To many people in drug producing countries, Prohibition and the War on Drugs is a burden âimposedâ on them by drug consuming countries, in particular the US â by far the largest consumer in the world and the most belligerent drug warrior. The irony is that in their eyes, as far as the supply of drugs is concerned, the Drug Reform Movement (DRM) itself does not fare much better than the Prohibitionist camp. In fact, the DRM is regarded as one-sided, skewed and self-serving, for it concentrates its attention on the demand side of the so-called drug problem (i.e. decriminalisation or depenalisation of consumption), but pays little or no attention to the supply side of the problem, and when it does, more often than not it isÂ to call for the need to keep the supply of drugs as an illegal activity. To put it differently, it is as if we, drug consuming countries, wanted to have our cake and eat it!
It goes without saying that this is a gross generalisation, for this charge cannot be laid on each and every single person, group or institution in the DRM â of course not. However, whether we agree or not, that seems to be the general perception across drug producing countries. The question is: are they right and if so, to what extent? Are we, drug consuming countries, guilty of wilful ignorance? Or is it just a question of being pragmatic and realistic?
The report recently published by the Global Commission on Drug Policy is a good case in point. Since its launch last June, it has been hailed, and rightly so, as a devastating indictment of Prohibition and the War on Drugs. It has been praised by DRM insiders and outsiders alike, and its publication has been received with great enthusiasm and high expectations: Â«a watershed momentÂ», Â«a groundbreaking reportÂ», Â«an extraordinary new initiativeÂ», Â«A report that dares to tell the truth to powerÂ»Â are some of the headlines with which the media, both nationally and internationally, acknowledged it.
In order to avoid misinterpretations, I would like to stress that I wholeheartedly endorse the Global Commission on Drug Policy report. Moreover, I do believe it is an extremely valuable contribution to the debate and my hope is that it will play a significant strategic role in the fight against Prohibition and the War on Drugs, not just because of what it says, but perhaps more importantly, because of who says it.
Having said that, I do have to confess that I am quite confused as to what the Commission report says, or does not say rather, regarding the supply side of the drugs market and more specifically, regarding the legalisation and regulation of drugs supply. As I will show later, even though the Commission report does not reject the need to consider Â«alternative models of market regulationÂ», it falls short of making a clear and unambiguous case for the legalisation and regulation of the supply of drugsâall drugs, not just marijuana. It does not make explicit, for instance, what “alternative models” it has in mind and whether those models could be applied effectively to the supply side of the drugs market; nor does it consider what effects they are likely to have on the supply of drugs as a whole. Maybe I am wrong, but it seems to me that when it comes to trying to resolve the so-called drug problem, the Commission report tends to rely quite heavily, if not exclusively, on demand side models rather than those on the supply side.
I sometimesÂ wonder whether the Commission is guilty of the same ‘dilemma’ the Commission report accuses others of, namely, of Â«not articulating publicly what many of them [political leaders and public figures] acknowledge privately.Â» Is it a case of the Commission not being able to summon the courage to express publicly that the drug problem cannot be satisfactorily tackled as long as the supply remains a criminal activity, or is it that the Commission genuinely believes that the key to the drug problem is the demand and not the supply? To be frank, I do not know the answer.
On one hand, having stated in no uncertain terms that Â«the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be wonÂ», the Commission report goes to great lengths to make the case for the need for Â«policies that effectively reduce the consumption, and that prevent and reduce harms related to drug use and drug control policies.Â» On the other hand, the report seems to accept that, given that total elimination of consumption is out of question, all that is left is to take a more realistic approach and keep seeking a reduction in consumptionâwhile at the same time, try to manage the demand via harm reduction and âquasi legalisationâ policies. However, very little is said about the need to take a more radical approach to the supply, one in which policies aimed at legalising and regulating the supply play a central role.
