War on drugs cannot be won

By Garvin Nicholas

 I have no doubt that the initiatives being undertaken by the Minister of National Security, Gary Griffith, will go a long way in securing our borders and enhancing our protective service’s capacity and capability.

I also believe that getting our prisons brought up to humane standards is the right thing to do having been a proponent of that for years.

I do doubt however that these excellent initiatives alone would lead to a significant fall in violent crime and murders in the short and medium terms.

The murderous trend that started in 2001 is largely driven by gang warfare which is heavily influenced by the control of drug turf, social programme turf (ie URP and CEPEP) and the misguided “respect”  agenda, which is in itself a product of the “bad boy” gang imagery and a complete lack of appreciation for self and human life. 

Those are of course not the only causes. Other factors such as endemic corruption, the continued proliferation of slums, lack of belief in equality of opportunity and a culture of unmitigated greed also play significant roles.

There is however an underlying driver and that is the drug turf warfare. To put an end to the warfare, the government must put an end to that which drives the warfare. It is my humble, but fact based opinion, that unless the Government takes the very bold step of decriminalisation or even legalisation of the use of now illegal drugs, we will continue to see the levels of violent crime, witnessed today, for a very long time to come.

Many countries have now awoken to the fact that the war on drugs created by the US in the early 70s has been a total and utter failure. There are considerably more people using drugs today than when the war on drugs was declared.

The Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy endorses this failure.

The Commissioners of the Global Commission on Drug Policy included Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general; Cesar Gaviria, former president of Colombia; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil; George P Shultz, former secretary of state of the USA; Marion Caspers-Merk, former state secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health; Ruth Dreifuss, former president of Switzerland and minister of Home Affairs, to name a few.

This view is also supported by the US Presidential Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, 1972, former president Clinton and former president Carter.

The result of the US$ 2.5 trillion plus war has been mass murders, unsafe neighbourhoods, overcrowded prisons occupied by otherwise productive citizens, squandering of resources that could otherwise have been used towards healthcare, education and in the development of physical infrastructure such as recreation facilities, roads, drainage and bridges. 

This war on drugs has also been responsible for the significant increase of the spread of Hepatitis and HIV.

The war on drugs, like the prohibition of alcohol and cigarettes cannot be won. The so-called black economy estimated at some US$320 billion is in many cases larger than national budgets. Why do we continue to fool ourselves into pretending that we could win a war that cannot be won? 

This isn’t my view, it’s the well researched view from every corner of the globe including the US, UK, Europe and South and Central America.

There is also considerable evidence to show drops in violent crime and murder when steps are taken to put an end to this war of folly. The data is available to anyone who can read and Portugal remains a shining example a decade after decriminalisation of all drugs.

The United Nations estimates that there are 230 million drug users in the world of which 90 per cent are deemed to be “unproblematic.” Yet all are targeted by this policy.

Ironically, the only beneficiaries of the war on drugs are those involved in the drug trade or in the supply of the tools for the so-called war on drugs.

As drugs become scarce, the price goes up. At that point, the gang warfare intensifies as the turf shrinks. So the murder rate increases even further.

If drugs were freely available, they would be considerably more affordable and the petty crimes/thefts which are also associated with drug use will also be positively affected.

There is considerable evidence that the drug trade has infiltrated every level of society the world over. Politicians, law enforcement, border patrols, judiciary, bankers, real estate agents and the low level gang members who kill one another are all involved.

Such a system is impossible to combat and the only solution is to dismantle the system by dismantling the need for the system.

We need to assess just how much value we put on human lives and our own security. Should we continue to sacrifice our young people, our security, our resources, our humanity and our future for a war that is pure folly?

By making drugs available to our citizens, we have the ability to regulate the quality and quantities used while offering assistance to addicts in a humane fashion. We can sensibly educate the population on the effects of drug use and package it with the required warnings as we do with cigarettes.

Resources can then be used at the borders to prevent the illegal import and export of drugs to comply with international commitments while at the same time creating a safer society for all our citizens.

Of course the other issues of the social programmes driving gangs, the endemic corruption, slums, inequality (perceived or real) and the bad boy respect agenda must also be tackled.

In addition, since most murders are carried out by firearms usage, and since the population has a suspicion that firearms of law enforcement officers are rented and used to commit murders, it is now a necessary requirement that every law enforcement officer who is issued with a firearm should have his/her DNA and the particular ballistic features of the firearm issued documented and matched against every shooting that takes place in Trinidad and Tobago.

I would be surprised if we had a crime problem five years from today, if these issues were properly tackled and instituted.

Let the action begin!

• Garvin Nicholas is Trinidad and Tobago’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom

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