Report: The Global War on Drugs has failed: Is it time to legalize?
June 2nd, 2011
02:14 PM ET

Report: The Global War on Drugs has failed: Is it time to legalize?

By Ishaan Tharoor, TIME

The global war against drugs is fought seemingly every day in the jungles of Colombia and the mountains of the Hindu Kush, the inner cities of the U.S. and the trafficking corridors of Central America. But, according to a new report, it's an abject disaster.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, an organization launched by former Presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico (and whose accomplished 19-member board includes former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Pakistani feminist activist Asma Jehangir, and, yes, Sir Richard Branson), declared today that the "global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."

Four decades ago, policy makers imagined creating a drug free world through "harsh law enforcement action" that cracked down on drug production and distribution. But the resulting "vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers" have only led to an expansion of the trade, higher rates of drug consumption, and has created — as seen in places like Mexico or Afghanistan — deadly, volatile new arenas for an illicit industry to sow mayhem.

The report outlines some of the unintended consequences of a near half century of global anti-drug policies. A few:

  • The growth of a ‘huge criminal black market', financed by the risk-escalated profits of supplying international demand for illicit drugs.
  • Geographical displacement, often known as ‘the balloon effect', whereby drug production shifts location to avoid the attentions of law enforcement.
  • The perception and treatment of drug users, who are  stigmatized, marginalized and excluded.

Read the rest over at TIME on whether it's time to legalize drugs.

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Ikelaw

    The responsible for that is USA and Canada, as well as Italy. They are the main market for drugs. If you look the statistics, you´ll realize that Brazil almost don´t have consumption of drugs, while the "wonderland" – Canada – is the largest market.

    Conclusion: The north smokes the lives of Latin Americans.

    June 2, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • rick

      ikelaw: how much of this is due to the prohibition of the drugs?

      June 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • BBoy705

      What if they legalized the growing of pot? If I could I would grow what I consume and leave the criminals out in the cold! So legalize the growing of pot and the responsible use of pot.

      June 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
      • rick

        not to mention industrial hemp and all the products from it

        June 3, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  2. Aaron Lee

    The War on Drugs have " Failed " Being a College Student & being intuned with the trends of the 21st century with my generation its completely irrealist. Would love to join a pantel in discusing this issue with my team Nikolai Bonds – Son of All Time Homerun Leader Barry Bonds , and Main man Alex G with Airplanemode if we are to be great in the 21st century we need REFORM!

    June 2, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  3. MaloneT

    We should have learned from the past. (Banning the use of alcohol did not work.)

    Mitt Romney just said The fed should let the states decide how they want to manage health care. So I wonder why all the conservatives want to have the fed control if states are allowed to legalize drugs such as marijuana. Funny how the federal gov wont prosecute foreign nationals that bring less than 500 lbs of marijuana into the country(not cost effective) but will bust a 78 yr old grandma growing 4 plants in her back yard for her own medical related issues.

    June 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  4. HonestlyCorrect


    Making a market illegal only creates excessive profits for those providers who manage to take control of the black market, often by extreme violence, but does not eliminate the market, as proven by the alcohol prohibition of the 1930’s.

    The only sensible solution is to legalize the market, tax its consumption, and educate consumers about the negative health effects. Legalization and taxes will drive down profits and increase awareness.

    More innocent people have died from the violence created by the war on drugs than in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq together, and it is only a matter of time before such violence on the border becomes a domestic crisis.

    June 2, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Taking drugs or drinking alcohol is a choice. Legalisation of drugs help reduce crime rates. Education at schools and at home is the only way to sensitise youngsters and help keep them away from drugs.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • rick

      Are we talking about taxing the consumption or the sale? If people grow their own, there should be no tax.

      June 3, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  5. Mike

    It has been obvious for a long time that the "War on Drugs" did not work. Countries like Holland and Switzerland where drugs are legal have very few problems. The so called "War on Drugs" has resulted in violence, mass murder and the creation of criminal syndicates that are much worse than anything we have ever seen. Canada tried to raise the price of cigarettes so high that no one can afford them; this also resulted in a crime wave. Time to wake up and stop trying to legislate morality.

    June 2, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • rick

      Mike: I do not know about Switzerland, but in Holland, no drugs are legal, and only cannabis products and magic mushrooms are decriminalized.

      June 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
      • rick

        mike: by "drugs" in holland, i am speaking of those that are illegal in the united states. beer is legal there (mmmmm....heineken)

        June 3, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  6. Jill Penney

    war on drugs has failed. I must say that it has failed and we need people that will set the world right. People on drugs have been shamed (some to death), locked up, mentally shocked and many more ways that was sure to cause failure. The
    parents, church leaders, politicians, all preach and degrade drug users. The louder they yell the better they feel. I have been
    a drug user and for years everyone tried, degraded, disowned me, and that all made me use more. What helped me was the inpatient drug center I was in for a month. There they taught everything and I learned so much about drugs, the the good and bad and about the actual brain and so much more. If they had said degrading things and shameful things, I would not have had the strength to succeed. That is a very short brief comment on this war. And until I found the right
    system, my one major thought in my mind was 'can't wait to get some more drugs in me'. I am a 5 year success and I know I will never use again.

    June 2, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Michelle G

      Congratulations on your sobriety Jill! Five years, an amazing accomplishment!

