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War on Drugs, Not Over Yet?

Updated: Oct 6, 2019


It is said that “the person who takes medicine must recover twice, once from the disease and once from the medicine”.[1] In other words, a sublime combination of a demonic disease and dreadful decision yield you a well formed drug addict. It is heart rending to accept that “35 million people suffer from drug disorders worldwide, but only 1 in 7 receive treatment”. The last decade has witnessed a desolating augmentation in the number of drug users, with a 30% increase.[2]It is important to determine the exact reasons behind this forlorn situation.

Is it the failure of both domestic and international policy?[3] Has policy failure, precisely faulty or inadequate work of the legislators resulted into stigmatisation of specific drug abusers? Do the present policies pass muster with the aggravated situation of reckless exploitation of children in the illicit trade practices or the juveniles continue to carry the disproportionate burden of the adverse reverberations of the war on drugs? Is decriminalization or legalization of substances important for the eradication of drugs or we should continue to promulgate the prohibition regime?


Since it’s inception, the war on drugs has been encircled by an atmosphere of scepticism. The current stratagem presents the resulted health atrophy as a morally-disappointing ramification that calls upon a moral and coercive response. The exclusion of alcohol and tobacco from the anti-drug maneuver is a disturbing reality. These substances have provoked more health adversaries than the conventional drugs.[4] Consumption of illegal drugs is spread throughout the state but the ensued social consequences are not. The surrounding perplexity mixed with incorrect labelling and misrepresentation of drug wars often target the vulnerable members of the society, majorly including the women, Blacks and Latinos.[5]

Thus, the essence of public health stands dissolved by the systematic, institutionalised stigmatisation. The framework of the drug policies should be such, that it would enshroud in itself the answers to all the relevant socio- economic and political implications.[6]

The religion and culture based norms of self-restraint are imposed most forcefully on women and children. But quite ironically, it is actually the two of them who are compelled to function as key figures for ground level pursuits of the illicit business, while men continue to occupy upper and safe positions in the hierarchy.[7]


The mandatory rules of sentences accustomed for drug offenders often fail to take into consideration the quantities carried by those accused. The absence of proportionate laws and non-custodial alternate measures most brutally hit the women because they are likely to be punished even for the lowest degree of offences. This in turn affects the children, especially the ones of single mothers who serve as the child’s only support system.[8] In order to frame gender-balanced rules and schemes we need to have a commensurable say of the womenfolk on the issue. The futility in the rigid laws can be annihilated by inclusion of members of civil society in the concerned institution and arrangement.

The movement of illicit drugs usually start from the less developed nations and comes to it’s cessation when it reaches areas of high consumption- the developed countries.[9] Thence, the repercussions of production of illicit substances is borne by the poorly burgeoning countries, where the drug dealings are organized under the less regulated, invidualized micro-economic sector accompanied by weak government, inadequately equiped law enforcement agencies and porous borders. Exiguous control over the drug trade leads to the mushrooming of inevitable criminal activities and violence. This social disruption often undermines the profit incurred from the transaction. On the other hand, the countries going great guns have organized legitimate global business setups for themselves that work on the lines of professionally devised strategies. The trade is largely regulated by the government, therefore a good proportion of their profit is directed towards the strengthening of control system.[10] Thus, their pecuniary collection contributes towards the legal economy and not towards drug related violence. The emergence of this preordained disparity pushes forth the need to establish universal norms for administration of trade of drugs so that the liability and benefits are equally shared. But a global policy framework would be incomplete if it is not backed up by stringent domestic laws.


Criminalization of drugs and related substances has led to several complexities. Such measures restrict the activities of NGOs further exacerbating the present condition of rehabilitation and harm reduction programmes.[11] In China and in parts of South-East Asia, persons arrested for possessing illicit drugs are subjected to arbitrary detention, without facing trials. They are detained in penitentiaries for compulsory treatments but these centers are actually hubs of human rights abuse. The estimated number of captured entities alone in China is 500 million.[12] Sometimes these cells work as an incubator for radicalization based on religious subjects and extremism. In these factories criminals radicalized into terrorists and terror groups. Later these individuals become the mastermind of terrorist attacks that we read about in the newspaper. It is hard to envisage that an incorrect method of rehabilitation could lead to such catastrophic outcomes. Around 35 countries in the world punish the drug offenders with capital punishment, the total number of executions in the last ten years is 4366 (out of which 3975 were performed in Iran).[13] Presently, 7000 people are on the death row for drug related offences globally. These statistics point towards the dire need to change the foundation of our policies.[14]


Universal legalization, as the name suggests would capture the users spread across the global markets. Punitive drug regimes that operate on harsh principles of prohibition have catalysed the trade and helped the market to flourish. Such practices led to an increase in the graph of violence and incentivised criminal activities, overall portraying drug trafficking as an profit-making industry running through intercontinental networks. Henceforth, it is essential to frame comprehensive, socially tested and evidence based policies.[15] Certainly, legalization is the way forward, it would bring the illicit, underground markets on the surface, allowing the drug related conflicts to be solved through judicial intervention and not internal violence. This would also result in a switch in the community involved in the trade practice; from criminals to business players, such a change would revitalize the employment sector.[16]


