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Legalization Is the Only Viable Drug Policy

After decades of wasted money and lost lives, it is time for governments to stop prosecuting a futile war on psychoactive substances, and instead embrace drug legalization and regulation. Only by taking back control of the drug market from criminals can policymakers begin to address the realities of substance use and abuse.

GENEVA – The market for illicit drugs represents the world’s largest criminal commodity business. With an estimated annual turnover of $426-652 billion, it is approximately one-third the size of the global oil market, and it is controlled by criminals who care little for others’ health, rights, and safety. Around the world, drug-related deaths have been surging, rising from 183,500 in 2011 to roughly 450,000 in 2015 – an increase of 145% in just four years.

Meanwhile, more than $100 billion continues to be spent every year in a futile attempt to eradicate the illegal-drugs market. Over the last 50 years, many countries have even gone so far as to militarize their response. But while some drug cartels have been dismantled, some kingpins brought to justice, and the area under cultivation for cannabis, coca, and poppy reduced, these successes have proved only temporary.

Worse, in many cases, the problem has simply been foisted onto other countries, causing a “balloon effect.” For instance, after the early 2000s, coca production declined in Colombia and rose in Peru, only to double back to Colombia in more recent years. Because drug traffickers can adapt and change, progress is always reversible.