Global drug policy at a crossroads
Liberalization of drugs legislation is already underway in many places around the globe, but we must take coordinated action in order to accelerate the pace of reform.
To put it bluntly, blanket prohibition approach to illicit drugs problem was a total failure. Strong focus on control and punishment was adopted in the 1970’s as the backbone of the "War on Drugs" program promoted by the United States government,but it proved to be insufficient impetus for slowing down the illegal global drug trade. In fact, many argue that prohibition actually creates ideal conditions for growth of drug-related crime and systematic corruption due to astronomical sums of money changing hands in the black market. Efficacy organization was a pioneer of the scientific approach to drug policy when it was first established, and we spent many years combating prejudice in regards to effectiveness of repressive mechanisms.
Looking back in disbelief
Previous decades didn’t lack in activity directed against drug proliferation, but impact of the measures taken was non-existent or often even negative. Massive aerial pesticide spraying in third-world countries caused unspoken horrors for innocent local populations and devastated the natural habitats for countless plant and animal species. Meanwhile, prison systems around the world are bursting under pressure of overcrowding due to huge numbers of incarcerated drug offenders, even though many among them never committed any violent acts. It is really hard to believe this is the best that our society could come up with and it’s borderline insane to continue spending huge budgets without getting any meaningful returns.
Harm reduction as the new objective
Shortcomings of current drugs policies shouldn’t be mistaken for a free license to let psychotropic drugs slip out of control. Controlled substances are generally dangerous and addiction-forming and they certainly can cause significant health hazards unless standard precautions are applied. Education of the potential users about realistic dangers of each particular drug and elimination of the worst personal and social consequences should become the new focus as we move away from an era of prohibition. This should prove to be a formidable challenge in itself and we need to motivate diverse sectors of society to join in and provide as much support as they are capable. This is a win-win strategy that will reduce pressures on governmental budgets while providing a more amenable environment for drug researchers and individual users.
New drugs pose new challenges
Perhaps the legislative framework is still stuck in the seventies, but drug market certainly is not. New substances named research chemicals, designer drug, legal highs or bath salts with powerful psychoactive properties are arriving on the scene with regularity, many of them designed specifically to avoid existing bans. Online marketplaces such as EuroChemicals are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to street sales, which is a sure sign that drug users prefer order to chaos when they can. Still, newly discovered substances are poorly understood at this time and we need far more objective data about them before we can make conclusions about safety of their use, and that’s much easier to accomplish when legal barriers are not preventing researchers from conducting experimental studies.
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