Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Prominient US think tank publishes pro- decriminalisation paper

The the Washington DC based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies published a paper by Sidney Weintraub last month, titled 'The high cost of criminalizing drug use' that I have only just come across.

Sidney Weintraub from CSIS

His analysis is concise and useful - although specifically focused on economics. He notes that:
"The “war” on narcotics continues to be waged with little to show for it other than occasional successful skirmishes (like Mexico’s recent drug seizure) at great cost in self-destruction and deep damage to other countries."
"Limiting drug usage after decriminalization would cost many billions of dollars a year for education and treatment, but markedly less than the costs of current policy."
The concluding paragraph:
"Decriminalization of drug use is a controversial recommendation. My reaction over the years was to reject the idea when it was proposed by others. What has turned me around is the reality that the current policy of criminalizing drug use is not working—and cannot be successful. If one drug shipment is interdicted, other shipments and substitute drugs are available. Burglaries and muggings by young offenders are motivated by the need for money to buy a fix. The rents to drug dealers are so high that there are no practical limits on their ability to bribe officials; and those who refuse to be bribed are often killed. In developing countries like Mexico and Colombia, the dealers can buy their own armies and outgun government enforcement personnel. My conclusion is that in a democracy—where drug offenders are not summarily put to death by the authorities—the only feasible approach is to eliminate the rents and treat and educate the addicts. This is no cure-all, but is preferable to efforts at prohibition of narcotics, something we learned years ago in the case of alcohol."

There are hundreds, if not thousands of think tanks in Washington and I don't know a great deal about the CSIS, but Sanho Tree (a colleague who is director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, also DC based) describes CSIS as 'a center-right think tank' that is 'in many ways the voice of the Establishment'. CSIS certainly lists a who's who of political and corporate heavy hitters amongst its trustees (including, I noticed, Henry Kissenger). So whilst CSIS specifically notes that:
"CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author"
it remains significant that they published this paper and is indicative of a new level of mainstream institutional engagement in the the broader critique of prohibition from across the political spectrum.

The full document is available here (pdf)

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