A new report questions the legitimacy of today’s “War on Drugs,” seeing as the five-decade long process has failed to reduce either the supply or demand for narcotics. The authors urge for ‘scientifically grounded’ policies to be implemented, including regulated markets for cannabis.

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US president Richard Nixon started/declared a war on drugs some five decades ago and you’d expect to see some results by now. In a way, we did — this trillion-dollar campaign has harmed public health, sentenced countless people to prison, and claimed the lives of thousands. At the same time, these anti-drug policies have had “no measurable impact on supply or use,” found a report commissioned by Johns Hopkins Ivy League University and The Lancet.

The paper compares this situation to that in countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic that have opted for decriminalization of non-violent minor drug offenses with very positive results. These include “public health benefits, cost savings, lower incarceration [rates], and no significant increase in problematic drug use.” The data also shows that, around the world, the way drug laws are applied is very often “discriminatory against racial and ethnic minorities and women, and has undermined human rights”.

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Oh and those sent to prison on minor drug charges? The paper singled their terms out as the “biggest contribution to higher rates of infection among drug users” with diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. Let the implications of that finding sink in for a minute.

So on one hand we have an oppressive, obscenely expensive all-out “war” that doesn’t work and in fact promotes crime. On the other, US states like Colorado or Oregon with legal cannabis markets, who cash off big on the trade, see crime rates dropping like a stone. The authors rightfully see this as compelling evidence that governments which still practice very strict drug policies would benefit greatly from decriminalization efforts — regulated markets for cannabis, for example.

Most national drug laws revolve around prohibition and punishment, said Chris Beyrer, from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“[But these] policies [are] based on ideas about drug use and dependence that are not scientifically grounded,” he added.

“The global ‘war on drugs’ has harmed public health, human rights and development. It’s time for us to rethink our approach to global drug policies, and put scientific evidence and public health at the heart of drug policy discussions.”

The full report, titled “Public Health and International Drug Policy” can be read here.