bad behavior is socially contagious. It's a premise that is not exactly divorced from reality. E.g. I would certainly be at least concerned if my daughter's friends were drug users, because I do think children and adolescents can pick up bad habits from the people around them. To these people, the possibility of drugs raises the threat of personal danger to their families.

Some people further think that bad habits like drug use can be controlled through legal means. I don't think they believe it can be eliminated, but I think they believe that if we did not have a drug war, drug use would be a lot more common.

Furthermore, those people can justify the damage caused by enforcement on the grounds that it happens to people who bring it upon themselves, by participating in drug use and drug trade. Even this proposition isn't totally divorced from reality, at least within the U.S. There is lots of collateral damage, but by and large the people dying in gang wars are involved in gangs to begin with, and the people in jail for drug crimes did use or deal drugs.

You don't have to agree with any of this to concede that these ideas are rooted in some sort of moral framework. Not a particularly compassionate moral framework, but there is nothing about moral frameworks that requires them to be compassionate.

"Not a particularly compassionate moral framework, but there is nothing about moral frameworks that requires them to be compassionate."

My concern is, they think, and argue that their framework is compassionate --- but they are ignorant of reality and what's actually going on with their war.

Some peoples' morals deny life saving medical treatment. Other morals insist that consuming alcohol desecrates a holy temple. Or that porn is evil, or prostitution a "sin". Why would you expect the morals to be based on reason and facts?

If your daughter was routinely going over to a friend's house where the friend's parent was visibly high on a regular basis how would you feel about it?

What's your point here? If he had a problem with it, he probably wouldn't let his daughter go to her friend's house. Either way, we're still telling people what they can and can't put in their own bodies.

As a result of medical treatment or recreationally? Assuming the latter and a popular choice of recreational drug, I don't much harm will come from a kid seeing a friend's parent saying stupid things and eating snack foods. If the friend's parent was visibly drunk, that would be something to worry about.

It's either up to you and your daughter to decide if going over is a good thing; however; it is not an argument that says wether that parent should be put in prison.

If drugs are legal, and allowed everywhere it takes that choice away from me unless I want to lock my kid up and not let her leave the house.

Alcohol is legal and allowed everywhere (especially at peoples' homes), but it doesn't in any way preclude you from telling your daughter that she's not allowed to visit mr.X because he's an alcoholic, or he's a pothead, or because you simply distrust him.

But "I don't want my daughter to meet X" is something that you need to handle within your family, not by asking armed men to forcibly remove X from the community. In your given example (daughter visits friend whose parent is high) you can punish cases if your underage daughter gets offered drugs, as currently would happen if she'd get offered alcohol or sex; but saying that your neighbor should be imprisoned for what he's doing in his own home simply because "my daughter might visit..." seems a bit ridiculous reason.

It's perfectly okay for your neighbors (and parents of your daughters classmates) to do all kinds of wierd sh*t that you wouldn't allow your underage daughter to do - they can practice crazy religions, have freaky sex including blood and bondage, do near-suicidal acts for thrills, implant horns in their foreheads, whatever. If you don't like that, then that is a valid reason for you to avoid them, but it's not a valid reason for requiring them to stop.

I can not allow my (non existent btw) daughter to visit Mr X the Alcoholic, but it's impossible for me to shield her from a culture of alcohol unless I basically remove her from US society. A lot of people don't like that.

Even more people feel that way when it comes to other drugs, which is why they are still mostly illegal.

I'm not saying I agree with their position. I actually largely agree with you. I was just trying to explain to proksoup (the commenter who I originally responded to) how others view the world. He was baffled how people could support the drug war. I think it shows a real lack of imagination and empathy to not see other people's point of view. You don't have to agree with it, but I think it's pretty easy to understand where they're coming from.

I would suggest you do concede to reality: We give control to other people at the behest of rhetoric about "getting things done" or "everything would crumble without me."

We shouldn't put people "in power" in the first place.

I don't think that's fair .. at least not in most cases. Politician is not just a job. It's a leadership role, moral leadership among other things. Being principled is a major component of the job they've undertaken. If a doctor found a discrepancy between his career and the welfare of his patients or a judge between his career and justice, I really do think they are morally obligated to choose selflessly.

Maybe it's naive, but I think it's possible to have a society where most judges are genuinely obsessed with being just.

The problem therein is that, at least in the vast majority of circumstances, everybody thinks that they are being "just", but their justice is always colored by their own personal morals, which may or may not conform to your morals or mine.

I'm sure that the judge who recently disallowed a mother from naming her child "Messiah" felt like he was being just, but that justice was undoubtedly colored by his religious faith.

The judges who uphold "traditional marriage" also probably felt like they were being just, as their justice is shaped by what they personally consider to be 'right' and 'wrong'. The law itself, in too many cases, offers too much ambiguity.

We want states to have the right to do things their own way on issues we want, but not on issues we don't. If we, as people, support the right of gay marriage, we think that states should be required to allow it. However, if we support marijuana is relatively harmless, we think that states should be allowed to legalize it.

These are just examples, but it's hard to come up with a 'pragmatic' solution for what is or isn't just. If justice is based on morality, then whose morality do we base it on? If it's based on whether or not it causes harm to others, then what level of harm do we allow? Freedom of speech is generally harmless, except when it isn't -- except when it's "fire" in a theater, or when it's your neighbors yelling at 3 am, or when it's someone preaching [religion/anti-religion] in contrast to what I want to hear.

In short, it's a very complicated thing, justice, with blurry edges, multiple middles, and an infinite list of value substitutions that muddy the issue. Even those doing the very best things for the most noble of purposes can be considered harmful by others who are also doing the very best things for the most noble of purposes.

I agree. It's hard. But think that's a different type of problem. This is not a case of disagreement about a moral question. This is a case of politicians choosing politically convenient over moral paths and effectively being dishonest about their judgment.

There are certain issues (drugs prohibition is a big example) where politicians often 'come out' about their true position after leaving office. They don't want to be the "weed guy," so they don't publicly support legalization while in office. This is different from genuinely disagreeing about the correct policy.

