The Winds of Change are now blowing on drug law reform.
The global momentum for drug law reform, slowly building for many years, has recently begun to accelerate. Drug law reform is now winning many more battles than it is losing.
The language being used in the media has started to change. Even Drug War warriors are now uncomfortable with the term ‘War on Drugs’. In March 2009, a ten year UN review of global drug policy was completed with a major meeting in Vienna. For the first time, the precarious international drug policy consensus was fractured when 26 countries (including Australia) inserted support for harm reduction in a footnote of a major document.
In April 2009, the Executive Director of UNAIDS (Mr Michel Sidibe) and the Executive Director of the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria (Professor Michel Kazatchkine) publicly noted the far greater difficulties in achieving HIV control among injecting drug users created by an international drug policy virtually reliant on drug law enforcement and with minimal room for harm reduction. Both called for drug law reform including decriminalisation.
There are several reasons why harm reduction and drug law reform are slowly gaining the ascendancy over punitive approaches to illicit drugs.
First, the scientific debate over harm reduction is now over: it is now widely accepted that harm reduction is effective, safe and cost effective.
Second, there is growing acknowledgement that not only has prohibition failed, but the collateral damage from relying on drug law enforcement results in very high health, social and economic costs.
Third, the global financial crisis is forcing governments to abandon expensive white elephant programmes and shift funds to more cost-effective interventions.
Fourth, Barack Obama is now the third US President in a row known to have consumed cannabis but the first to not only admit using and enjoying the drug but doing so ‘many times’.
Fifth, the international problems created by prohibition in countries such as Afghanistan and Mexico have highlighted the huge costs of the unintended consequences of the War on Drugs.
Sixth, the increasing availability of computers has created a more level playing field in the debate between supporters of drug law reform and War on Drugs supporters. Finally, there is increasing recognition of the need for drug policy to be based on evidence and respect the human rights of all citizens including drug users.
Momentum for drug law reform is also building in the USA.
Inevitably this is affecting the policy environment for cannabis. If the USA moves a millimetre, other countries can then move a metre. President Obama has made it clear that his Administration will not interfere with legislation passed by the states to permit medicinal use of cannabis.
Reducing the harms of cannabis will be much easier when the drug is controlled and regulated than under the present arrangements.
Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation
April 2009, Nimbin HEMP Embassy.
This article is printed in the 2009 program and is currently on the web site;