A new report released by Christian Aid entitled ‘Drugs and Illicit Practices: Assessing their impact on development and governance’ has declared the war on drugs a failure.
The Christian organisation has broken ranks from other charity groups, who have until now largely ignored the issue despite claiming to be campaigning for international development and against human rights abuses.
Referring to the prohibitionist methods of fighting the war on drugs as treating the issue like a “malignant tumour”, the report argues that the reality is that this tumour “has become an almost necessary part of the whole body, rendering conventional treatments ineffective. Removal could cause certain organs to fail.”
This analogy highlights the situation in major drug-producing countries like Mexico. In 2010, a DEA investigation found that between 2004 and 2007, cartels in the country had laundered $378.4 billion through Wachovia Bank; an amount equal to one third of Mexico’s entire GDP at the time.
What this means for Mexico, as well as other countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Columbia, is that the removal of this ‘tumour’ through the current tactic of full eradication could prove disastrous to the countries as a whole, rather than just the cartels themselves. The market in illicit drugs is now so deeply ingrained within the economies and cultures of these countries that simply following the same, well-worn path of trying to rid the world of drugs through prohibition can no longer be considered a viable option. A new approach is desperately needed.
As the report makes clear – “the current cure is not working… and despite the hundreds of billions spent on eradication, the illicit drugs industry is bigger than ever”.
Whilst the report stopped short of calling for legalisation, it is clear that its publication has happened as a result of the rapid spread of law reform across the globe. The Supreme Court in Mexico recently ruled that the prohibition of cannabis is an infringement on human rights.
It also serves to highlight the continued hypocrisy of the British government and their refusal to take reform seriously. Decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs, particularly cannabis, has swept away failed eradication approaches in countries as diverse as Mexico, Portugal, much of the USA, and Uruguay, with Ireland seemingly set to follow suit.
Despite this the British government has repeatedly ignored calls for reform from both outside and inside the country – their latest dismissive and scientifically illiterate response to calls for cannabis to be rescheduled being the perfect example of this ‘head-in-the-sand’ mentality.
Christian Aid’s report drives home the devastating effect of prohibition on the most vulnerable in society, and the complexity of an issue too often reduced to empty rhetoric and grand proclamations about being ‘tough on drugs’. It is an issue which demands a more nuanced approach in order to fully understand the reasons why people take drugs, what we can do to best protect those people from harm, and ultimately how we can reshape society so that these problems no longer occur.
Whilst far from ground-breaking – Christian Aid are hardly the first people to realise that prohibition has failed – this report could well be part of an historic change in worldwide drug policy. With UNGASS 2016 just a few months away the timing couldn’t have been better, and will only add to the mounting pressure on global governments to use their time in New York to make a real, meaningful change in the world.