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An End To The War On Drugs May Finally Be In Sight

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On April 19-21, New York City will host a meeting that could be the beginning of the end of international support for the war on drugs.

A United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) will convene to review various treaties and policies that govern national and international commitments to the control of drugs. Such oversight is still mostly characterized by prohibition: producing, selling, buying and possessing drugs for non-medical -- recreational -- purposes is pretty much forbidden and backed up by heavy criminal sanctions (including the death penalty in some countries).

That rigidity has left us with a trail of misery. The War creates huge human and social costs: misuse of police and public resources, excessive imprisonment haunted by racism, a rapacious and abounding black market, adulterated substances, and the blunting of efforts to reduce the harms that drugs can do.

The list of the costs is long and mournful.

Some Latin American countries became so upset with the chaos caused by the War, especially to their societies, that they demanded that the UN meet to review the treaties that commit societies to such rigidity and to fantasies of a drug-free world. After a certain amount of turbulence, agreement was reached and we find ourselves on the eve of UNGASS 2016.

What might be accomplished? Some advocates of drug policy reform are optimistic that UNGASS 2016 would lead to significant change. Some public figures, such as Nick Clegg of the U.K., also urge substantial modification.

But others are less hopeful of the outcome.

Wainwright, himself an author of a book on the drug trade, fears stonewalling by countries like Russia who remain "drug warriors" so that little would come of UNGASS 2016.

We await the outcome. Whatever the result, the fact is that many societies are moving ahead with experiments in ending criminalization of non-medical use of drugs.

Instead countries interested in drug reform, such as Canada, will continue to subvert the international order in various ways so as to continue with experiments in criminalization/legalization.

Another document, sponsored by the United Nations University, is more optimistic, but also calls for caution. It suggests that UNGASS 2016 will reaffirm the existing regime but recognize "flexibility" in implementing it. That approach would allow space for drug reform even as it would permit "drug warriors" to continue and even intensify strong punitive approaches.

We await the outcome. Whatever the result, the fact is that many societies are moving ahead with experiments in ending criminalization of non-medical use of drugs.

In 2001 Portugal decriminalized personal use of all recreational drugs. Switzerland and some other countries have experimented with providing medical-grade heroin at safe injection sites to those who are dependent. New Zealand has legalized and regulated significant elements of New Psychoactive Substances (party drugs).

Several states in the United States and Uruguay have legalized and regulated pot. Canada will shortly follow.

There will be many issues and problems along the way. But the direction is clear. The War may suffer a slow and prolonged demise, but the end will surely come.

Canada can be a leader on these issues. It can steadfastly promote the winding down of the War. Our country should reclaim its position on the international stage, not as a nation of power, but one of humanity.

Happily we are already seeing glimmers of this reemergence. The War has been a magnificent gift to the thugs who preside over a flourishing trade in a dark underworld that treats human life as the cheapest of commodities. Canada's response should be clear: It must end.

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