MEXICO CITY – Calling the global war on drugs a costly failure, a group of high-profile world leaders is urging the Obama administration and other governments to end “the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.”
A report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and past presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, recommends that governments try new ways of legalizing and regulating drugs, especially marijuana, as a way to deny profits to drug cartels.
The recommendation was dismissed by the Obama administration and the government of Mexico, allied in a violent 4 1/2-year-old crackdown on cartels that has led to the deaths of more than 38,000 people in Mexico.
“The U.S. needs to open a debate,” former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, a member of the panel, said by telephone from New York, where the report is scheduled to be released today. “When you have 40 years of a policy that is not bringing results, you have to ask if it’s time to change it.”
Mexican President Felipe Calderon, a conservative, has made the battle against drug cartels a centerpiece of his administration. Though the growing death toll has stirred widespread public dismay in Mexico, Calderon shows no sign of turning back before his six-year term ends next year. A poll on security matters released Wednesday found broad public opposition in Mexico to legalizing drug sales.
The U.S. government has backed the Mexican crackdown with law enforcement equipment, training and encouraging words from President Barack Obama.
“Making drugs more available, as this report suggests, will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe,” said Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Although the Obama administration has emphasized a “public health” approach to drug policy, officials have taken a hard line against legalization.
“Legalizing dangerous drugs would be a profound mistake, leading to more use, and more harmful consequences,” drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said this year.
Administration officials dispute the idea that nothing can be done to reduce U.S. drug demand. A spokesman for the White House drug agency said consumption peaked in 1979, when surveys showed that 14 percent of respondents had used illegal drugs in the previous month. Now that figure has dropped to 7 percent.
The new report said the world’s approach to limiting drugs, crafted 50 years ago when the United Nations adopted its “Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs,” has failed to cut the supply or use of drugs. The report, citing figures from the world body, said global marijuana consumption rose more than 8 percent and cocaine use 27 percent between 1998 and 2008.
The group cited a U.N. estimate that 250 million people worldwide use illegal drugs, concluding, “We simply cannot treat them all as criminals.”
More treatment options for addicts are needed, the report said. And it argued that arresting and incarcerating “tens of millions” of drug-producing farmers, couriers and street dealers have not answered economic needs that push many people into the trade.
The group’s members include former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, the writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, and Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group.