The United Nations General Assembly is set to once again address the worldwide drug problem in a special session to be conducted in 2016. They are expected, among other things, to spend a lot of time talking about potentially ending the global war on drugs. The very thought is leading some governments and drug control organisations to push hard for a rethinking of how the world approaches drug use.

Opponents of the global war on drugs cite the United States as a clear example of why things need to change. The US seems to be losing its appetite for the drug war within its own borders, as evidenced by the fact that 21 states already make provision for some legal marijuana use. Colorado and Washington are the first to have approved recreational use.

Attitudes Are Changing

After more than four decades of aggressive military and police action designed to stem the worldwide drug trade, attitudes are now changing. More and more people are favouring an approach that looks at drug use from a medical and clinical standpoint rather than a moral one. Others simply say that the drug war has failed – its time having passed more than a decade ago.

Those calling for a change are focusing on the following main points:

  • Incarceration Rates – In countries with the most aggressive anti-drug laws, incarceration rates have soared over the last four decades. In the US alone, jails and prisons have swelled beyond capacity with astoundingly high numbers of users and low-level dealers. High incarceration rates are not only unsafe – they are financially unsustainable. 
  • Illegal Trade – The war on drugs over the last several decades has been profitable for one group: those who manufacture and distribute drugs all over the world. It is a lucrative trade that is both illegal and violent. Critics of the global war on drugs believe that legalising drug use would all but erase the violent and criminal aspects of retail drug sales and distribution. 
  • Harm Reduction – Despite working very hard to stop the drug trade around the world, it has continued flourishing for years. Some say it’s time to start focusing on harm reduction principles that will make drug use safer among those unwilling or unable to stop using. 
  • Regulation and Taxation – Governments willing to legalise the drug trade could benefit from both regulation and taxation. Industry taxes could end up being a financial boon to cash-strapped governments running out of ways to raise revenue. 

If the opponents of the global war on drugs manage to convince the UN to change tactics, the result could be a decision to allow individual countries to develop their own policies based on the needs of their citizens. If nothing else, the UN could finally put an end to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to drug use it has held on to for so long.

The Addiction Question

The other side of this debate is one of whether or not ending the global war on drugs will lead to higher addiction rates. As drug war proponents point out, alcohol is legal in most countries around the world, and yet alcoholism rates continue to rise with every passing year. Yes, governments are able to regulate and to make substantial money in terms of tax revenues but are they sacrificing the public health for their own good?

There is no easy answer, that’s for sure. Perhaps the best way to go is to scale back the war on drugs to the point of picking our battles more wisely.

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