Even just honesty would be an improvement. "I think marijuana/gay marriage/whatever should be legal, but I don't think the majority want that/it's not worth pursuing right now/insert real reason they aren't pushing this." I don't think that's impossible. It requires a change from us. We need to be willing to let politicians openly hold a position while not pursuing it in legislation.

For example (I'm not American, so this is contrived), my view on the American gun issues is that widespread ownership of firearms for self defense is bad, but it's going to be very difficult to pursue disarmament effectively when so many people disagree so strongly.

I have, basically, the exact opposite view on firearms ownership, so take my reply with salt.

You're completely not wrong about political integrity being key to the process. At least speaking as an American, we don't seem to have any. I watched a neighboring state's election last night and the result was very close. Very close. Out of over 2 million votes, the opponents were separated by less than 60,000 votes in the outcome.

Of the two primary candidates, the winner was a notoriously corrupt politician who is well-known for being a political fund-raiser and (basically) morally bankrupt, while the other is more intellectually honest (at least, as comparing his statements to his voting record), but openly disapproves of things like gay marriage, and wanted to ban blowjobs. Even the libertarian candidate (and I'm a libertarian party member) was sleazy in too many ways.

Ultimately, the contest was won (predictably) by the one who spent the most money. Which means that fund-raising was critical, which means that getting in bed with money is necessary, which makes it nearly impossible to get intellectual honesty in elections. There are pretty noble efforts to eliminate, make transparent, or in some way normalize election contributions, but that just shrinks the list of viable candidates down to the rich, which isn't meant as an indictment of the rich, but isn't necessarily good for the interests of the hoi polloi either. Michael Bloomberg is rich, and he's been objectively horrible for New York City on a few landmark pieces of legislation (not meant as a comment on his entire term, but banning sodas? Really?).

As pertaining to firearms, that issue is, I think, more cut and dry. Our Constitution says we have the right to bear arms, and the job of our federal government, and its employees, is to uphold the Constitution, or to ratify it where it is wrong. The latter point is important, I think, because while I disagree with the notion that "guns are bad" (which is an argument for a different day, perhaps), I would abide the law if the Constitution were amended in the Constitutionally prescribed process. I wouldn't love it, but I am far more offended by those who would sidestep the Constitution to ignore its tenets.

Either there's support to ratify it, or there isn't. There currently isn't, but even if there were, none of the legislation proposed makes any attempt to uphold the Constitution, and all of the legislation, even that which I support, runs afoul of our governing tenets, and such be dismissed out of hand as such.

I'd say the last place to search for "moral leadership" is among the ranks of professional politicians.

Is comming out against the "war on drugs" really a career killer, still? I think some real leadership from public officials would quickly reverse the remnant of public support that exists for this so-called war.

You've vastly misjudged the battlefield. Among actual voters, the drug war is still seen favorably.

I'd love to know where I could find the stats on actual support that drug war policies have. Although I'm sure that majorities exist opposing outright legalization, I think that the people who support "drug war" policies as they are currently implemented are in the minority.

The way the question is posed to people can have a big effect on support. For instance, saying, "The war on drugs is counter-productive because it increases addiction rates and increases the harm caused by addiction, and should be replaced with a well-funded addiction-minimization and education regime," is different than saying, "Drugs should be legalized because adults should be able to choose for themselves what they put in their bodies."

When I mentioned "real leadership" above, I meant leaders that would make a case and design an alternate policy that would convince voters who are afraid of legalization as such, but who recognize that the drug war is a failed policy.

> Although I'm sure that majorities exist opposing outright legalization, I think that the people who support "drug war" policies as they are currently implemented are in the minority.

Remember, the relevant population here is the population of voters, not the population as a whole. Voters skew older and suburban/rural.

You could probably build a coalition in favour of replacing any number of individual policies of "the war on drugs" with "better" policies. It's much, much harder to build one to broadly legalise drugs.

The two problems are that drugs are much too ingrained in society as something incredibly dangerous and that sound-byte politics don't lend itself well to the distinction of wanting an activity to be not prohibited without actually endorsing the activity itself.

Slightly OT, but spending a bit of time on Gallup's website recently has shown me much I've misjudged the popularity of a lot of attitudes.

> Among actual voters, the drug war is still seen favorably.

Some elements of it obviously aren't, as we see marijuana legalization advancing (in some places, at least nominally, restricted to "medical" use, in other places more generally.)

That's exactly what politicians ought to do and exactly why politics should not be a career.

Granted, Kofi Annan was not a politician in the same way as the folks I'm really aiming this comment at, but still.

Yes, but I also don't have to depend on popularity.

Baby steps: plenty of politicians are in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.

Yes, but if you decriminalize all drugs then the whole industry surrounding incarceration of all those 'criminals' that are only inside because of drugs falls to pieces. There are plenty of lobbyists on the hill that are paid to do everything they can to prevent that from happening.

There is zero chance that drugs like crack are going to ever be decriminalized.

Would it need to be decriminalized if cocaine was properly sold, like it used to be? One can quite easily cook cocaine into crack if they so desire.

It has been established as physically addictive, so no, selling it "properly" won't help.

So is alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine.

Oh, I'm all for banning tobacco. Caffeine's withdrawal is minor an alcohol is only physically addictive to some people.

It's not only about the USA though.

For example in France there is no private incarceration industry, prisons are overpopulated and in inhumane condition, underground drug economy in suburbs create all sort of problems and yet there is no sign of even depenalizing consumption of marijuana.

Why ? I don't know.

Lobbyists can lean on and skew and sway. That's bad enough, but they're not unstoppable forces that will dictate policy indefinitely.

It's a welcome message, but Kofi Annan is one of the most corrupt and least credible politicians out there. It's a shame the message isn't coming from someone more respectable.

It's the modern day equivalent of a deathbed conversion!

IMO the battle is won in stages, and the first step in the legalization of Marijuana at the Federal level.

