Public opinion throughout the world is moving in favour of ending the prohibition of illicit drugs.

Today The Pensive Quill carries an article from guest writer Mick Hall that features on the Organised Rage blog. It focuses on the futility of the war on drugs.

By all accounts Otto Fernando Pérez Molina is not one of the good guys, a Guatemalan politician and former senior military officer, he has been President of Guatemala since 14 January 2012. His unsavoury reputation goes back to the 1990s, when before entering politics, he served as Director of Military Intelligence, and is said to have ordered the murder of at least 184 civilians who were opposed to the often brutal regime of his then boss, President Ramiro de León Carpio

Nevertheless, having once been closely associated with 'the war on drugs' within Guatemala he now seems to have changed his mind, and has some interesting things to say about how societies deal with illicit drugs. He points out after becoming president of Guatemala three months ago, he found the security forces were no further forward in their U.S. sponsored war against drugs than they were 20 years before. When as head of military intelligence he was responsible for running this so called 'war.' If anything he claims the situation is far worse today, with drug consumption higher and production greater. 

He is not wrong, despite having spent a mountain of money which could be better spent elsewhere, all we have to show for the worldwide 'war on drugs' is a massive expansion of the prison population. In other words after two decades of countless arrests and the seizure of tons of illicit drugs, the consumption and production of damaging substances is booming.
Instead of the usual one more heave and we will bust the major drug cartels, which we hear monotonously from the world's leading politicians, Molina has something more useful to say.
Facts are what we need to concentrate on when considering drug policy options. When we analyze drug markets through realistic lenses (not ideological ones as is pretty much customary in most government circles these days), we realise that drug consumption is a public health issue that, awkwardly, has been transformed into a criminal justice problem.
We all agree that drugs are bad for our health and that therefore we have to concentrate on impeding their consumption, just as we combat alcoholism and tobacco addiction. However, nobody in the world has ever suggested eradicating sugarcane plantations, or potatoes and barley production, in spite of these being raw materials in the production of the likes of rum, beer and vodka. Yet we all know that alcoholism and tobacco addiction cause thousands of deaths every year all over the world.
So, knowing that drugs are bad for human beings is not a compelling reason for advocating their prohibition. Actually, the prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that the global drug markets can be eradicated. We would not believe such a statement if it were applied to alcoholism or tobacco addiction, but somehow we assume it's right in the case of drugs. Why?

He goes on:

Moving beyond prohibition can lead us into tricky territory. To suggest liberalisation – allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever – would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcohol and tobacco, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and produced without any restrictions?
Our proposal, as the Guatemalan government, is to abandon any ideological position (whether prohibition or liberalisation) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach – drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that consumption and production should be legalized but within certain limits and conditions.
Molina went on to make the following suggestion:
A dialogue on drug markets regulation should address some of the following questions: how can we diminish the violence generated by drug abuse? How can we strengthen public health and social protection systems in order to prevent substance abuse and provide support to drug addicts and their relatives? How can we provide economic and social opportunities to families and communities that benefit economically from drug production and trafficking? Which regulations should be put in place to prevent substance abuse (prohibition of sales to minors, prohibition of advertising in mass media, high selective consumption taxes for drugs etc)?
Next weekend, leading politicians from the Americas including Molina, will meet in Columbia. This is an opportunity to start a realistic and responsible intergovernmental dialogue on drug policy which will chart a way to end, and move beyond prohibition. The presidents of Colombia and CostaRica, Juan Manuel Santos and Laura Chinchilla, have both already expressed their interest in fostering a dialogue on a new international drug policy. A number of other south and central American leaders have also added their voices to end ‘the war on drugs,’ which far to often in countries like the USA, Ireland and the UK, amounts to little more than a war on our own children. 

Like elsewhere in the world, in the Americas it has been the most economically disadvantaged sections of society which have paid the highest price, yet still drugs can be brought on every street, in every town and city, in all of the world's nations.

Molina concluded with this question:
Are we willing to continue as dumb witnesses to a global self-deceit? We cannot eradicate global drug markets, but we can certainly regulate them as we have done with alcohol and tobacco markets. Drug abuse, alcoholism and tobacco should be treated as public health problems, not criminal justice issues. Our children and grandchildren demand from us a more effective drug policy, not a more ideological response.
Sadly Otto Pérez Molina understands opposition to his suggestion of a new dialogue are formidable. As it was the USA which declared and continues to support the infantile ‘war on drugs,’ and it has been the USA and their immediate allies which have stood in the way of abolishing the prohibition of illicit drugs. Any suggestion that drug abuse should be treated as a public health problem, not a criminal justice issue, is anathema to these political elites. It is time we asked why they continue to support what is obvious to almost all, a failed enterprise.
Public opinion within the EU, and south and central America is moving in favour of ending prohibition and liberalizing drug laws along the line Molina suggests. Thus the real question is why have successive US government refused to even consider ending prohibition, instead, vaingloriously carrying on with their failed ‘war on drugs.’


  1. Great piece Mick. Long past the time that the useless counterproductive policy should have been abandoned. There is a much more sober means of tackling this. I Have long been in favour of legalisation and regulation.

  2. “I loved when Bush came out and said, 'We are losing the war against drugs.'

    You know what that implies? There's a war being fought, and the people on drugs are winning it.”
    ― Bill Hicks

  3. Yes Mick once again a brilliant post and lots of of points to consider,we can continue to bury our heads in the sand in relation to the "war on drugs"and watch more generations sink into the hell of addiction,while thugs and gangsters get rich, or we change our approach,and if by removing the profit alongside education and healthier lifestyle approach we can save some kids then anything would be better than trying to stick a finger into a dam about to bust..

  4. Mick
    Public opinion within the EU, and south and central America is moving in favour of ending prohibition and liberalizing drug laws along the line Molina suggests. Thus the real question is why have successive US government refused to even consider ending prohibition, instead, vaingloriously carrying on with their failed ‘war on drugs.’

    The US would lose too much money. No one would vist their GP/Chemist for Mothers little helper. Instead they'd grow a plant or three and Glaxo would go bust..

    Here's two drug stories from today.

    Aristocrat ends up in court after complaining about the inferior quality of his cannabis

    I wonder what the RUC/PSNI would do if some 'pot smoker' walked in and told the duty sergeant.." Excuse me officer, but I bought some 'shit' from a Rasta and the quality isn't great. Can you charge him under the trade descriptions act?

    This story here is the otherside of drugs.. Tighter controls on painkiller tramadol needed - ACMD

    There is a bigger problem with prescribed medication and people dependant on them than illegal drugs. That should be tackled first or in tandem.