What is more intriguing is that, even though the report pull no punches when it comes to recognising the atrocious effects the behaviour of the criminal organisations that control the illegal market have had, and continue to have, on both the population and the democratic institutions of drug producing countries, it continues to give credence to the role of law enforcement (i.e. prohibition) policies, blatantly ignoring its own conclusion according to which the root of the problems associated with the production, distribution and consumption of drugs is the illicit nature of the market, and by doing so, wilfully ignoring that those problems cannot be effectively and efficiently dealt with until the prohibitionist regime is abolished.
Despite all the caveats and qualifications one can draw from the Commission report, there is no question in my mind that any possible call for the legalisation and regulation of the supply is to be seriously undermined by statements like this:
Â« This [the fact that the illicit nature of the market is what creates much of the market-related violence] does not necessarily mean that creating a legal market is the only way to undermine the power and reach of drug trafficking organizations.Â»
So, even though the Commission report acknowledges that prohibition and organised crime are two sides of the same coin, the Commission report seems reluctant to go “full monty”, as it were, and call for the legalisation and regulation of the supply. Instead, it talks about making law enforcement resources more effective by addressing the violence and corruption associated with drugs markets, by undermining the power of organised crime, and by promoting alternative sentences for small-scale and first time drug dealers, including smugglers. Take the following statement, for instance:
Â«Law enforcement strategies can explicitly attempt to manage and shape the illicit market by, for example, creating the conditions where small-scale and private âfriendship networkâ types of supply can thrive, but cracking down on larger-scale operations that involve violence or inconvenience to the general public.Â»
Is this the same Commission that at the very beginning of its report told us that all attempts to control and reduce the supply have been futile? What sort of new strategies are supposed to be implemented now so that law enforcement can this time, finally, be successful in Â«â¦cracking down on larger-scale [supply] operations.Â»?
To compound the confusion, the Commission report does now, and for the first time in the entire document, explicitly mention a concrete “model of market regulation”: Â«small-scale and private âfriendship networkâ types of supplyÂ» Unfortunately, the report does not explain what exactly it means by that, how they will work and more importantly, what effect they are likely to have on the supply side of the drugs market as a whole, given their scale and ownership. Nor does it say whether this “model” is more appropriate for some types of drugs than others, or whether they may work well in drug consuming countries but less so in drug producing ones. Does the Commission report mean something akin to the so-called “drug usersâ clubs”, similar to the ones currently operating in countries such as Belgium, Germany, Spain and Switzerland were they are also known as “cannabis social clubs”?.Â One can only speculate.
Whatever the case might be, the fundamental question we must answer is this: Â what good is it to legalise the demand while the supply is left to continue prospering in its murderous business? In my view, what makes legalisation and regulation such critical an issue is the irrationality, and the devastating effects, of Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs policies. Prohibition is not, and has never been, the solution to the so-called drug problem; on the contrary, it has only made things worse. Therefore, it is Prohibition itself which must be ended. It should not be confined to a particular drug or to one side of the drug trade. It concerns not just marijuana, but all drugs; not just the legalisation and regulation of the demand but perhaps more importantly, the legalisation and regulation of the supply, too.
-  I have said it before and I say it again: there is very little net producing countries, such as Mexico, Colombia and the like, can do to alter the dastardly realities imposed on them by Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs policies.
To be frank, I find it rather naive to expect that producers could dent in any meaningful way Prohibition and War on Drugs policies when the US, the juggernaut pushing for its implementation and enforcement all over the world, is reluctant to do anything about it.
Letâs take the case of Mexico. No matter how many times its citizensÂ take to the streets to protest demanding an end to the War on Drugs â as the experience of Colombia during the high of the fight against the drug cartels in the 80â²s and 90â²s so clearly exposed it â the stubborn fact is that nothing will happen until the real power behind the war on drugs decides otherwise. And the real power, literally and metaphorically, is in the hands of drug consuming countries, most conspicuously the US.
But make no mistake, it is not just the US that is at fault here, for we, the UK, have played a major role in the current situation, given that we are one of the major consumers in the world too, and have done nothing to put an end to this criminal, obscene war.