The next step is when we recognize the victims of the War on Drugs, specifically persons who were sent to jail because of Marijuana. You expand the affected to be people who've committed all non-violent crimes, and advocate for reform from that angle.

I don't care what the law really has to say regarding Heroin, as long as victims/addicts get helped instead of aggregated and exploited by a pseudo-warrior class.

I care what the law has to say regarding heroin. Legalize it, regulate it just like alcohol.

Being illegal didn't keep my brother from becoming addicted and dying from it. If it was legal and pure he might have had a chance.

But on the other hand, nobody is trying to outlaw tobacco and alcohol, which are the biggest killers of all. Thats what did my mom in.

So yes, legalize it and keep it pure. Educate people on proper drug use and spend money on health resources for those who need it rather than jail.

I'm sorry to hear about your brother. My younger brother is also a heroin addict. I watched him change from one of the sweetest people I knew and the best man at my wedding into an awful excuse for a human being.

I am not so sure I would support the legalization of heroin. At times I have expressed support for the Gore Vidal approach, i.e. legalize all drugs and provide them at cost. In any case, I fully agree that drugs ought to be decriminalized and treated as a public health, not a criminal, issue.

I just think it's intellectually dishonest to pretend that all drugs are the same. Consider, for example, the ratio of the therapeutic dose (or, I guess, recreational dose) to the lethal dose. A very small amount of marijuana or LSD causes the intended effect, yet it's virtually impossible to die from overdosing on these substances. Clearly this is not the case with alcohol, cocaine, heroin, etc.

I'm not trying to argue strongly for tiered classification of drugs, but I am saying that it's not obvious to me that we should just treat them all the same. There are more-or-less objective measures that we can use to establish their risk to the individual and society.

I'm an ex heroin addict. Have been on Suboxone for a year and a half (nearly off it, only two months to go yay!) after being addicted from 16-22 years old.

Would I still be where I am if heroin was legal and I was on that for ORT instead of Suboxone? I think I would -- as it stands, I'm still on an extremely strong opiate daily, but it is pure and legal, so a lot of the issues fall away from it.

The problem is: that's just me! Your brother might be completely different, and that sucks :( An argument can be made, however, that because one person might not benefit (I'd argue that it won't make his situation worse: he's already an addict, like I was, if it's now clean and doesn't require breaking the law to get..) does that mean that those who can should miss out?

It's a complex issue, and you raised some great points about how people conflate "drugs" as if they were all the same. I'm still not sure where the answer lies, but I'm pretty certain what we have now isn't working.

Totally agree that the current approach is not working, and that's why I say that, regardless of which drugs we choose to fully legalize, all of them should be decriminalized. Most people who become addicts are already traumatized in some way and throwing them into the machinery of the criminal justice system only compounds the problem.

The healthcare situation also makes it worse. My brother had considerable difficulty obtaining Suboxone, and even after establishing a relationship with the only doctor in our area who prescribes it, was not able to afford the enormous expense. It's just pathetic that he had a much easier time acquiring this legal drug illegally from fellow addicts.

I wish you the very best with your recovery.

Agreed wholeheartedly.

I'm lucky, it took literally one week for me to get on the program, and costs me $5 a day here in Australia. I have nothing but sympathy for those who aren't as lucky.

Thanks for the support :)

>> "nobody is trying to outlaw tobacco"

They aren't trying to outlaw tobacco but they are trying to stop it's use in a different way. Banning smoking in public places (which I agree with), health warnings on packaging, and the latest thing they are trying to do is ban branding on packaging (i.e. cigarettes can only be sold in plain white boxes). In many places they also can't be on display (displays are covered) and the age at which it's legal to buy cigarettes has risen in many places over the last 5 years or so.

I agree with your main point. Recently where I'm from there were news reports about several deaths from a 'bad' batch of ecstasy. Police informed people what to look out for on the news (what the bad pills looked like) but the main message was drugs kill, don't use them. The problem wasn't the drugs it was a poison being cut with them. If they were legal and regulated we wouldn't have this problem.

"They aren't trying to outlaw tobacco but they are trying to stop it's use in a different way"

Yep. Also through taxes. In the U.S., taxes on a single pack of cigarettes can be as high as $5.36, depending on where you live.

I might be completely off here but it almost seems like they don't actually want people to quit. They just want the tax money. I know when I smoked I could get a 2 week supply of patches OR gum (at the time) but that just wasn't enough to actually get to the point I needed. Maybe for some people it works but the success rates aren't that great, if I recall.

EDIT: I just wanted to mention that, I feel this, is completely the wrong use for taxes. They should be for raising revenue not for changing behavior. I don't have a great solution so I won't even attempt to go there.

Raising the price through taxes is likely to put off new young smokers who will find it incredibly difficult to afford. It probably won't deter as many adults who can afford the price increase even if it does piss them off. I've also known some people who have switched to cheaper, lower quality cigarettes because of the price increases rather than quitting. In other words raising the prices has caused them to seek a worse alternative for their health.

and through the ACA, it is expressly legal to charge smokers more for insurance. As in, up to 50 (FIFTY) percent more.

Although I am a supporter of (and user of) free public health care, doesn't it make sense to charge people more for insurance if they are doing something that is proven to seriously damage their health?

Without judging the sentiment, "legalize it and keep it pure" does not mesh at all with tobacco and alcohol, which are legal (and 'pure,' at least in the case of alcohol), being "the biggest killers of all" as an argument for legalization.

Discussion on legalization of controlled substances like heroin is fraught with bias and misinformation. It's a discussion worth having, but clouding it with contradictions makes an already difficult topic that much harder to address.

Uh, pure alcohol does kill, but poisoned alcohol is worse and much more effective (as the US government knew[1]). There's nothing contradictory about it.

pstuart didn't say if heroin had been pure that everything would be fine, just that the user might have a chance. And you definitively have a greater chance of surviving alcohol addition if you don't die from a single bottle[2].

[1] http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_exa...

[2] http://www.ibtimes.com/last-call-poor-indians-continue-die-a...

