After years of trial and error with far more error than trial, there is no longer any doubt that the global war on drugs has proven ineffective. Just the fact that the drug problem has grown consistently more vicious for as long as the war on drugs has been extant is evidence enough that this approach does not work. According to a quoted excerpt from the Washington Post, “Humankind cannot afford a 21st-century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s.”
This statement came collectively from more than one thousand world leaders who met on the topic of the global drug problem. This included no less than twenty-seven members of the House of Representatives and six U.S. senators as well.
Though the Trump Administration has been hell bent on bringing back the war on drugs, the evidence and the majority opinion on the subject point in a direction of such an approach being highly unworkable. We need to focus instead on a method that puts treatment, education and prevention at the forefront of our drug policy, not legal interdiction and mass incarceration. Should drug dealers and violent offenders be locked up? Absolutely. Should addicts who have done nothing more than be the slaves to their own habits be locked up? Absolutely not.
World leaders began meeting in the 1960s on how to combat the global drug problem. They met again, several times, throughout the 1970s and 1980s. At that time, the consensus was that drugs were a global menace, a serious and imposing problem that needed to be curtailed through whatever means of force necessary.
As the years have gone by, much has changed. Some countries have legalized certain drugs. Some countries have instituted harm-reduction programs (like needle sharing programs) instead of heavy-handed incarceration. On the other end of the spectrum, some countries execute drug dealers. Much has changed since world leaders began meeting in the late 1960s.
Less than two years ago, world leaders met once again, at a United Nations summit to discuss drug policy. This was the first time that so many world leaders gathered to discuss drug policy in years. While one meeting was not enough to actually change global policy on drug abuse curtailment, it was the first of many meetings where participants showed a strong distaste for current, incarceration and law enforcement-based approaches to drug crime remediation.
The entire world has essentially been on the same page, more or less, on drug policy. The 2016 meeting at the United Nations was the first meeting on this topic where a sweeping majority of representatives indicated their complete dissatisfaction with current drug policy. This is huge.
It is hard to say what will come of the future. It is difficult because while the world begins to shift their thinking on drug abuse, countries like the Philippines continue to violently execute drug dealers. As if to imitate those same actions in a more “American” fashion (no public executions over here) the Trump Administration continuously pushes for a pro-incarceration, pro-punishment, and a heavy-handed law enforcement approach to the U.S. drug problem.
We can be sure of one thing going forward. The outdated, 1970s model of drug remediation is on its way out. Countries like the U.S. and the Philippines may be able to hold out for some time, but it won’t last forever. Eventually, the tide will turn towards a pro-education, pro-treatment, pro-prevention, and pro-rehabilitation approach to the drug problem. We couldn’t hope for this to come any sooner, because it is these strategies that will ultimately be effective in reducing the drug problem. The strategies of decades long past, the “War on Drugs” as they call it, is coming to a close.