But if former presidents of Colombia and Mexico, along with Reagan BFF George Schultz, former European presidents and major capitalists all say it, along with various well-respected famous writers and intellectuals and whatnot, maybe, just maybe people will start to believe it. Says the Global Commission on Drug Policy:
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched
the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.
Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use. Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction.
Okay, you could have read that on CNN. But it so happens that this week in NEJM (sorry, full article is unavailable to the riffraff) Josiah D. Rich, Sarah E. Wakeman and Samuel L. Dickman review the consequences for the United States. We have 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners. Most of those prisoners are non-violent drug offenders. And most of them are Black or Hispanic even though Black and Hispanic people are not more likely to use illicit drugs than white people. (Probably less likely, actually, according to the survey data I've seen.) Not only that, but more than half of prisoners have diagnosable psychiatric disorders -- major depression and psychosis are 4 to 8 times as prevalent as in the general population -- but most of them aren't getting treatment. (Illicit drug use is often associated with psychiatric disorders, in part because people are trying to medicate themselves.)
Most of them, however, are not getting treatment. On the contrary, obviously, conditions in prison are likely to exacerbate mental disorders. Maybe a third of all injection drug users, and a quarter of people with HIV spend time in a prison or jail each year. In low income minority communities, high incarceration rates are devastating socially and economically.
The authors note that in Rhode Island, where I work, it costs more than $40,000 a year to incarcerate a person, and that five states now spend more on prisons than they do on higher education. This is utterly insane. State and local governments are broke and they are engaged in cruel reductions in social services to the most vulnerable people. And yet we keep on locking up people who have addictive diseases and psychiatric illnesses, mostly if they also happen not to be white, to absolutely no discernible beneficial end.