We have to ask ourselves: are we doing anything to put an end to this insane war? Not at all. Are we challenging US drug policies? Not in the slightest. Are we eroding the case for the war on drugs by pursuing a more rational drug policy? Absolutely not. Is the government even considering evaluating its current drug policy? Not a chance. So, we better get down off our high horses because we are all accomplices in this barbaric, inhumane war. ↩
-  At first glance, it may seem self-evident that being consuming countries we ought to focus our attention on the demand, for that is what concerns us right here, right now. Perhaps, it is just a case of differentiating between tactics and strategy, between the short and the long term. In this case, it may be that for many in the DRM the priority is to undermine the prohibitionist regime on this side of the fence, and in the process, help dismantleÂ the case for keeping the war on the supply of drugs.
I wonder, however, if this piecemeal approach is warranted given the atrocious consequences of the War on Drugs on net producing countries, particularly in Latin America, for no rational, scientific or economic reasons. Sometimes, I wonder if Â we are guilty of some sort of, for lack of a better term, âdrug imperialismâ. ↩
-  I do hope the âGlobalâ commission (which to me looks more like the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, but on steroids, more on this later) will have real repercussions on drug policy and will not become another casualty of realpolitiks.
There is no question that the Commission managed to grab the attention of the media around the world, big time. But then, some people would say, Â so what. It is not the publicity what matters but what happens after the media frenzy has subsided.
Similarly, much has been made of the âillustriousâ background of the people who take part in the Commission. And here again there is no question that they are very influential and well connected individuals, but do they have real power to alter the current drug policies in any significant way?
And the question about power is relevant when one remembers that this is not the first time âillustriousâ individuals have called for a rethinking of the War on Drugs policies. In our case, it is worth remembering that there is a close association between the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy. On the one hand, the Global Commission report is heavily indebted to the report published by the Latin American Commission back in February 2009: Drugs & Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift?. On the other hand, members of the Latin American Commission also seat at the Global Commission, most notably the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.
The more significant difference, of course, is that the ‘Global’ Commission includes individuals associated in one way or another with the centres of power in the developed world. The question is, will the Global Commission wield any real and effective influence on War on Drugs policies now that these new personalities have joined its rank? I really hope so. ↩
-  It would be unfair to even suggest that the Global Commission on Drug Policy does not take the supply side seriously or that it has ignored the issue, far from it. If you log on to its website, under âbackground papersâ you will find, as the title suggests, a number of papers that served as preparatory documents for the final report. Of special relevance to the current discussion is David Mansfieldâs âAssessing Supply-Side Policy and Practice: Eradication and Alternative Developmentâ. Mike Traceâs and Marti Jelsmaâs papers also offer some interesting insights into the options and challenges for the future, including the supply. ↩
-  It does not mean anything in and of itself, but it is interesting to notice that the word âsupplyâ is mentioned just 9 times throughout the whole report, half of which happen to be in Recommendation No.6, which is more about fighting organised crime and less about the need for or the convenience of legalising the supply. ↩
-  Global Commission on Drug Policy Report, p.15 ↩
-  Global Commission on Drug Policy Report, p.15 ↩
-  Â«Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugsÂ have clearly failed to effectively curtail supplyÂ or consumption.Â Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers.Â»Global Commission on Drug Policy Report, p.2 ↩
-  Â«Cannabis social clubs (CSC) are non-commercial organisations of users who get together to cultivate and distribute enough cannabis to meet their personal needs without having to turn to the black market.Â» See Cannabis social clubs in Spain: A normalizing alternative underway ↩
-  Back in mid June I sent the Global Commission an email asking for clarification, but have not received a reply yet. Assuming “cannabis social clubs” are the case, they might eventually prove to be a useful regulation model and should be, therefore, the subject of careful analysis and consideration â I wonder, though, whether they can be extended to other drugs easily and successfully, and whether they can be a viable alternative given the scale at which these schemes operate. ↩