The aftermath of legalization, if viewed from a long-term policy perspective is more promising than any other measure put into force before. Considering a sitaution, where supply of drugs is taking place in a setting that is based on the prohibition programme would result in increased costs for the traffickers, involving steps like escaping from the eyes of the authorities and the exorbitant price of crossing barriers to enter the market. As a result, the cost of production and distribution significantly goes up. Thus, each and every unit of the substance is sold for an escalated figure. It is seen that the consumption of substances notably remains the same when there is a fluctuation in price mechanism owing to the induced addiction of drugs: some individuals will continue to consume drugs regardless of the increase in price on the other hand some entities will not devour them, no matter how modest the price is.[17] Still, if we place some drugs under the blanket of legalization or decriminalization it is anticipated that there would be an increment in demand because of the consumer friendly modulation in the price. But, such an accrual would be insubstantial and should not pose an impediment in the way of policy makers and the government from granting legal status to some drugs.[18] The culminating outcome of this measure would bring down the amount of revenue generated in the drug markets, this would translate into a plummet in the profit collection of traffickers. A nosedive in this field would compel the traffickers to abandon the markets and look for other lucrative fields. There exists a positive co-relation between the illicit drug markets and other illicit markets and associated activities, like those operating for organ and human trafficking, money laundering, arms trafficking and terrorism. The diminishing investment generated through drug trade would have an antagonistic effect on the closely linked markets.[19] The loss caused to the billion dollar drug industry would not only help us combat the war on drugs but also the war on terror. Therefore, legalization or decriminalization if implemented even on a domestic scale would function as a multidisciplinary attack against this global threat.



Lastly, it is important to understand that “drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would not call that a decision but an error of judgment”[20] Maintaing sobriety is in one’s own hands, the intervention of law would remain ineffectual if individual attempts are not directioned. Thereby, we need a plan of collective action that encompasses every small endeavour.




[1] A WAY OF LIFE (quoting William Osler (1913))

[2] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes [UNODC], World Drug Report 2019, Booklet 1- Executive Summary, Conclusions and policy implications (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.19.XI.9) June 2019, available at

https://wdr.unodc.org/wdr2019/prelaunch/WDR19_Booklet_1_EXECUTIVE_SUMMARY.pdf.

[3] THE BECKLEY FOUNDATION, Roadmaps to Reforming The UN Drug Convention (December 2012) available at https://www.unodc.org/documents/ungass2016/Contributions/Civil/Beckley_Foundation/Roadmaps_to_Reform_Report_w_Foreword_110915.pdf.pdf.

[4] Independent, Illegal drugs less harmful than alcohol and tobacco and should be reclassified, finds major report, June 26, 2019, available at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/cocaine-ecstacy-drug-classification-alcohol-tobacco-damage-illegal-ban-a8976166.html

[5] James F. Mosher and Karen L. Yanagisako, Public Health, Not Social Warfare: A Public Health Approach to Illegal Drug Policy, 3 Journal of Public Health Policy Vol.12 published by Palgrave Macmillan Journals (1991). See also, DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE, The Drug War, Mass Incarceration and Race (January 2018) available at http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/drug-war-mass-incarceration-and-race_01_18_0.pdf

[6] INTERNATIONAL DRUG POLICY CONSORTIUM, Drug Policy and Sustainable Development Goals (November 2015), available at https://www.unodc.org/documents/ungass2016/Contributions/Civil/Health_Poverty_Action/HPA_SDGs_drugs_policy_briefing_WEB.pdf.

[7] TRANSFORM DRUG POLICY FOUNDATION, The Alternate World Drug Report, 2nd edition, (2016) available at https://transformdrugs.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/AWDR-2nd-edition.pdf.

[8] Id., p124.

[9] United Nations Reseach Institute for Social Development, Illicit Drugs: Social Impacts and Policy Responses, (World Summit for Social Development, Briefing paper no. 2, 1994) available at http://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BCCF9/(httpAuxPages)/4C3D0BE90FAD550480256B6400419B57/$file/bp2.pdf.

[10] Id.

[11] TRANSFORM DRUG POLICY FOUNDATION, Count the Costs- 50 Years of the War on Drugs (2018) available at https://transformdrugs.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/CTC-Development_and_security_briefing.pdf.

[12] Human Rights Watch, “Where Darkness Knows No Limits”; Incarceration, Ill Treatment, and Forced Labor as Drug Rehabilitation in China, January 7, 2010, available at https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/01/07/where-darkness-knows-no-limits/incarceration-ill-treatment-and-forced-labor-drug.

[13] HARM REDUCTION INTERNATIONAL, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2018, (February 2019), available at https://www.hri.global/files/2019/02/22/HRI_DeathPenaltyReport_2019.pdf.

[14] Id., p8.

[15] Matthew S. Jenner, International Drug Trafficking: A Global Problem with a Domestic Solution, 2 Ind. J. Global Legal Stud. 18, (2011).

[16] Id., p921.

[17] David A. Boyum and Mark A.R. Kleiman overview to James Q. Wilson and Joan Petersilia, SUBSTANCE ABUSE POLICY FROM A CRIME-CONTROL PERSPECTIVE, 2nd edition 13 (2001) available at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4864/ed06d1390bf2468417e6b67f0961886dc929.pdf.

[18] Id., p26 emphasis added.

[19] Colin P. Clarke, Drugs & Thugs: Funding Terrorism through Narcotics Trafficking, 3 Journal of Strategic Security 9 (Special Issue Fall), published by University of South Florida Board of Trustees (2016).

[20] A SCANNER DARKLY (quoting Philip K. Dick. (1977).

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