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Five Economics Nobel Laureates Call for End to War on Drugs and Its “Collateral Damage”

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - May 8, 2014, 7:50 am

EspañolFive Nobel Prize winners in economics, along with other prominent political and academic figures, on Wednesday called for an end to the war on drugs through a report presented by the London School of Economics. Those releasing the report touted it as the most comprehensive independent economic analysis of current drug policy and control strategies ever performed.

“It is time to end the ‘war on drugs’ and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis,” reads the foreword. It adds that “the pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global ‘war on drugs’ strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage.”

The 84-page document was produced by a group of 13 analysts with strong credentials in the areas of economic and drug policy research, and was signed by five Nobel Laureates: Kenneth Arrow (1972), Vernon Smith (2002), Thomas Shelling (2005), Oliver Williamson (2009), and Christopher Pissarides (2010).

Accompanying the Nobel Prize winners were the signatures of high ranking current and former government officials, including former US Secretary of State George Shultz, former Secretary General of the Council of the European Union Javier Solana, President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Nick Clegg, Colombian Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria, and Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs Luis Fernando Carrera Castro.

The report urges the United Nations to abandon its “repressive and unidimensional approach” against drugs. It emphasizes the importance of a new global strategy that instead of simply banning the consumption and commercialization of drugs, embraces “principles of public health, health damage containment, the reduction of the impact of the illegal market, expanded access to essential preventive health services, minimization of problematic consumption, rigorously monitored regulatory experimentation, and an unwavering commitment to the principles of human rights.”

The foreword describes the new role that it advocates for the United Nations: “it must now take the lead in advocating for a new cooperative international framework based on the fundamental recognition that different policies will work better or worse in different countries and regions.”

One of the key arguments of the report is that the current prohibition system was built under the flawed assumption that the supply of drugs could be controlled, thus eradicating the recreational use of these substances.

Daniel Mejía, associate professor in the Department of Economics at Los Andes University and director of the Centre for Research on Drugs and Security in Colombia, and Pascual Restrepo, doctoral candidate in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explain in the document that “like any policy [drug policies] should be judged by their results, not their intentions.” They warn that the evidence is clear: the inefficiency and costs of prohibitionist policies are too high.

Meanwhile, Ernest Drucker, associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, argues in his contribution to the report that segments of prison populations that pose little or no risk to public safety should be identified and released. “These include offenders for nonviolent drug crimes.”

Joanne Csete, associate director of the Global Drug Policy Program of the Open Society Foundations, believes that governments should redirect resources to ensure drug users have proper access access to public health services.

“These services are currently virtually unavailable relative to drug users’ needs,” she said.

Latin America, a Step Forward

The Uruguayan Congress last December approved the legalization of the use and cultivation of marijuana across the country — effective from Tuesday. In addition, citizens will be able to legally purchase the drug in social clubs or authorized pharmacies.

Uruguayan President José “Pepe” Mujica has repeatedly expressed the view that prohibition is the root cause of drug trafficking, because it creates a market in which only a few are willing to venture ignoring the law, eliminating competition and allowing for charge extremely high prices. For example, in an interview with CNN, he said, “we believe we will spoil the market [for drug traffickers] because we will sell much cheaper and in a much more orderly fashion than in the black market.”

Also, the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, has expressed the need for a discussing alternatives to the war of drugs to address the problems in his country. In an interview with US newspaper the Wall Street Journal, the president said, “how do I explain to a farmer in Colombia I have to put him in jail for growing marijuana when in Colorado or Washington state it is legal to purchase that same marijuana? The world needs a more effective, fresh, and creative approach to win this war because so far we are not winning it and the cost has been enormous.”

Finally, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has said in television interviews that his country could legalize the production of marijuana and opium poppies this year, and he is in favor of a UN debate on legalization of substances as cocaine or heroin.

Translated by Alan Furth.

Belén Marty Belén Marty

Belén Marty is the Libertarian Latina, a journalist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has lived in Guatemala, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States and is a former candidate for local office with Argentina's Libertarian Party. Follow @BelenMarty.