Alcohol and tobacco are bigger killers than heroin because A: They're obviously much more widely used and B: heroin has very little health side effects.

While alcohol and tobacco might have a larger "therapeutic index" then heroin, regular use can and does damage many peoples' bodies. Regular use of opiates causes constipation and a few other minor side effects. They aren't really comparable.

The main reason for overdoses on opiates is related to mixing with other drugs (alcohol and benzos). After that is the dosage amount. If patients always knew exactly how much they were using, like they would less likely accidentally use too much.

Another cause for overdoses is when a patient discontinues the medication, then resumes usage assuming their previous tolerance levels. If these medicines were legal, far fewer people would need to stop using in the first place, further reducing accidents.

The other health issues with opiates are a result of unhygienic IV use. If needles were readily available, and medicines pure, there would be less health issues arising. Instead, people reuse their needles many, many times, and users may often end up injecting all sorts of materials into their blood.

The best and maybe the only approach for drugs like Heroin or Crack is (IMHO) the Swiss one:


We have an existing infrastructure to handle dangerous drugs: prescriptions.

While I believe that making choices about one's own biology and consciousness is a fundamental right, there are realities of addiction and drug-seeking behavior that can't be ignored. Ensuring that a medical professional is in the loop regarding a user's drug choices (in my perfect world, even for alcohol and cigarettes) could lead to real harm reduction while respecting personal freedom.

A concern is that the practicalities of such a legalization would just make things worse. It could make it much easier for children to get hold of. You would also need to define what is "pure" and police that for an endless list of possible products. It is difficult enough to keep salmonella out of food, effective regulation of cannabis sounds impossible. Any regulation would need to be sufficiently loose that you do not need a black market.

I would argue that the most important impact of drug use is to people who are not drug users. Any legislation should put the interests of those people first.

> It could make it much easier for children to get hold of.

There are currently no age restrictions on heroin. All a child needs is a morally-bankrupt drug dealer, which imo is easier than finding a morally-bankrupt store clerk if it were legal.

> You would also need to define what is "pure" and police that for an endless list of possible products.

'Pure' can be easily defined, and it doesn't have to be 'pure' anyway, just not increasingly harmful - beer isn't pure alcohol, McDonald's burgers aren't pure beef, etc.

> It is difficult enough to keep salmonella out of food, effective regulation of cannabis sounds impossible. Any regulation would need to be sufficiently loose that you do not need a black market.

Comparing keeping salmonella out of food to keeping drugs clean is apples and oranges - they're entirely different problems. Also, given the insane markup drugs are subject to today, primarily due to the risk of distribution, prices would fall with regulation, and imo enough to undercut any current black market. Also, the quality could be better or worse, but you know it would be safe.

I got addicted at 16. Was easier than convincing someone at a bottle shop to sell alcohol to me.

> There are currently no age restrictions on heroin. All a child needs is a morally-bankrupt drug dealer, which imo is easier than finding a morally-bankrupt store clerk if it were legal.

It is very easy for underage people to get hold of alcohol. It is ridiculous to suggest that drugs would be any different. It would make it much easier to buy.

> Beer isn't pure alcohol, McDonald's burgers aren't pure beef, etc.

I still don't understand how you can regulate that. How exactly do you define "not increasingly harmful"? Presumably whatever the definition it risks creating a black market, or being very cheap; both outcomes would be negative.

> Comparing keeping salmonella out of food to keeping drugs clean is apples and oranges - they're entirely different problems.

Why? It would presumably need a similar system of inspection and rules. It doesn't just need to be safe for current drug users, but all the other people that may decide to give it a go. Why would people give up basic consumer rights?

> It is very easy for underage people to get hold of alcohol. It is ridiculous to suggest that drugs would be any different. It would make it much easier to buy.

While I was underage (I'm 24 now, so not long ago), it was easier to find weed than it was to find alcohol. The repercussions for selling weed to a 16 year old are the same as selling weed to an 18 year old are the same as selling to a 21 year old and so on. The repercussions for selling alcohol to a 21 year old versus an 18 year old or cigarettes to an 18 year old versus a 16 year old are entirely different, in that there are none if you sell to someone of legal age.

If you're already selling an illegal substance, there's no legal reason not to sell to someone who would otherwise be under age if the substance was legalized. What you're doing is illegal either way. With alcohol and tobacco, you're asking a store clerk likely making minimum wage to take a risk so you can buy alcohol. It's just way less likely to fly.

As a kid, weed is easier to get than alcohol. Heroin might be less common but only because its not as popular.

Where I live McDonalds are the only fast food chain to hammer the fact that their burgers are 100% pure beef (produced inside the borders of my country even).

Don't know if it is correct but repeating it on tv for months sounds risky if they are lying.

It is correct some places, and may now finally be correct everywhere, but especially in the US it is not all that obvious whether or not your meat is "pure" in any meaningful sense:


I assume that what the GP referred to is that even though it's all "beef" (part of a cow's body), one beef product might be mostly tendons, bonemeal and fat, while another is a cut of fillet, almost 100% muscle tissue. Colloquially, I think most people would agree that the latter is more pure than the former.

When I was a teenager, it was easier for me to buy pot than beer because pot was illegal in general while beer was legally available for most of the population.

From what I have heard, this situation was not atypical.

I think this would vary hugely by location (Europe will be different). In some places underage drinking is accepted by adults where drug use is not.

Drinking was by no means less acceptable at the time than smoking pot; the relative ease of getting pot was despite it being frowned upon much more.

Think of it this way: who requires a black market for pot? Every single person who wants pot. Who requires a black market for booze? Not everyone who wants booze... just a narrow band of people spanning 5 or 6 birth years. A group of people who tend to be rather broke.

You can find an adult or two that is willing to buy you a sixpack once in a while fairly easily, but that isn't their job, they couldn't make it their job (since the market is limited and poor), and they probably have more interesting people to hang out with. Pot though? The guy that sells the pot does it for a living. He's going to be far less flaky.

