Greenwald: Decriminalizing Drugs Works
Working with the Cato Institute, Glenn Greenwald went to Portugal to study the results of that country's decriminalization of drugs. In April, he will present his findings. At Salon, he offers a brief summary:
Evaluating the policy strictly from an empirical perspective, decriminalization has been an unquestionable success, leading to improvements in virtually every relevant category and enabling Portugal to manage drug-related problems (and drug usage rates) far better than most Western nations that continue to treat adult drug consumption as a criminal offense.
Via Jeralyn, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano now says the Obama Administration is going to get more actively involved in battling the Mexican drug war. But Greenwald points to the obvious:
A survey of 17 countries has found that despite its punitive drug policies the United States has the highest levels of illegal cocaine and cannabis use. The study, by Louisa Degenhardt (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia) and colleagues, is based on the World Health Organization's Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) and is published in this week's PLoS Medicine.
The cost of the U.S. "War on Drugs" has been estimated to be as high as $40,000,000,000 a year. That's money well burnt.
There is clearly a growing recognition around the world and even in the U.S. that, strictly on empirical grounds, criminalization approaches to drug usage and, especially, the "War on Drugs," are abject failures, because they worsen the exact problems they are ostensibly intended to address. "Strictly on empirical grounds" means excluding from the assessment: (a) ideological questions regarding the legitimacy of imprisoning adults for consuming drugs they choose to consume; (b) the evisceration of Constitutional and civil liberties wrought by drug criminalization; and (c) the extraordinary sums of money devoted to the War on Drugs both domestically and internationally.
Very recent events demonstrating this evolving public debate over drug policy include the declaration of the Drug War's failure from several former Latin American leaders; a new Economist Editorial calling for full-scale drug legalization; new polls showing substantial and growing numbers of Americans (and a majority of Canadians) supportive of marijuana legalization; the decision of the DEA to make good on Obama's campaign pledge to cease raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in states which have legalized its usage; and numerous efforts in the political mainstream to redress the harsh and disparate criminal penalties imposed for drug offenses, including Obama's support for treatment rather than prison for first-time drug offenders.
Particularly in the U.S., there is still widespread support for criminalization approaches and even support for the most extreme and destructive aspects of the "War on Drugs," but, for a variety of reasons, the debate over drug policy has become far more open than ever before.
There's no evidence that Obama wants even to consider daring a bolder approach. He's moving in the right direction, but on drug policy, it's well past time for transformational change.