      June 2, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  7. O. B. Server

    Are you kidding? The 'war on drugs' is a great success! It lines the pockets of police, prosecutor, judges, the prison industry, and many other careerist drug war camp followers. If you're 'earning' 70-100k a year starting salary as a cop for easy pickins' (busting people for pot) – what's there NOT to like about the 'drug war'. Lots of folks earn their lying living busting pot smokers. These are the (vested interest) people who love their splendid and perpetual war on "drugs" (i.e., "war" on people using pot as an excuse).

    June 2, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • SHANE

      EXACTLY! When there's a perfect example (alcohol prohibition) of what a drug war means, then we know we're being duped. Law enforcement and lawmakers are just as much to blame for the violence and crime.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • SHANE

      Prohibition means a market for criminals. Regulation means a market for business. That should make conservatives moist.

      Regulating any industry will always be better for society, taxpayers, revenue, etc.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  8. Brandt Hardin

    The War on Drugs failed Billions of dollars ago! This money could have been used for outreach programs to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing, free rehab, and clean needles. Harmless drugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy. Cannabis can provide hemp for countless natural recourses and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every state in our country out of the red! Vote Teapot, PASS IT, and legalize it. Voice you opinion with the movement and download my FREE poster at

    June 2, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  9. James

    The biggest falsehood in America: Marijuana causes mental illness and dependency that leads to other drugs.

    The facts:

    1. Marijuana does not cause mental illness. This is a case of mistaken cause and effect. The fact is that the majority of users turn to it in an attempt to self-medicate BECAUSE of mental illness. Blaming the drug only masks the underlying problem and hinders proper treatment for the mental illness.

    2. Marijuana leads to other drugs because drug dealers use it is a gateway. They are providing an illegal substance that is taboo in society. Once the initial taboo has worn off it is much easier for the user to then move on to drugs that are more taboo. By removing the stigma associated with use you remove the "gateway" that leads to other, more dangerous drugs.

    June 2, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  10. rafael vivas

    Assesment of failure depends on what alternative one uses to define or measure Success . If success is the total erradication of drug abuse then it is justified to consider the war on drugs a failure . However if one measures success on more relative terms , e.g. comparing the current situation with what would happen if all drug use was legalized , then maybe the current war on drugs can be judged a partial success if it avoids a much greater expansion of drug use in the world . What can be validly queried is if the war shaould be waged using other more subtle tactics or by setting more realistic goals .

    June 2, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  11. Aaron Lee

    The War on Drugs have " Failed " Being a College Student & being intuned with the trends of the 21st century with my generation its completely not realistic. Would love to join a pantel in discusing this issue with my team Nikolai Bonds – Son of All Time Homerun Leader Barry Bonds , and Main man Alex G with Airplanemode if we are to be great in the 21st century we need REFORM!

    Nation Wide Discussion

    June 2, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  12. leeintulsa

    @rafael vivas: I have never met anyone who said the reason they didn't smoke pot was it's illegality. The 'war' actually created more problems as people who couldn't find coke invented crystal meth, etc. It was a complete failure and waste of money and resources.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  13. Michelle G

    I can not see a single benefit of the War on Drugs and more costs than I can even take the time to write. And some of the most dangerous drugs are the legal ones anyway! Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs available, yet it is legal. Alcohol results in perhaps more violence and death than any other drug, yet it is legal. And not to mention the ongoing problem this country has with abuse of prescription drugs.

    I'd like to see drugs legalized, taxed, and packaged with sufficient warnings of health risks.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  14. rc

    It is clear that the drug war is a complet failer and that it will never succeed. I don't really understand why the government has the right to tell adults how they may or may not live there live anyway. I don't really see the government giving up it's power to police peoples personal lives no matter how counter productive the policy is though. If anybody has any bight idea's on how to change these numbskull policys please tell me. I would love to make a diffrence on this issue.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  15. Mr.Nice Guy

    Hopefully this will change some things. Preferably the politics regarding narcotics. Hopefully it'll open up for more serious research on different narcotics. LSD for instance is regarded as a drug with no medicinal purposes, with hardly any research backing it up.

    I was just starting to think that cannabis ect. would be illegal for at least another 100 years when I saw this committee's plan. But maybe we'll see some change in the drug policies in the next 5 – 10 years?

    June 3, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  16. BBoy705

    Here's an idea, legalize growing marijuana that way we can grow our own and put the drug lords out of business. Anyone can grow it, it's a weed. If people do not want to grow it they can buy it from registered outlets where it will be taxed. It is so remarkably simple. For all other drugs sell them from pharmacies, the names and addresses of users will be on file (just as they are for other prescription drugs) so keeping track of them will be relatively easy. If you sell your prescription cocaine or magic mushrooms to someone else you'll have to explain to the pharmacy why you need a refill before your scheduled refill. BTW, I know that know one is going to get a prescription for the regular consumption of magic mushrooms... but you get the idea.

    June 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  17. Michelle G

    After reading this article, I thought why do things like this not change if it is so clear that it is a failure? Then I thought that it was silly of me to be discussing it here rather than talking to the people that can do something about it. So I wrote a letter to my representative about how the clear failure of the war on debugs shows that we need to explore other options.

    A few days later, I received a letter of campaign jargon stating that the representative does not support legalizing marijuana for medical use, an issue I had not brought up and totally different from what I was saying. I've never felt so powerless and voiceless in all my life.

    Now I see why people don't bother writing to their congressmen. What a waste of time.

    June 10, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  18. elizabeth

    Since we're talking about crime, I was wondering, Fareed, if you had any stats on rising crime due to this recession? Thanks.

    July 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  19. two week detox

    Excellent post. The most impressive I've come across.

    December 26, 2017 at 8:31 pm |

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