If you, as an adult in an area where medical pot is legal, try to buy pot regularly from somebody who has a medical card, you will likely find that they are less reliable than somebody who does it fulltime. As pot becomes legal to a greater portion of adults, this effect will only increase.

Thank's that's interesting.

> Any regulation would need to be sufficiently loose that you do not need a black market.

No, it wouldn't. There are black markets in many legal goods to evade taxes and other elements of regulation, and yet the social harms associated with such black markets tend to be much less than for similar goods that are prohibited (compare alcohol before and after Prohibition).

You mostly seem to be arguing if we can't have a perfect scheme for legalization and regulation, we should instead keep the status quo prohibition, but a legal-and-regulated scheme can be far from perfect (indeed, can even be quite bad) and be a marked improvement from the status quo.

> I would argue that the most important impact of drug use is to people who are not drug users.

I'd like to see that argument (and note that "argue" and "assert" are not the same thing.)

> I'd like to see that argument (and note that "argue" and "assert" are not the same thing.)

Except that drugs are such a culturally charged issue that "argue" and "assert" become the same thing. Fundamentally I find the culture distasteful so I reject it. The arguments in favor seem to crassly exploit the illness of a few addicts to justify more convenient access for recreational users. This completely ignores treatment, or drug prevention in favor of a faith based approach based on barely though out laws.

> Except that drugs are such a culturally charged issue that "argue" and "assert" become the same thing.

No, the fact that some people are emotionally invested in an issue doesn't mean that "argue" and "assert" become the same thing, its just means that "assert" becomes a lot more common than arguing.

> Fundamentally I find the culture distasteful so I reject it.

What culture?

> The arguments in favor seem to crassly exploit the illness of a few addicts to justify more convenient access for recreational users.

The arguments in favor of what?

We already have two very good examples of regulating a legal drug with little or no black market: Tobacco & Alcohol

I think many of the things we've learned with regulating those drugs could be applied to a lot of other drugs.

Both tobacco and alcohol have sizable black markets, mostly as a way to avoid tax.

The major impact to society is because of peripheral crime, not the use itself.

>> and the first step in the legalization of Marijuana at the Federal level.

You don't want that. Trust me, you don't that. All you need to do is look at how heavily regulated tobacco is. Right now, the way to get people to stop smoking is to simply make it unaffordable. It just keeps getting taxed more and more and the price keeps going up and up.

Thinking the Feds will do a better job than the states is a joke. Look at how well the states have handled their own Obamacare exchanges and then how the Federal Obamacare website is a joke. If anything, this should be left at a state level. Let them regulate, tax and decide whether the people in that state want to allow it.

Right now it is illegal at the Federal level. To really allow states to have a choice (instead of the current the-feds-might-look-the-other-way-if-they-feel-like-it arrangement) is for it to not be illegal at the Federal level.

Exactly. Theoretical potentialities regarding the subversion of the using population thereafter by the government is too speculative and too far ahead to worry about.

I agree that the government usually messes things up, but in this case, we need to think of the people suffering the most; the people serving prison time for this drug. Once we can get them freed, and have the using population treated as law abiding citizens, we'll see how it goes IMO.

Part of the problem is too many people have been brainwashed into the "protecting us from dangerous drugs" lie. Your average Jane/Joe will say "legalize pot, but ew, meth is bad!"

The fact that we collectively choose to participate in this madness is, well, maddening.

> "legalize pot, but ew, meth is bad!"

Which, I would say, is true. Our argument should be where the facts are: It's bad, but it should be handled like a public health problem, not like a criminal problem, because criminalizing it does not protect you from dangerous drugs as the last century shows, but it primarily finances mafia groups which cost even more lives than even the most evil drugs.

I feel like politicians are to their constituents what parents are like to teenage kids with respect to substance use advice/"laws." Parents of teenagers ban their kids from substances even though they themselves definitely did them when they were younger. The hypocrisy is kind of funny to me-- it's like there are two different worlds going on (one public facing, one the reality) that everyone just plays along with for reputation's sake even though we all know we're kidding ourselves -- it's ridiculous that this social play we put on actually seriously affects the lives of those touched by the global drug trade.

Drug usage is a medical problem. Without medical care, it becomes or has the potential to become a criminal problem. In the USA drug usage and mental illness are generally lumped into the criminal category, sending sick and/or mentally ill people into a the criminal justice system without any chance of treatment or remission.

We should be examining a "medical court" system. It's basically each individual's right to do whatever they want but there's a line that gets crossed when they are truly sick and need help.

No one in the government cares because this only effects poor people and they don't have the money to make a difference.

If Obama wanted to make a real change he would have stopped the war on drugs already.

The real issue that needs to be discussed, but no one wants to, is how one particular three letter uses drugs as a source of black ops funding, so that it is beyond congressional oversight. Of course, congress is so compromised they are much less afraid of oversight these days, but until people understand that the drug war is about money more than just in regards to asset forfeiture and other LEA uses, and the very top structures in government benefit from it.

Prohibition was great ... for Al Capone.

Cue Homer Simpson sound bite: "I haven't learned a thing"

Here's an analogy some may find crazy: I've been collecting data that classifies sugar (cane / corn / etc.) as a drug, rather than a food. Considering that type 2 diabetes is a self induced illness caused by sugar abuse, should we imprison sugar addicts? I know, I know, that may be a bit of a stretch for some persons. Still, think about it.

At this point I think a big reason prohibition is kept alive is to save face. To end it, they'd have to admit they were wrong.

I believe the results of decriminalization may vary according to your social context. I live in Brazil and I don't think decriminalization would reduce violence around here, it would, at its best, move the focus away from the drug addict to other parts of the society.

