Should we end the war on drugs?
Julian Assange, Sir Richard Branson, Russell Brand, Lord Ian Blair and many other politicians, experts, journalists and celebrities locked horns in a debate on an issue that seems to be defining the age and weighing on societies worldwide – the war on drugs.
The battle line was drawn by a simple statement: It is time to end the war on drugs. Should we continue fighting it without a prospect of winning or should we put an end to it? Should we legalise or prohibit?
The War on Drugs Versus debate, streamed live on Google+ on Monday, saw two teams of prominent people face each other with arguments and contra-arguments on this crucial issue.
In a global online poll ahead of the debate, 92 per cent of the 12,090 people surveyed were in agreement that the war on drugs has failed.
More than 81 per cent of people surveyed globally also agreed that drug use would decrease if governments focused on treatment rather than jailing people for minor drug offences. Only three per cent disagreed that the war should be ended and five per cent were unsure.
How did the debate change the public opinion?
The prohibitionists, those who argued for the preservation of law enforcement and prohibition, stood up against the liberalists who are promoting an end to the war on drugs and drug decriminalisation along with treatment and prevention for.
The team arguing for a rethink on drug policy included Misha Glenny – former BBC Central Europe correspondent, Sir Richard Branson – founder of the Virgin Group, Fernando Henrique Cardoso – former President of Brazil, Julian Assange – founder of Wikileaks, Russell Brand – British comedian and actor, Vicente Fox – former president of Mexico and many others.
They locked horns with the team of prohibitionists represented by, among others, Eliot Spitzer – former governor of New York, Professor Neil McKeganey – founder and director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research in Glasgow, Lord Ian Blair – former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, Peter Hitchens – columnist for the Mail on Sunday and Barry McCaffrey – former United States Army general.
In a heated discussion, prohibitionists argued that legalising anything increases its consumption. They believe that the world has enough problems with legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, so why should we add more oil in the fire by adding by legalising cannabis, cocaine and heroin?
General McCaffrey who supports the notion of continued law enforcement said: “I am trying to deal rationally, with a medical model on dealing with drugs. In the United Stated, we have reduced drug use by a third in the last three decades.
“The bottom line is what I support is prevention and education and effective drug treatment while remaining adamant to law enforcement.”
However, given the high rate of incarcerations, probably around 2,1 million people, the question arouse if the United States send users to jail merely because they are users.
The General supported the notion that the US do not incarcerate just for use. According to him, it is the violence that sends people to jail. He said people are being treated, supporting the notion of law enforcement as a way to reduce drug use.
Drawing on examples like alcohol and tobacco, some of the prohibitionists argued that if we increased the access to drugs use will exponentially go up along with public health costs. They said use in drugs will definitely go up with ending the war on drugs.
For the liberalisers, on the other hand, history has already shown prohibition does not work. By declaring certain drugs illegal governments around the world have not reduced consumption or solved any problem. Rather it had created an epidemic of crime, illness, failed states and money laundering.
Sir Branson said: “We must learn from countries such as Portugal, Germany and Switzerland that are taking a brave lead in trying new ways to treat the drug problem as a health issue. Politicians must be equally brave and listen to the people who, as the surveys show, want them to find a new way.”
Sir Branson who visited Portugal added: “In pretty every single statistic that I saw, crime seemed to have reduced dramatically.”
This was reinforced by the chief inspector of the Lisbon drug unit who said to Fox News earlier this year that the levels of conflicts on the streets of Portugal are down, drug-related robberies are down and the police are not the enemies of the consumers any more.
However, the opposition still argued that crime levels in Portugal have increased referring to Eurostat statistics.
“There is a clear rise in public perception on the flaws of the current approach to deal with drugs in our society”, said Mr Cardoso.
“We can no longer afford the levels of violence in Mexico, Brazil, Central America and West Africa, the trillions of dollars spent on this endless war and the obstacles it presents to harm reduction policies.
“It is about time that the UN and politicians in office engage on a constructive debate towards decriminalization, regulation and public health programs that may reduce violence whilst preventing and relieving the suffering of drug abusers,” he added.
Supporters of relaxing drug control, including Mr Brand, believe that criminalizing drugs is the ‘wrong cultural model’.
Mr Brand said: “Once people are addicted to marihuana or any drug then we need to have an infrastructure that protects those people. If we categorise those people as criminals that is the wrong way of addressing it. We need to treat those people as sick not as criminals.
“What we currently have is the wrong social model, the wrong mindset. We need to approach people optimistically and lovingly and not treat them as criminals,” said Mr Brand.
They debate covered many different aspects on the issue including the wrong usage of the word ‘war’, the role of the cartels, the definition of drug addicts and casual users, touching upon all sides of the coin.
The end of the debate saw a strengthened position for ending the drug war and looking at different approaches such as medical treatment, decriminalisation and legalisation.
In the global online poll following the debate, over 95 per cent (92 prior to the debate) of the people surveyed online said governments should open the debate to look for other ways then jail to solve the drugs issue.
They believe the war on drugs has to end and law enforcement make way to a different, more liberal approach.
Only two per cent of those surveyed disagreed and three per cent were unsure – a clear picture of the public opinion.