Global leaders call for a major shift to decriminalize drugs

Article by Liz Goodwin.

A slew of big-name former politicians are endorsing a report that says the war on drugs is not working and that drug enforcement policy needs to fundamentally change. The Global Commission on Drug Policy will urge a “paradigm shift” that emphasizes public health over criminalization tomorrow at a meeting in New York City, The Guardian reports.

Those backing the report include former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and former Fed Chair Paul Volcker. Former elected leaders of Greece, Brazil and Colombia have also signed on. See the full list of backers here.

“What we have here is the greatest collection thus far of ex-presidents and prime ministers calling very clearly for decriminalization and experiments with legal regulation,” Danny Kushlick, spokesman for the drug policy center Transform, told the Guardian. “It will be a watershed moment.”

But, faced with the list of “formers” backing the new recommendation, The Lookout couldn’t help but wonder: Where are all the current office-holders who think the drug war has been a failure?


Tom Angell, spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of former and current police officers against the criminalization of drugs, tells The Lookout he thinks sitting politicians will have to change their tune as American public opinion changes.

“I think as this debate continues to heat up and move forward you’ll start to see more and more sitting elected officials endorsing fundamental reforms,” he says. Even among LEAP’s membership, most are retired law enforcement officers. Only a “handful” are active-duty cops, Angell says, in part because it’s difficult for police officers to question the value of laws that they risk their lives to enforce every day.

Despite the political pitfalls of challenging drug policy, a few recent signs point to something of a bipartisan consensus forming on the issue. In April, an NAACP report that said states send too many young people to jail for non-violent drug offenses picked up surprising endorsements from former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist, the conservative activist who founded Americans for Tax Reform. The report said more than a quarter of the 2.3 million American prisoners are jailed for drug offenses, which bloats the system and eats up tax dollars. Christian talk show host Pat Robertson caused a stir in December when he endorsed on “The 700 Club” faith-based rehabilitation programs instead of jail time for drug use, and even appeared to support the legalization of marijuana. “I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot–that kind of thing–it’s costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people.”

Public opinion polls show support is growing among Americans to legalize marijuana, but a majority still think the drug should be illegal. A greater share of Independents support its legalization than Democrats or Republicans.

The U.S. government has sent $1.4 billion in aid to Mexico and Central America to help fight the bloody war against the drug cartels. More than 35,000 people have died over the past four years in the drug-related violence. Drug cartels have turned to the use of narco-submarines and ultra-light aircraft to get their product to the U.S. market, in an effort to foil increased enforcement measures.

(Alleged members of Los Zetas drug cartel in February: Miguel Tovar/AP)

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