Collaborators from large drug organizations (tens of thousands of criminals, running millionaire operations, heavily armed) won't simply boo-hoo, go home and look for real jobs once drugs are decriminalized. They would look for the new weaker link of the chain and then concentrate all their violence on it. Once drugs are legalized and are freely sold on public points of sale (whatever government calls them), criminals would target the "supply chain" and distribution network. All of the sudden drug organizations would find themselves operating wholesale, not retail anymore. They would steal cargo to sell it at poor city areas or in places where official suppliers haven't established POSes yet. Stealing (buying for zero) and selling is much more attractive than "cooking" and selling. It's like outsourcing your production the bad way, keeping the benefit of higher profit margins. Higher margins lead to more competition, thus guns, thus violence among organizations (this is the current scenario in cities like Rio where drug organizations fight for territory dominance[1]). On the bright side, anyone interested in consuming drugs would be spared of this fight. They would be the same people who ever bought drugs, but now with the benefit of new regulations, treatment and care from the government.

[1] This video shows a battle between two drug organizations in Rio that mobilized around 100 members coming from different slums. You can see a great deal of collateral damage in the local population, and this is what my point is all about. Watch from 1:00 onwards (sorry, Portuguese language all the way). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etu6YWC-rT4 Criminals were even able to shot down a police helicopter killing two officers. Drug war at its finest.

I'm unfamiliar with Brazil drug operations. But certainly these other crimes have significantly less profit/risk than the huge markup on illegal drugs?

If they are properly legalized, the price should plummet. So even stealing or going wholesale is far less lucrative. You can already steal other goods. You could hijack a shipment of beer - but end-users aren't going to pay $15 a bottle for it because the normal price is known to be far less. So even if these organizations moved into theft, they wouldn't be able to finance huge armies anymore.

I'd also note that stealing does not have a cost of zero. You need to finance people to attack, pay for their weapons, etc. And the cap on pricing means even if stealing was cheaper, the absolute profit still won't be as high, overall.

Unless Brazil has a problem with criminal gangs already monopolizing distribution of other goods (like aspirin, tabacco, or alcohol), it seems like a stretch to say they'd do this for drugs.

Even in the US, people have been killed in hijackings of trucks containing Intel processors.

Yes, this is very complex and there are a lot of points we could discuss from a factual perspective.

It's very hard to know what's the most profitable LOB of crime organizations here. What is well known is that they operate on a wide "portfolio" of products and services since there are strong dependencies between them. Drugs, weapons, bank robbery, ATM stealing, truck robbery, kidnapping... the list is long.

Drugs is a relevant LOB because it employs a great deal of terror on the human structure of the organization. Debt with a drug dealer is usually seen as a death sentence. So the dealer knows he can manipulate those who cannot pay their debts by forcing them to commit various crimes as compensation. Dealers don't need money to finance crimes, they do it mostly through terror. Drugs are just the foundations.

Black market. If the legal drug is sold for $15, drug dealers would sell the same amount for $10. Like the do with stolen medical drugs sold mostly in slums.

Government/private companies would have a hard time trying to sell legal drugs anywhere near slums. Not only the dealers would exterminate the workers of those places, but would also steal the products to resell them.

I'm pro drug decriminalization. I believe people should be free to experiment anything they want in their lives, of course, being properly accountable for that. But my problem is with people that generalize the success of ANY decriminalization campaign only because Portugal made it right. There are so many variables in this game, so many social and cultural pre-requisites that we cannot treat this subject with just a couple of lines.

I appreciate you time articulating your ideas while commenting my point. I think that's the type of exercise that this subject deserves.

>Debt with a drug dealer ... Dealers don't need money to finance crimes, they do it mostly through terror.

So if the people are working for them to pay off a debt, then the dealer paid for the service still. Additionally, someone has to buy weapons to hijack shipments.

>If the legal drug is sold for $15, drug dealers would sell the same amount for $10

Going along with fictional numbers, currently they're getting, say $100 for the same amount. Legalization might bring it to $15, and black market guys might sell at $10. That's still 1/10th of the revenue flowing in. They'd have to have very thin profit margins to benefit from a major reduction in prices.

>Like the do with stolen medical drugs sold mostly in slums. ... . Not only the dealers would exterminate the workers of those places

Sounds like this is a problem with slums and Brazil's law enforcement capabilities in general than anything else.

If your point is that Brazil will still have massive problems after legalization, yes, sure. Legalizing all medications won't solve hunger, either. Legal sales reduce criminal pressure on end-users (maybe not an issue in Brazil) and reduce revenues to criminals.

Why would a policy of open drug sales make things worse in Brazil?

> ...someone has to buy weapons to hijack shipments

Yes, "soldiers" pay off debts by robbing banks and handing over money to dealers, whom in turn buy weapons on the cheap in Paraguay (country) or from corrupt police forces (aka milĂ­cias[3]).

> Sounds like this is a problem with slums and Brazil's law enforcement capabilities in general than anything else.

That's my point.

> Legal sales reduce criminal pressure on end-users

Absolutely, for the middle class alone. Can't say it for the poor.

> Reduce revenues to criminals

Not for the big organizations like PCC [1] or Comando vermelho [2]

> Why would a policy of open drug sales make things worse in Brazil?

I don't know if it would make it worse. But I'm almost sure it wouldn't make it better to most of the population (basis of my point) simply because violence wouldn't be reduced. Organized crime finds its ways to keep its dominance, and it has been like that for decades.

Thanks for the "debate". :)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primeiro_Comando_da_Capital [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comando_Vermelho [3] http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mil%C3%ADcia_(Rio_de_Janeiro) (use a translator, sorry)

Sorry to persist - how does it not reduce revenues? If the illegal restricted rate of a certain opiate is $1/mg, but the free-market, competitive rate is $0.10/mg, then the revenues will drop approximately to 1/10th.

In the slums, is Pepsi, alcohol and ibuprofen priced at obscene rates? Why or why not?

Either way, even if it doesn't benefit the poor class (because they're totally fucked either way), it doesn't harm them, and is the right thing to do. So it does seem simple to state: yes, legalize everything.

> how does it not reduce revenues?

It may reduce revenue of smaller groups, but not of large organizations. As I said, they have a wide portfolio in crime. If one thing has reduced revenues, they would intensify on another thing, thus violence is kept at the same level.

> In the slums, is Pepsi, alcohol and ibuprofen priced at obscene rates? Why or why not?

