(NaturalNews) The "War on Drugs" is a failure, with devastating consequences around the world, and it is time to decriminalize drugs and start treating drug problems as health issues, said a group of prominent former world leaders in a new report released June 1.
"Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President (Richard) Nixon launched the US government's war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed," said the report.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy responsible for the report includes: former Brazilian president Fernando Cardoso; former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria; Mexico's former president Ernesto Zedillo; ex-UN chief Kofi Annan; former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board Paul Volcker; former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz; Mario Vargas Llosa; Carlos Fuentes; and Richard Branson.
The Commission called for loosening restrictions on marijuana and an "end [to] the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others."
The group of statesmen and prominent intellectuals said punitive measures had led to a situation where "the global scale of illegal drug markets -- largely controlled by organized crime -- has grown dramatically."
They encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs (especially cannabis) to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.
"Decriminalization initiatives do not result in significant increases in drug use," the report said, citing policies in Australia, Holland and Portugal.
Another priority, the report said, is to work on treatment.
"Let's start by treating drug addiction as a health issue, reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives and legally regulating rather than criminalizing cannabis," Cardoso said.
The drug war at home
The report provides an international perspective but certainly hits home in the U.S. too.
The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. With less than 5 percent of the world's population, we have almost a quarter of the world's prisoners, according to Troy Williams article in the Fayetteville Observer.
Several factors may be to blame for the disproportionate rate, according to experts, but it is clear that a large number of incarcerations are for drug-related crimes. President Richard Nixon officially declared the "War on Drugs" in 1971, and by now it has become the longest and most expensive war in American history.
It is impossible to give an accurate account of the "drug war" without spotlighting race. The United States locks up a disproportionate amount of African-Americans by continuing to go after minor drug offenders. The "War on Drugs" has essentially become a war on African-Americans, said Williams.
These drug policies overcrowd our prisons and contribute to the growing financial crisis. $100,000 of taxpayer money is spent to support a person sentenced to five years in prison for possession or sale of $50 worth of drugs. That does not include prosecution expenses.
The "War on Drugs" may be at a hinging point. While federal officials have maintained their stance -- under both Republican and Democratic administrations -- throughout the years, state governments and voters have been approving new medical marijuana laws that are at odds with federal drug statutes.
Even the changing political tides seem to be working against the "War on Drugs". The rise of liberty-minded presidential candidates, such as Congressman Ron Paul and Gary Johnson reflect a portion of American society that seeks less government intervention in the lives of citizens.
In the first GOP presidential debate held in South Carolina, Paul responded to the debate moderator Chris Wallace's shock that he would suggest legalizing drugs, such as heroin.
"What you're inferring is, 'You know what? If I legalize heroin tomorrow, everyone is going to use heroin.' How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would," said Paul, adding sarcastically, "Oh yeah I need the government to take care of me. I don't want to use heroin, so I need these laws [to stop me.]"
Paul's response was met with applause.
"I never thought heroin would get an applause in South Carolina," said Wallace.