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 maggio 2022 


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By Emma Bonino The world's attention is understandably focused on the Iraq war. But another war - this one UN-sanctioned- has been going on simultaneously: the war on drugs. Every sensible person should want this largely ignored war to end as well. While the UN should play a role in leading Iraq toward a free and democratic society, it must also dramatically change its own course in the war on drugs and lead the world to a saner policy. In 1998, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the third Convention on Narcotic and Psychotropic substances, the United Nations convened a special General Assembly session to discuss the issue of illicit drugs. At the end of that forum, UN member states adopted a political declaration that mandated the UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP) "to develop strategies with a view to eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant, and the opium poppy by the year 2008." On April 16th the community will reconvene in Vienna to examine the results of the UN's policies. One conclusion is clear: the results are grim. According to a UNDCP report issued in 2002 called Illicit Drug Trends, new markets for narcotics are expanding faster than old ones are being shut down. Drug dealers are targeting new markets in the East, for instance in post-communist Europe and the richer countries of Asia, which are now consuming more and more drugs. Across the world, narcotics trafficking is on the increase, not only because new markets are coming online, but also because additional countries have taken up production. Moreover, new synthetic and chemical substances, more potent and often less expensive than the "classic" ones, are being invented. It is time to acknowledge that the "war on drugs" is lost indeed - what a monumental failure - and that hostilities should end. Every aspect of the war's strategy has failed. Harsh new domestic laws in many countries have not only failed to control the spread of drugs throughout the world, but have caused the state to intrude into the lives of millions of people as never before. The goal of enforcing prohibition gave authoritarian regimes a pretext for administering the death penalty; these days, some states execute people for drug-related crimes - but they have not been able to stem the tide. To circumvent the harsh legal regime now in place, narcotics mafias have forged ever-tighter alliances with terrorist networks. Can the world afford to continue subsidizing this failure? Can our money be wasted for much longer on fumigating Colombian valleys or arresting non-violent drug offenders? Can we pretend that current prohibitions on illicit drugs will one day prove effective? The answer to all these questions, of course, is: "No, we cannot." Instead, we must recognize that prohibition, rather than curtailing use, generates crime, because it makes trading in illicit drugs a lucrative business. Since politicians everywhere remain loath to be seen as "soft on drugs," something must be done. One ploy taken up by some members of my Transnational Radical Party in France, Belgium, the UK, and Italy has been to "denounce themselves" to their national authorities and then to disobey the prohibitionist laws by distributing drugs to passers-by during political demonstrations. By openly inviting the police to jail otherwise respected members of the community, these activists hope to show the absurdity of harsh anti-drug laws. These Gandhian acts of non-violent civil disobedience have had an effect. Recently, 109 members of the European Parliament introduced a recommendation calling for reform of the UN Conventions on drugs. An "International Anti-Prohibitionist League" is now at work, calling for repeal or amendment of the UN treaties in order to allow for experimentation with legalization by individual nations. At the upcoming Commission on Narcotics meeting in April, UN member states will have an opportunity to reassess the effectiveness of the 1998 Plan of Action. Sadly, however, the reality of its failure to come anywhere close to achieving its stated goals has not dented the minds of national governments: not one state has voiced its opposition to current strategies. But turning a blind eye to failure only increases its cost. So long as the UN anti-drug mandates remain in place, legalization of treatments, cures, and drugs that today are illicit-and recall that it was the end of prohibition alone that ended the reign of gangsters like Al Capone in the 1920s-will remain impossible. Instead of replicating our failures, the world needs to adopt new approaches that treat the disease of drug use, instead of criminalizing it. Otherwise, we will all remain addicted to a failed drug war. Emma Bonino is a member of the European Parliament, a former EU commissioner, and a prominent member of the Transnational Radical Party.

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