Alex Massie

Drug War: Epic Fail

Text settings

Lots happening on the Drug War front. First, the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, headed by former Presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, issues a report confirming that the tide of opinion in South America is turning against the Drug Warriors. In some respects the report simply states the obvious:

It is imperative to rectify the ‘war on drugs’ strategy pursued in the region over the past 30 years…

Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the expected results. We are further than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.

Who can doubt this? Ex-Presidents Cardoso, Gaviria and Zedillo suggest that drug use be treated as a public health not a criminal matter. This too seems a more sensible dedication of resources than a failed drug war that has crippled Colombia and shows every sign of crippling Mexico too. In other words, the questions of liberty and choice in this country and the USA also have serious consequences on the liberty of Latin American countries and the prospect of developing open, pluralist societies from Mexico to Patagonia.

Meanwhile, in the UK the government wants to withdraw benefits from drug users. It is hard to see how this will encourage a significant number of users and addicts (not the same thing, obviously) to seek treatment; by contrast it is quite easy to imagin how such a policy will increase crime and, consequently, add to the already high cost of drug enforcement - money that, again, could be more profitably spent elsewhere.

One may well say that it would be better for everyone is drug users didn't spend their money on drugs. But one might as well say it would be better if they didn't spend a disproportionate percentage of their income on alcohol. This also often conspires against their ability to return to work and leave the benefits world behind. Again, it is the prohibition on drugs that is largely responsible for many of the problems associated with drug use. Absent real reform on that front it's unlikely that the "sensible debate" Sam Leith calls for today will ever happen.

Any honest reformer must admit that there will be some costs associated with reform. Some of them may be severe (icluding, quite likely, at least a temporary increase in the number of drug users) but the costs of current policy -  morally, legally, socially and financially - are enormous as it is and show no signs of earning any kind of meaningful or worthwhile return. Thirty years of failure might, you could be forgiven for thinking, suggest it's time for a new approach.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietydrugs