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Drug War at 50 Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

America’s Longest War

Until President Joe Biden took office, every US administration since 1971 had reaffirmed the country’s misguided and coercive drug-control policy. Having led the world into the drug war, America now has an obligation to help lead the way toward a more humane, evidence-based approach – but how?

In this Big Picture, former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos of the Global Commission on Drug Policy welcome the Biden administration’s emphasis on treatment and harm reduction rather than repression and punishment. And fellow commissioner César Gaviria, a former president of Colombia, notes that no country in the last 50 years has succeeded in eradicating the illicit drug market through enforcement, and hopes that Biden’s reforms chart a more promising course for America and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.

Writing in 2016, Abdul Tejan-Cole of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa and Nana Afadzinu of the West Africa Civil Society Institute urged the region’s governments to advocate for more sensible drug policies based on public health and respect for human rights. But Tlaleng Mofokeng, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, warns that there are still enormous global gaps in access to harm-reduction services such as needle-exchange programs, including for women, rural inhabitants, and prisoners.

And in a 2011 commentary, Patsilí Toledo, then at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, noted the toll the “war” on drug trafficking has taken on women, lamenting that none of the initiatives to reduce femicide in Mexico and Central America proposed steps to end the policies fueling the violence.

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