U.N. Drug Report Admits Policy Problems, But Slams Legalization Talk

Join Together’s coverage of a recent UN drug policy report includes some of the smartest debate I’ve seen in a while:

The 2009 report opens with an acknowledgment that calls for exploring alternatives to drug prohibition have grown as more policymakers and the public have concluded that current drug-control policies have failed. However, the report blasts calls for legalizing and taxing currently illegal drugs as “unethical and uneconomical,” comparing the idea to putting a tax on “other seemingly intractable crimes like human trafficking.”

The UNODC parries the economic argument for legalization as “naive and myopic,” saying that only rich countries would even have a chance of effectively regulating the drug market. 

“Why unleash a drug epidemic in the developing world for the sake of libertarian arguments made by a pro-drug lobby that has the luxury of access to drug treatment?” Costa wrote in the report’s executive summary. “Drugs are not harmful because they are controlled — they are controlled because they are harmful; and they do harm whether the addict is rich and beautiful, or poor and marginalized.”

“Proponents of legalization can’t have it both ways,” said Costa. “A free market for drugs would unleash a drug epidemic, while a regulated one would create a parallel criminal market. Legalization is not a magic wand that would suppress both mafias and drug abuse. Societies should not have to choose between protecting public health or public security: they can, and should do both.”

Jack Cole, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), said Costa “would have you believe that the legalization movement is calling for the abolition of drug control. Quite the contrary, we are demanding that governments replace the failed policy of prohibition with a system that actually regulates and controls drugs, including their purity and prices, as well as who produces them and who they can be sold to.”

“The U.N. drug czar is talking out of both sides of his mouth,” added Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “On the one hand he admits global drug prohibition is destabilizing governments, increasing violence, and destroying lives. But on the other hand he offers facile arguments dismissing the need for serious debate on alternative drug policies.”

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