The American economy also is experiencing the destabilizing impact
of drug money at a time when the import/export of drugs is rated the
seventh largest business in the world. According to U.S. federal officials,
about $5-billion a year of Colombian drug money alone is being used in
remarkably complex money-laundering schemes, even involving Fortune-500
The UN and Global Drug Problems
On June 6, 1998 at a UN special assembly on global drug problems Kofi
letter stating that "the global war on drugs is now causing more harm
drug abuse itself," and it termed this war a complete failure. But it was
the list of signatories rather than the text itself that carried the real
shock: 800 international leaders including academics, politicians,
statesmen and Nobel laureates who were united in their belief that prohibi-
tion of drugs is a humanitarian disaster and should be abandoned.
Supply-Control or Treatment?
The question of abandoning the current approach to controlling drugs
being asked with increasing frequency, often in most unlikely places
including the country that gave birth fifty years ago to the international
ban on drugs. For example, The U.S. General Accounting Office, which does
research for Congress, states that despite having spent about $20-billion
on inter- national drug control, "Illegal drugs still flood the United
States." The RAND Corporation, the U.S. public policy institution, states
bluntly, "If an additional dollar is going to be spent on drug control,
should be spent on treatment, not on a supply-control program." And the
U.S. Justice Policy Institute warned this year, "States with higher rates
of drug incarceration experience higher, not lower, rates of drug use."
Harm reduction is a term often used by proponents of a humane
drug use. It aims to reduce the risks associated with addiction and is
based on the belief that banning drugs simply maximizes the harm and
dangers. Such programmes treat addic- tion as a social and medical problem
that always has existed in society and always will. Alternative
to today's arrests and long prison sentences can involve legalizing drugs,
selling them through state controlled (taxable) outlets, providing readily
accessible medical and psychological services, offering safe injection
sites and prescribing drug maintenance help.
What About Canada?
Canada, a country that was among the first to go along with the
U.S. drug war policy, now is beginning to ask probing questions about the
punitive approach. For example, a press release dated April 12, 2000 was
circulated by the Canadian Senate, announcing the creation of a unanimously
approved special committee to reassess Canada's strategy on illegal
drugs.... [and] study solutions developed by other countries...."
The goal of the motion's author, Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, is to
work for "a national harm reduction policy so that the
consequences of Canada's existing policy, which focuses largely on
prohibition, can be avoided."
Presumably the "other countries" referred to by the Canadian Senate
in its recent press release would include such countries as Holland,
Australia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Switzerland with its
innovative use of prescription heroin for heroin addicts who have failed
traditional treatment. Highly encouraging results have caused other
European countries to be interested in harm reduction legislation.
Five months after the Senate Committee statement, Southam News (not
known for left-wing radicalism) published in all of its newspapers a series
of eleven lengthy articles by Dan Gardiner presenting a thoughtful in-depth
view of street drugs and arguing for decriminalization.
In October 2000 various groups including the RCMP held a Pan
Pacific drug conference in Vancouver. Colombia's message to the delegates
was, "The best way to undermine organized crime is to decriminalize and
regulate drugs like heroin and cocaine and channel the profits into
fighting addiction." Reid Morden, past head of CSIS, said, "The
[drug] money-laundering is finally coming home to Canada."
"Where's the harm at least in trying decriminalization?"
Larry Campbell, City Coroner, Vancouver
300 Overdose Deaths in Vancouver Larry Campbell, city coroner of Vancouver,
publicly deplores the millions we spend on our current policy of law
enforcement which he says simply doesn't work. Referring in dismay to the
300 overdose deaths annually in Vancouver, Mr. Campbell asks, "Where is
harm at least in trying decriminalization?"
Even Vancouver's conservative mayor recently suggested a need to
treat addiction as a medical/social problem rather than a legal one. And
City Councillor Jennifer Clarke, back from a tour of European cities,
openly praises the innovative strategies for treating addiction that she
In early October 2000 the Vancouver Agreement was announced which
offers a more humane approach to the issue of drug problems. It encompasses
medical treatment, counseling, housing, job -training, more needle
exchange centres, and trial use of substitutes for hard drugs. And it
proposes much harsher treatment of drug traffickers than currently.
Drugs, Historically Speaking
It is difficult for us to realize that for many
hundreds of years today's banned drugs were produced and sold openly and
legally. Fifty years ago the U.S. instigated an international ban with the
laudable hope of preventing drug use.
Its crusade followed its thirteen-year period of alcohol
prohibition. But the lessons that should have been learned from the
prohibition era (that it created horrendous problems such as the
proliferation of use and addiction, adulterated products, smuggling,
bribery, gang wars, violence) were not internalized in reference to drugs.
The U.S. was able to export its commitment to international drug
criminal- ization through foreign aid programmes, pressure techniques
its domination of the UN. By now, most countries have signed UN conventions
that prohibit the production, trade and use of street drugs.
A Matter of Supply and Demand
Vast amounts of money have been expended on international drug
yet drugs never have flowed from country to country more freely. Illegal
drug production and sales, like any other business, are governed by the
laws of supply and demand. Today, despite support of current policies
espoused by many national leaders, including Canada's prime minister, many
people are beginning to believe that the criminalization of drugs rather
than drugs themselves are primarily responsible for the social problems
attributed to them.
Meanwhile, WILPF's Drug Policy Committee continues to study this
complex and controversial issue with the hope of arousing interest in ways
to make peace not war on drugs. The challenge it offers to branches
everywhere is to re-think the current
policy and consider humane alternatives.
Sources: Peace and Freedom (WILPF-U.S.), Dec. '97 & Fall, '98;
International Peace Update (WILPF-Int'l.), Aug. '98; WILPF 's I.E.C.
Berlin Resolutions, 2000; "How America Dictates the Global War on
Dan Gardiner, Southam News, Sept. 2000 series; Media Awareness Project,
Sept. 15, 2000; The Vancouver Agreement, Sept. 30, 2000; P.B.S.
Oct. 2000; New
York Times, Oct. 10, 2000; "Sleuths Meet to Fight Money Crime,"
Mail, Oct. 21, 2000