By Claire Bernish
A crucial new study says the ubiquitous and dubious war on drugs has, in actuality, been detrimental to public health — and should be laid to rest in favor of decriminalization.
Laws and policies criminalizing drugs have had “no measurable impact on supply or use,” according to the study as noted by the Independent, and serve no purpose either scientifically or in terms of public health.
Commissioned by Johns Hopkins University and The Lancet, a British medical journal, the study found mass decriminalization programs undertaken by Portugal and the Czech Republic have had enormously constructive results, including “public health benefits, cost savings, lower incarceration [rates], and no significant increase in problematic drug use.”
Portugal’s model recently became an official subject for consideration by the State of Hawai`i in its search for solutions to drug addiction and mounting costs of the criminalization of minor drug offenses. The Lancet study authors strongly encourage action by influential countries, including the U.S. and U.K., to consider national “regulated markets” for cannabis — such as the policies adopted by Uruguay and several U.S. states.
In fact, confirming the somewhat readily apparent, the study criticized harsh drug laws, which have been “discriminatory against racial and ethnic minorities and women, and [have] undermined human rights.”
Evidencing the public health aspect, the study also stated that prison terms for minor drug crimes have made the single “biggest contribution to higher rates of infection among drug users” — including diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV.
Echoing findings of a study by the CATO Institute published in 2009, Dr. Chris Breyer of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said, “It’s time for us to rethink our approach to global drug policies, and put scientific evidence and public health at the heart of drug policy discussions.”
Glenn Greenwald, in the CATO study, noted the global shift toward decriminalization since Portugal’s adoption of its program in 2001. He explained how the country’s move quickly abated common fears:
“[W]hile there is a widespread perception that bureaucratic changes need to be made to Portugal’s decriminalization framework to make it more efficient and effective, there is no real debate about whether drugs should once again be criminalized. More significantly, none of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents — from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for ‘drug tourists’ — has occurred.”
Reiterating the benefits Portugal has experienced, Greenwald also noted:
“The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.”
Dr. Breyer explained that misguided national drug policies worldwide are actually “policies based on ideas about drug use and dependence that are not scientifically grounded.
“The global ‘war on drugs’ has harmed public health, human rights, and development,” he said.
Scientists, policy advisors, doctors, health experts, activists, and advocates around the planet are warning that it’s time to end the cruelly ineffective war on drugs. The question is, will the right people finally listen?