The Global War on Drugs Has Failed, Leaders Say

A new report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy excoriated traditional approaches to reducing drug abuse, saying, “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”  The commission, which includes such world leaders as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, recommended that governments begin to consider the legalization of some drugs and the end of criminalization for drug users.

The report’s authors wrote that despite “harsh law enforcement action against those involved in drug production, distribution and use” over the past forty years, that “in practice, the global scale of illegal drug markets — largely controlled by organized crime — has grown dramatically.”  According to the UN, “opiate use increased by 35% worldwide from 1998 to 2008, cocaine by 27%, and cannabis by 8.5%.  This, they said, means that it’s time for a strong change in policy.  They were especially critical of the U.S., saying that they need to tackle drug abuse by treating users as addicts or patients, not as criminals.

Among its suggestions, the report recommended that governments experiment “with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis.”  It also urged lawmakers to see drug users themselves as victims of violence intimidation, saying that “arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations.”

One of the most important messages, for me, was the report’s claim that governments should move away from “simplistic” zero-tolerance and “just say no” policies, and instead provide education that is grounded in the realities of social life and peer pressure.  When I was growing up, attending public schools in central Virginia, I briefly believed that marijuana and heroin had mostly the same effects – and that they were both effectively deadly.  Although I was lucky enough to have parents who explained that the drugs are markedly different, the detrimental effects of such policies are obvious.

The report was dismissed, however, by U.S. and Mexican officials.  In a statement, a spokesman for the U.S. drug czar said, “Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated. Making drugs more available — as this report suggests — will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe.”

And a Mexican National Security spokesman said that “legalisation won’t stop organised crime, nor its rivalries and violence.”

But it’s clear that what governments — especially the U.S. government — is doing to curb drug use isn’t working.  And if such experienced world leaders are recommending these dramatic changes in policy, current leaders probably shouldn’t be rejecting them out of hand.


Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


Pat B.
Pat B5 years ago

Decriminalizing drugs is going to encourage more usage? Excuse me while I laugh. The United States is the heaviest consumer of illegal drugs. This hasn't change since Nixon started the 'war on drugs'.

Legalizing it won't affect the drug cartels? Take away their source of profit and yes, it will have an effect. Maybe you should ask the people on the border -- both sides -- whether they'd like to see an end to drug trafficking in their towns.

America lives with its collective heads in the ground. The drug wars and all its resultant carnage come out of the demand for a product. The most basic tenant of capitalism, supply and demand. As long as there is a demand someone will risk everything to supply it.

40 years and billions of dollars, and you still think the war can be won? Prohibition only lasted for 13 years and it spawned an organized crime syndicate and yes it still exists, but the street wars that left cities like Chicago and New York into blood baths vanished with the repeal of the 18th Amendment. No, it didn't stop crime, but it stopped the smuggling and poisonous booze killing people. Legalizing drugs could mean drugs could do the same thing. Drugs adulterated with nasty poisons like strychnine or Drano, grow-ops or meth labs set up in our communities would no longer be a menace. A lot fewer cops would die too.

Tim Cheung
Tim C6 years ago


Michael MacDonald

and if anyone wants to refute what I said about it not being a carcinogen,
first of all look it up yourself

and second,
it's not that hard to believe when you consider the fact that 4000 chemicals are added to cigarettes while marijuana is organic.

Michael MacDonald

Plus, equating marijuana to alcohol and cigarettes is not correct.

alcohol is way worse for you, causes drunk driving accidents, causes people to act like jerks/cause fights/cause property damage, is the actual gateway drug seeing as everyone I know who got into hard drugs did it when they were drunk and stupid, etc.

Cigarettes cause cancer and marijuana has been proven to not cause cancer 3 times now. In fact, one of the number one applications of medicinal marijuana is the treatment of lung cancer. It's just that no one bothers to actually look this up and check with credible professionals.

So, with all that and considering the fact that it's effect is about as strong as somewhere between a cup of coffee and a beer,
you can not put marijuana on the same level as cigarettes and alcohol.

