Below is an edited section from the introduction to the upcoming Transform publication 'After the War on Drug's - tools for the debate' A guide to making the case for drug policy reform. The Transform blog has secured exclusive serialisation rights for an undisclosed 5-figure sum. The guide will be available in print (and as a free pdf download) in July, but the blog will be serialising key sections over the coming weeks.....
Cover Design (an early draft...)
Where are we up to today?
The cause of drug law reform has been a prolonged struggle that began as soon as drug prohibition in its modern form came into being. Although prohibitions of various drugs stretch back into the 18th century (see Transform’s history of prohibition time line), the modern drug law reform movement began in earnest with the social movements of the 1960s. It was during this decade that the 1961 UN Convention on Drugs enshrined prohibition as a truly global policy, and recreational drug use in the West simultaneously began its dramatic rise toward current levels.
The drugs debate has moved on considerably since that time, with the political, social and cultural landscape shifting and evolving dramatically, both in the
It is now clear that our drug policy cannot continue down the same failed path forever. Prohibition’s failure is now widely understood and acknowledged among key stakeholders in the debate. Although politicians have thus far been the primary beneficiaries of the policy (the other beneficiaries being the mafia), the political benefits of pursuing prohibition are now waning and the political costs of its continuation are becoming unsustainable. The intellectual and political consensus supporting a ‘War on Drugs’ is crumbling rapidly, and calls for ‘more of the same’, or ever tougher enforcement responses, no longer go unchallenged. Since the 1990s, a vigorous network of domestic and international NGOs have been making the case for substantive pragmatic reform to drug policy and law.
However, although the failure of the current policy is now widely accepted, even within government, there is less consensus on 'so, where now?'. Those in a state of denial over the failure of the drug war typically argue that policy can be tweaked within the prohibitionist framework to make it more effective. This usually means directing more resources into treatment and harm reduction, and perhaps being more tolerant of low level drug users. There is considerable room for manoeuvre within
Internationally, reforms have gone much further. A number of countries have progressed to de facto decriminalision of personal possession of all drugs, including
The problem is that, for the most part, these reforms are merely reducing harms created by illegal markets and harshly enforced prohibition in the first place. They never address its fundamental problems: the creation of crime and illegal markets and the injustice of criminalising drug users. Tinkering with domestic policy under strict international prohibition is not a long term solution. It is an attempt to minimise harms within a legal framework that maximises them, and thus its successes will always be marginal ones.
By contrast, the truth that underlies the drug reform movement - that a punitive enforcement approach is actively counter-productive – is far harder to address directly. This prevents it being followed to its obvious logical conclusion: decriminalising consenting adult drug use and moving towards the legal regulation and control of some or all drug production and supply.
Yet this last taboo is now also crumbling, as Transform’s collection of quotes from supporters of reform so resoundingly demonstrates. The Transform quote archive also reveals that there have been strong arguments in favour of drug law reform in media as diverse as the Mirror, the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Times, the Economist, The New Statesman and many others besides. You really do not have to wait for the reform position to gain mainstream traction – it already has it.Whilst it remains important to support and encourage the process of incremental change away from harshly enforced prohibition towards a new evidence-based public health approach, there are already many groups dedicated to doing this and much change is already happening in this direction. The specific task of Transform and the movement for longer term reform is to make the case and campaign for a repeal of the absolute drug prohibition currently enshrined in domestic and international law. It is only this fundamental step that will make it possible to end the criminal free-for-all of the illegal drugs market by replacing it with appropriately regulated drug production and supply. That is what will lead to a real transformation of society, both for those who use drugs and those who don’t; and that is what the 'Tools for Debate' guide is all about.