Pepsi is VERY expensive for them, so they opt for a myriad of alternative brands that cost a 1/3 of the price. Alcohol, same thing, they consume strong drinks at around R$1/bottle. Medicine drugs, they rely on those given for free by the government. If they are not free, they go for the black market, which is too bad because they often but fake medicine... another huge issue.

> Either way, even if it doesn't benefit the poor class (because they're totally fucked either way), it doesn't harm them, and is the right thing to do. So it does seem simple to state: yes, legalize everything.

Well, that's a way to see things. Government would invest loads of tax-payer's money in the process, the poor would say exactly where they are and the middle class/elite would benefit greatly. Thank goodness I'm part of the latter.

The article is co-written by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil.

I didn't like him when he was the president, but I do like very much his approach to legalize/decriminalize drugs... Kudos for them!

Easy to say, but it'll never happen, especially in the US (at least not in my lifetime, hopefully my daughters). Too many jobs would be unnecessary if the "war on drugs" was over.

We had far more invested in prohibition, with far more outright corruption (politicians on the take from bootleggers), but managed to end that somehow. The difference was that alcohol consumption was mainstream so ordinary voters cared about the impact of prohibition. Drug consumption is not mainstream and enforcement largely affects minorities, so ordinary voters don't care.

>We had far more invested in prohibition

Is this actually true? We've invested an enormous amount in the war on drugs.

This is a must-see documentary, not just for its coverage of prohibition, but for the historical insights you can glean about American politics: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition.

In a nutshell, prohibition was far more invasive and far more corrupt than today's drug war. Al Capone was a billionaire in today's money, and the drug lords of yore were willing to exert political influence in a way that maybe happens today in Mexico, but certainly does not in the U.S. Al Capone once walked into City Hall and pushed the Mayor of Cicero (which was a former independent city in the Chicago area) down the stairs and nobody touched him. Politicians and police were openly on the take from bootleggers in a way that is totally foreign to our modern sensibilities (unless you have any familiarity with the developing world).

Not really, whilst you'd lose some in enforcement you'd still need to police for blackmarket knock off product. You'd also create jobs in administrating the sales, production and supply chain etc.

The DEA has a budget of nearly $3BN. I doubt that money would go to the same types of jobs or companies if Bayer and Pfizer and others were licensed to sell Morphine and Amphetamines to the public. Seems like the FDA might get some more work, there'd be a bit larger need for customs inspections. But enforcement would go way down, especially without diversion control.

How much money and weapons are used in protecting bootlegged alcohol these days?

Yep. But that may be understanding the case. If you're part of the anti-drug-war-industrial-complex, the worse thing in the world would be for enforcement to "go way down."

Look at state and local cops, federal prison guards and the BOP, state and local prison guards, federal prosecutors, state and local prosecutors, privately owned prisons operated under contract, government employee unions, state and local police departments receiving billions in tax dollars via "drug war" grants and gear from FedGov, companies manufacturing battering rams for those 4am no-knock SWAT drug raids, etc. Let's not forget the U.S. military and border police.

At least at the federal level, over half of prisoners are there for "drug offenses": http://www.bop.gov/news/quick.jsp

What would happen to all those jobs if non-violent "drug offenders" were released from prison? That would be a tragedy, really.

I'd love to see figures on this but my guess is it would create more jobs that it would make unnecessary.

You're probably right, no administration would ever admit that, though.

True. I can't remember the exact details but when a leading UK government advisor on drugs advised changes to the governments ridiculous classification of drugs and favoured one based on evidence of the harm they cause he was fired "because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy"[1] Governments aren't willing to be forward thinking or even rational on the issue.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Nutt#Dismissal

Slight tangent but I've been reflecting recently on how many people seek out things they know are dangerous to them for the thrill of it. Its an interesting trait.

My idea would be: make them legal, tax them high (or make them accessible only after certain educational exams), from that money educate people, help them recovering. Teach them basic game theory and the term what trap is, what is it like to be the frog in the boiling water, etc.

I'm confident I missed many aspects here, although really interested in: What are the problems with this model?

Taxing them really high will increase the likelihood of black market product, which goes against the public health aspect. You don't want a poor person buying junk and getting sick because they couldn't go to the store and buy proper medicine. Just like you wouldn't heavily tax aspirin or ibuprofen.

Basic medical education should be provided as part of national education. Except, properly done, not the factually incorrect, dramatic anti-drug programs they have these days.

There also seem to be a bias against drugs here, which I don't believe is founded in research. After all, we encourage people to get treatment for mental illnesses, the treatments which usually involve becoming addicted to very strong medications like SSRIs. Yet there's no education against being "trapped" onto such things.

Makes sense. It could be difficult to raise money for prevention and rehabilitation purposes from the tax approach. Although maybe wealthy recreational users would happily "fund" the education / rehabilitation of the poor. Or maybe I'm just completely wrong here :D

I agree with the other points you've discussed.

> It could be difficult to raise money for prevention and rehabilitation purposes from the tax approach.

Maybe, but it'd be easy diverting money being spent to arrest, prosecute, and imprison people into prevention and treatment (and we're already spending money on prevention and treatment from general state and federal tax money without legalization, so with legalization and no special taxes -- just general income, sales, etc., taxes -- there'd be more money from that, even before you consider repurposing the money currently being spent on the enforcement end of the drug war that would no longer be required.)

OTOH, while there are black markets for alcohol and tobacco -- largely as an effort to evade the special taxes on those products -- the special taxes on them still bring in considerable revenue, and the black market for, e.g., alcohol is far less significant and socially problematic than when alcohol was prohibited. So, its far from clear that special "sin taxes" on legalized drugs would not be useful as a significant additional revenue source for prevention and treatment activities.

The real outward problem of drugs is poverty. As we've seen from a certain mayor who has been in the news lately, the issue people have with drug users is them "breaking into your house for $5"[1]. If you have the means to use the drugs without financial repercussions, then it is "okay" (a term I use lightly here). If you tax the drugs at a high rate and make them still inaccessible to some degree, then the problem persists exactly as it does today, with criminal organizations supplying the drugs at an artificially inflated price to the people who can afford them least.

