Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Press Release: Count the Costs project is launched at UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Fifty Years of the War on Drugs: Time to Count the Costs and Explore the Alternatives

The War on Drugs - Count the Costs global campaign will be launched by NGOs from around the world at a side-event at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna:

When: Wednesday 23 March, 13.15 – 14.45

Where: Mozart Room, Vienna International Conference Centre, Vienna

Speakers will outline the many costs of the war on drugs, and the aims of the campaign, to an audience of international policy makers, NGO representatives, and media. See the new project website here: www.countthecosts.org for more details

The War on Drugs: Count the Costs campaign will bring together interested parties from around the world, including NGOs, policy makers and others whose work is negatively impacted by international drug enforcement. Together they will call on governments and international agencies to meaningfully evaluate the unintended consequences of the war on drugs and explore evidence-based alternatives. The results of this campaign will be presented to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2012. Here is the full text of the call:

The War on Drugs - Count the Costs and Explore the Alternatives

"The global 'war on drugs' has been fought for 50 years, without preventing the long-term trend of increasing drug supply and use. Beyond this failure, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has also identified the many serious ‘unintended negative consequences’ of the drug war. These costs result not from drug use itself, but from choosing a punitive enforcement-led approach that, by its nature, places control of the trade in the hands of organised crime, and criminalises many users. In the process this:

1. Undermines international development and security, and fuels conflict

2. Threatens public health, spreads disease and causes death

3. Undermines human rights

4. Promotes stigma and discrimination

5. Creates crime and enriches criminals

6. Causes deforestation and pollution

7. Wastes billions on ineffective law enforcement

The 'war on drugs' is a policy choice. There are other options that, at the very least, should be debated and explored using the best possible evidence and analysis.

We all share the same goals – a safer, healthier and more just world.

Therefore, we the undersigned, call upon world leaders and UN agencies to quantify the unintended negative consequences of the current approach to drugs, and assess the potential costs and benefits of alternative approaches."

Martin Powell,
Co-ordinator of the Count the Costs campaign said:

“In 1961 UN member states gathered to sign the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the legal cornerstone of the enforcement-led approach that has become known as the global war on drugs. Fifty years later, with literally trillions of dollars spent, illegal drugs are one of the largest commodity trades on earth. Even the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that oversees the global drug control system, concedes that drug enforcement efforts have fuelled the creation of a vast criminal market with disastrous negative unintended consequences.

Yet no government or UN body has ever quantified these negative costs, or meaningfully explored alternatives to the war on drugs. After half a century this is long overdue. Only by looking at the evidence of what has worked and what has not can we hope to move towards a global drug control system that is, as the UNODC has suggested ‘fit for purpose’.”

The Count the Costs call mirrors numerous comments made by world leaders, concerning the need to evaluate the costs and benefits of various policy regimes including President Santos of Colombia, Washington Post, Dec 2010:

“There are some fundamental structural contradictions in this war on drugs . . . We in Colombia have been successful, but our success is hurting the whole of Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Africa, and eventually it will backfire on us again. So are we pursuing the correct long-term policy? I don't object to discussing any alternatives but if we are going to discuss alternatives, let's discuss every alternative… what is the cost, what is the benefit of each alternative?”

The War on Drugs: Count the Costs campaign launch is backed by: International Drug Policy Consortium; International Harm Reduction Association; Eurasian Harm Reduction Network; Drug Policy Alliance (US); Espolea (Mexico); Release (UK); Transform Drug Policy Foundation (UK); Hungarian Civil Liberties Union; CuPIHD (Mexico); Transnational Institute (Netherlands); International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (Canada); New Zealand Drug Policy Foundation; Washington Office on Latin America.



Martin Powell, Count the Costs Project Coordinator
+44 (0)7875 679301

Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst, Transform Drug Policy Foundation
+44 (0)7980 213943

Simona Merkinaite, Program Officer, Eurasian Harm Reduction Network(EHRN)
+370 68254401

Notes for Editors

  1. War on Drugs - Count the Costs launch event:

Where: Mozart Room, Vienna International Conference Centre, Vienna
When: Wednesday 23 March, 13.15 – 14.45


  • Simona Merkinaite: Policy and Advocacy Program Officer, Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (Lithuania) - The health and human rights impacts of drug law enforcement in the Eurasian regions
  • Aram Barra: Drug Policy Programme Director, Espolea (Mexico) - Counting the costs of Mexico’s 'war on drugs'
  • Damon Barrett: Senior Human Rights Analyst, International Harm Reduction Association (UK) - Drugs and human rights: is drug law enforcement proportionate? The case for Impact Assessment
  • Chair: Martin Powell: Count the Costs Project Coordinator, Transform Drug Policy Foundation (UK)

For more information visit: www.countthecosts.org

  1. The unintended consequences of the war on drugs were outlined by then Executive Director of UN Office on Drugs and Crime Antonio Maria Costa in "Making drug control 'fit for purpose': Building on the UNGASS decade" UNODC, 2008, p10:

“The first unintended consequence is a huge criminal black market that thrives in order to get prohibited substances from producers to consumers…
The second unintended consequence is what one might call policy displacement. The expanding criminal black market obviously demanded a commensurate law enforcement response, and more resources. The consequence was that public health was displaced into the background, more honoured in lip service and rhetoric, but less in actual practice…

The third unintended consequence is geographical displacement. It is often called the balloon effect because squeezing (by tighter controls) one place produces a swelling (namely, an increase) in another place…

The fourth unintended consequence is what one might call substance displacement. If the use of one drug was controlled, by reducing either supply or demand, suppliers and users moved on to another drug with similar psychoactive effects.

