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U.N. report makes powerful case for new policies

Earlier this month, the U.N. Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report thoroughly condemning the "war on drugs." This is the latest high-level truth-telling about drug policy.

The authors of the report know what they are talking about. They include former presidents of Mexico and Columbia, nations that have been torn apart by both drug trade and the failed war on drugs. U.S. drug policy has only exacerbated corruption and violence in both countries while doing little or nothing to stem the flow of drugs.

Also on the panel are the former presidents of Brazil and Switzerland, former U.S. secretary of state George Schultz, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Paul Volker, British billionaire and social advocate Richard Branson, Mexican writer and intellectual Carlos Fuentes and former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan. This report clearly deserves careful consideration.

Yet U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowski, who is a former Buffalo Police commissioner, immediately declared that the U.N. report was misguided and that U.S. drug policies are working.

The Obama administration's response, while expected, demonstrates that U.S. drug policy still exists in a fact-free parallel universe where failure is equated with success, where wasting huge amounts of taxpayer dollars is just fine and where tramping on individual rights is the price to be paid. But that price is way too high.

Over the past 40 years, our federal government has spent an incredible $1 trillion on the war on drugs and each year state and local governments spend more than $40 billion on enforcement of drug laws. Meanwhile, drugs of all types are still readily available.

The U.N. report points the way to more effective, affordable and humane drug policies. It recommends an end to "criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others." It encourages a treatment approach for those who struggle with drug addiction and calls on governments to experiment with "different models of legal regulation of drugs," especially for marijuana, in order "to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens."

The report's conclusions are perhaps best summed up by Branson, who said, "The war on drugs has failed to cut drug usage, but has filled our jails, cost millions of taxpayer dollars, fueled organized crime and caused thousands of deaths."

These sentiments were echoed by another report released this month by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. In that report, retired police officers with direct experience fighting drugs on the street criticized the Obama administration for continuing the failed drug war despite promises to alter course.

The full U.N. report can be read here: http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/. LEAP's report is here: http://www.leap.cc/

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Walter Simpson, an environmental activist, resides in Amherst.

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