Ending the Never-Ending War on Drugs

The war on drugs is lost, and 2011 is the time to move away from a punitive approach to a new set of policies based on public health, human rights, and common sense. Several countries are already pursuing policies that emphasize prevention and treatment rather than repression – and refocusing their repressive measures on fighting the real enemy: organized crime.

SAO PAULO – The war on drugs is a lost war, and 2011 is the time to move away from a punitive approach in order to pursue a new set of policies based on public health, human rights, and common sense. These were the core findings of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy that I convened, together with former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and César Gaviria of Colombia.

We became involved with this issue for a compelling reason: the violence and corruption associated with drug trafficking represents a major threat to democracy in our region. This sense of urgency led us to evaluate current policies and look for viable alternatives. The evidence is overwhelming. The prohibitionist approach, based on repression of production and criminalization of consumption, has clearly failed.

After 30 years of massive effort, all prohibitionism has achieved is to shift areas of cultivation and drug cartels from one country to another (the so-called balloon effect). Latin America remains the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and marijuana. Thousands of young people continue to lose their lives in gang wars. Drug lords rule by fear over entire communities.

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