The fifth unintended consequence is the way we perceive and deal with the users of illicit drugs. A system appears to have been created in which those who fall into the web of addiction find themselves excluded and marginalized from the social mainstream, tainted with a moral stigma, and often unable to find treatment even when they may be motivated to want it.”


daniel carter said...

I wonder why no government has ever quantified these negative costs, or meaningfully explored alternatives to the war on drugs

"Drugs and crime chief (Antonio Maria Costa) confessed $352bn in criminal proceeds was effectively laundered by financial institutions": http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2009/dec/13/drug-money-banks-saved-un-cfief-claims

"The Banking Industry’s Dirty Little Secret: Money Laundering For The Drug Cartels": http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/91579

"CIA drug trafficking" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_drug_trafficking

"The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Politics_of_Heroins_in_South-East_Asia

"Bank of Credit and Commerce International" http://www.economicexpert.com/a/Bank:of:Credit:and:Commerce:International.html

"The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations" http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB2/nsaebb2.htm

"A Tangled Web: A History of CIA Complicity in Drug International Trafficking" http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/1998_cr/980507-l.htm

"Beast friends: Gangster & cop": http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/447785/Frank-Lucas-New-Yorks-biggest-drug-baron-Friends-with-cop-Richie-Roberts.html

The Statesman, "Police and drugs": http://www.thestatesmanonline.com/pages/news_detail.php?newsid=106&section=1

"DSI Duffy Corrupt Middlesbrough Police Officer; Secret pay deals give top police thousands extra" : http://www.david-duffy.cleveland-police.co.uk/

"Police Officer Sentenced To 27 Years for a drug trafficking conspiracy which spanned a period of at least eight years dating back to 1996"

More corrupted police and government stories that happened during the winter of 2010-11 http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2010/dec/21/weeks_corrupt_cops_stories

Why British Police LOVE prohibition:
"Top cop's house used as cannabis factory" http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2010/12/27/top-cop-s-house-used-as-cannabis-factory-115875-22808908/

"Man Says Officer Seized $14,000 That Wasn't Drug Money" http://www.tokeofthetown.com/2011/01/man_says_officer_seized_14000_that_wasnt_drug_mone.php

"Cash-Strapped Police Departments Find New Source of Revenue: Stealing!" http://reason.com/blog/2009/12/04/cash-strapped-police-departmen?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+reason%2FHitandRun+%28Reason+Online+-+Hit+%26+Run+Blog%29

"Policing for Profit – The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture" http://www.copblock.org/94/policing-for-profit-the-abuse-of-civil-asset-forfeiture/

"Caught on tape: Cops talk about stealing man’s property over bag of weed" http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/02/28/caught-on-tape-cops-talk-about-stealing-mans-property-over-bag-of-weed/

"Why can’t the US legalize drugs? There’s ‘too much money in it,’ Clinton says" http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/02/07/clinton-legalize-drugs-too-much-money/

Garvaluk said...

I do celebrate your campaign calling for a cost-benefit analysis of the current drug prohibition regime and its alternatives. It will help people to understand that a regime seeking to legalise and regulate the production, distribution and consumption of drugs CANNOT be as destructive and corrosive — socially, economically and politically speaking — as the current prohibition regime is. Even those who believe that legalisation and regulation of drugs is evil must accept that it is the lesser of two evils.

Gart Valenc

J D Gallagher said...

When it comes to counting the cost of the war on drugs, the Center(sic) for a New American Security clearly considers not enough is being spent. This jingoistic off-shoot of the neo-con Project for a New American Century have produced a number of studies (though I feel the word should be propoganda) calling for a Regional Security Framework of Central American states, Mexico, and Colombia with the US as leader (of course).
Their latest offering, Security Through Partnership: Fighting Transnational Cartels in the Western Hemisphere, available from www.cnas.org/node/6003, is one of the most repetitious and shallow documents on the war on drugs I have read (and I am researching the topic for a doctorate), but intellectual and literary merit aside, the proposals outlined by authors Killebrew and Irvine are deeply disturbing, and amount to the further securitisation of the war on drugs.
From the opening line:

The most dangerous threat to the
United States and its allies in the
Western Hemisphere is the growth of powerful transnational criminal organizations that threaten law, order and governance in Mexico
and the seven states of Central America.

the authors, who are clearly spokesmen for the military-industrial complex, tell us over and over again that the only effective solution is if:

The United States and its partners throughout the Western Hemisphere stand the best chance of securing the region against the most dangerous cartels by attacking them together.

So a third world war between the nuclear armed US and a mob of crims appears to be the way we're going.

Maybe I'll get drunk, and stoned, and drop a trip or two, and maybe a few points, but after reading the guff from CNAS I don't think any drug in the world will relieve my despondency.