Fighting a Losing Battle: The War on Drugs

With the international panel on drug policies coming to a close, government officials are forced to reevaluate their tactics in the war on drugs. According to Richard Branson, British billionaire, “It’s estimated that over one trillion have been spent on fighting this unwinnable battle.” A move towards decriminalization seems to be the most logical and obvious next step. Of course, the line between being too strict and too relaxed, with regards to drug use, is fine.

I am not writing to advocate the use of drugs. I am, however, interested in policies that “end the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.” The use of marijuana, for example, is rampant in Canada. In 2004, statistics were released indicating that approximately 10 million Canadians over the age of 15 have used marijuana. As of January 1st, 2011, Canada’s population was estimated at nearly 35 million. Given the laws currently in place, this means that one third of Canadians are guilty of crimes.

Living in Toronto, you come into contact with people using marijuana on a daily basis. I have never once felt threatened by these individuals, nor have they impeded my ability to carry out my day. Perhaps this is what Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso meant when he mentioned drug users “who do no harm to others.” While the war on drugs rages on, government officials continue to spend countless tax dollars on ineffective strategies. “The irony,” says Branson, “is that a regulated market — one that is tightly controlled, one that would offer support, not prison, to those with drug problems — would cost tax payers much less money.”

Once again, I must stress that I am not suggesting that the current laws, regarding drug use, be completely revamped. One does have to wonder, however, how tax dollars could be more adequately used. Instead of spending one trillion on what is being described as an “unwinnable battle,” perhaps more money could be invested in rehabilitation and prevention programs. Clearly, something isn’t working and has not been for quite some time.

Canada was one of the first countries to regulate the use of medicinal marijuana. We are a world leader and have the opportunity to make some very forward-thinking changes, once again. Users and non-users, alike, seem to be in agreement about the war on drugs. Who wouldn’t be? One third of us (at least) have tried “illegal” drugs (and, keep in mind, these stats are 7 years old). Whether you indulge in the use of marijuana, from time to time, or not, it’s easy to see that the war on drugs is losing ammunition.

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