[1] http://www.cbc.ca/player/Shows/ID/2416184416/

I knew (personally) of a surprisingly large number of white-collar functional addicts who worked in the city and earned mid six figures.

Hell, I technically am in the category myself with my Suboxone treatment. My life is better than fine, and has been since I went from paying $400 a day for heroin, to $5 a day for suboxone.

My lowest points where when I was poor and addicted. I never stole, and went through withdrawals instead, but I can tell you it crosses the mind of any addict at some point. Take that away, and the impact on society is lessened considerably.

One problem with making them too inaccessible and too expensive is that it might make the illegal market attractive again, with the risk of bringing us back to the current situation. So I think the idea is viable but can only be pushed up to a certain point.

My problem with your model is the apparent preconception that I (as an adult) shouldn't be able to take whatever drugs I feel like. Your regulatory scheme seems more appropriate for a substance like heroin rather than cannabis, as well.

The tax and regulation issue is at best a sideshow, and, at worst, will keep traffickers in business.

The real issue is to transition the law enforcement and prison spending to addiction treatment spending.

This legalization talk is flawed.

Alcohol is legal, and that doesn't stop people, specially teenagers, from abusing it. It's also proven tobacco addiction starts during adolescence. In this case, legalization is just removing responsibility from the people who profit from it, since in practice the law isn't protecting who it's supposed to protect. Just because something is legal doesn't make it ethical.

Then, we know legalizing certain drugs will only move traffic to worse drugs. Legalize marijuana and dealers will move more crack, just like the mafia moved from alcohol to cocaine after they lifted the prohibition in the US. Now what, the government will legalize crack too? Make even more unethical businesses operate under the law, knowing these products will be abused by teenagers just like alcohol and tobacco today?

There's no easy solution, and no one is addressing the real issue: that substance abuse is cultural and heavily promoted. You talk to young people, and their concept of having a good time is "getting wasted". Dysfunctional families and poverty only worsen the issue.

I respect that you have that opinion, even though I disagree with it personally.

The big question to me, is what causes more harm: drug use, or the criminals that it funds? I'd wager the latter; drug use can be dealt with as a medical problem (I'm living proof) to some extent, murderous cartels, warlords, and corruption around the world can't be.

Something to think about anyway!

You know what's one of the most trafficked products in Brazil?


Tons of counterfeit cigarettes cross the border between Paraguay and Brazil, and that funds crime syndicates. A legal and regulated product. Now imagine if marijuana or anything else is legalized... they will do the same thing to avoid taxation, which would go to fund health assistance, and buyers won't care about where it comes from - they'll just care that their fix is available for cheap.

That drugs should be dealt with as a health issue, I don't disagree with, but legalizing substances isn't a silver bullet to stop crime, crime is rooted on other issues (education, poverty, lack of assistance).

The reason cigarettes are trafficked is taxes. It happens in the US, too. That's just a symptom of heavy taxation as a gradual form of prohibition. The inducement to trafficking is the same as for prohibition.

> Tons of counterfeit cigarettes cross the border between Paraguay and Brazil, and that funds crime syndicates. A legal and regulated product.

Yep, that's true (or maybe it's some illegal drug, but statistics on those aren't very reliable). Now just imagine what would happen if the entire brazilian tobaco market consisted of trafficked products. How big a mafia could you sustain with 10000 times more money?

Anyway, that question nowadays is completely academical, as Brazil currently hosts a single big mafia, that takes it's toll whatever economical activity happens here.

The point is, policy makers don't think like criminals.

I'm all for discussing legalization if we are talking about individual liberties (in which case, drugs can't be heavily taxed, to avoid a black market), but Kofi Annan and Fernando Henrique are presenting it as a solution to crime when there's no data back it up (the countries that legalized drugs so far don't face crime and poverty to begin with). So far it's just wishful thinking.

Yeah, you're definitely right there! Legalising drugs doesn't fix socioeconomic issues, and while it is in my opinion a net win for a few countries, I'm certainly not going to pretend to know enough about Brazil to say whether it would be the right choice...

That said, it can still be a net positive, even if it doesn't fix all issues. That's what I'm arguing here :) Not that it matters, I doubt we'll see something as dramatic as that in my lifetime!

I've always wondered: what would drug dealers do if drugs were legalized? Would they throw their hands up and go get jobs at McDonald's? Or would they turn to robbery, kidnapping, etc?

Maybe black markets are useful for providing an income for people that have criminal records and no skills.

I'm reminded of a scene from The Assignment, where two characters are arguing at an official function:

- How about "fuck you, pal"?

- I'd believe it, if it was louder.

In other news, I'm a bit sick of public figures coming out against the War on Drugs after their careers are functionally over.

I'm tired of these cowards coming out against the war on drugs after they no longer hold a position of power to do anything about it.

Unfortunately, the "mighty" USA is utterly incapable of functioning economically without wars, so this will never happen.

While we're at it, end the war on terror, war on poverty, war on sex, war on religion.

But above all, end the war on liberty.

How about we end assigning meaningless catchy phrases to boring but important US policies. There is no "war on sex" or "war on religion" in the US only news organizations framing policies in that manor to get ratings.

Kofi Annan does not have any prerogative to tell me or others what to do with their own bodies. Fuck the UN and Kofi Annan.

The article isn't about "your body" (about which I'd rather know as little as possible); it's about the so-called "war on drugs" (which is actually a war on the poor).

Did you read the article before commenting?

Yes I read the article. The UN asserts the authority to interfere with what other people do to their own bodies and with their own property (drug use, manufacture, and consumption). This comes from "The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs" and later "The United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances." The UN, including Kofi Annon, is used as an instrument by the US to further US drug policy.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy and its recommendations are nothing more than a ruse.

How about helping you make an informed decision?

Sorry, but your libertarian utopia is never going to happen.

So, what, I should just shut up and get in line like you?

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