Michael MacDonald

@Grace A.
I'm glad to see someone on the other side who at least respects our basic freedom,
but decriminalization doesn't do anything to solve the problem of organized crime.

We don't only want to make it legal,
we also don't want big fish dealers to be making money off of it anymore
while it could be taxed and used for better purposes.

We've already had decriminalization once in canada and it didn't do anything to fix these major problems.

Plus, if you really do some research on alcohol prohibition
you'll find out that a lot more kids drank during it's peek because they could get it easily without a legal age limit.
It's the same way today with marijuana.
not only is it easy for kids to obtain,
but they are dealing themselves and getting into organized crime at a young age.

Also, people are being killed over supporting the drug war in places like mexico, columbia, and afghanistan.

These major issues can only be solved through full on legalization
and I urge you to do some research in the suggested areas to find out for yourself.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams6 years ago

Given the bad examples of legal alcohol and tobacco, I would rather see decriminalization down to the level of a traffic offense like driving over the speed limit than full legalization. And for *** sake make effective treatment for drug addiction readily available and free to the patient as a public health measure. Treatment for substance abuse more than pays for itself in future health care savings, as we have very well known since the 1980s.

mary w.
mary w6 years ago

They have crossed soooo many moral,ethical,and told down right deceitful lies,they should be on trial.I am serious,u got people w/life sentences for selling POT.Because of the d.e.a.,and soo many other agency's,i think they said 65 billion dollars has been spent on this so -called war,i believe it is a war on humanity,and it has nothing to do w/drugs.When you say u test for drugs,document people do drugs,when YOU DO NOT EVEN TEST FOR REAL DRUG,BUT A METABOLITE FROM THE ORIGINAL PLANT SOURCE.You slander ,defame,peoples good names so they never can get a decent job again in there lifes,how is that helping anyone?But contributing to class war fare.You know what kind of war would be worth 65 billion,the equality of the less fortunate,to the greedy rich bastards. Usually all the good people i meet are your so called lower/middle class who may still indulge in a occasional joint ever now and then,not as a habit or every day.Also I read i poor soul loses everything for simply drinking a cup of tea,OR A MOTHER LOOSES HER NEWBORN BABY MOST PRECIOUS TIME,THE FIRST 72 HOURS,BECAUSE SHE ATE A MUFFIN.Those kind of over reactive incidents happen because of the prohibitionist in the white house,joe biden,naming 1 of them.They dont care about these folks,they could care less that a complete injustice has happened.Unless ''WE THE PEOPLE'''stand up and stop these crazy over reaching ,unreasonable,inhumane ,laws and policies,they will just keep making them.We need to stop these people.Stop t

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

The drug war has been a failure all along, and it makes me ill when I consider the waste of money that could have been spent on worthwhile things in this country. Thousands, millions? of marijuana users in jail for 20 years, ruining their lives. Illegal drugs make the drug cartels possible, with the added injunction of gun sales and loss of life. But what politician is brave enough to state the truth? So we continue down this insane road, spending money needed elsewhere, just like the fighting wars we're pursuing.

Elfie Van Zyl
Elfie Van Zyl6 years ago

On the second page of my new bike's Owner's Manual it says: WARNING! The engine exhaust from this product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. CALIFORNIA PROPOSITION 65... Just saying...

William G.
William G6 years ago

James K W. - All of these second-hand smoke 'commercials' are based on the manipulated data I spoke of earlier. This politically (money) perpetrated lie has grown to the point where it is now equal to the political position 'we are helping around the world, we are not building an empire costing trillions of dollars'. The 'second hand smoke' lies have a lot more to do with breaking the power of the tobacco companies than the health of the American people. There is, however, a health problem with smoking, inhaling exhaust fumes, inhaling smoke from wood, oil, of gas fires, asbestos, and host of other environmental elements. A far greater health problem for the US is people who are over weight. Over weight people are the greatest contributors to our high insurance costs. Their over weight issues cause a rise in air travel rates while causing discomfort to other travelers in all forms of public transport, and they certainly do not enhance my view of the beach. These anti-smoking laws do not affect you personally and do not change your life style, but you may be assured that similar 'moral control' legislation in the future will.