Viewpoint: U.N. Admits Drug War Is ‘Floundering,’ but Is Regulating Recreational Drugs the Answer?

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A sample of synthetic drugs is displayed during a news conference at Drug Enforcement Agency headquarters on June 26, 2013 in Washington, DC.

As the DEA reported its largest-ever bust of synthetic-drug dealers and manufacturers, the U.N. admitted that its law-enforcement efforts to contain illegal drugs have largely failed.

In an unusually frank admission in its annual World Drug Report, the U.N. conceded that its programs to create a “drug free” world have done little to control the emergence of man-made drugs like bath salts. But a new law in New Zealand could offer an alternative to the U.N.’s failed policies.

“While new harmful substances have been emerging with unfailing regularity on the drug scene, the international drug control system is floundering, for the first time, under the speed and creativity of the phenomenon known as new psychoactive substances,” the U.N. report conceded.

Its authors noted that the number of recently identified drugs — typically sold as “legal highs,” which mimic cannabis or methamphetamine, but often labeled as innocuous substances like “bath salts” — is now greater than that of internationally known controlled substances. With names like “miaow miaow” (mephedrone) or “spice” (which includes various synthetic marijuana-like drugs), 251 new substances intended for use as recreational drugs have been identified by international authorities. Under international drug-control conventions, only 234 drugs — including old-school favorites like cocaine and heroin — are currently considered illegal in all countries.

The DEA’s big bust, meanwhile, netted 2,000 lb. of the new drugs and 150 arrest warrants. Earlier results of the same investigation led to the seizure of $15 million in cash and assets and 75 arrests.

But with 11% of American high school seniors already reporting use of some type of “legal high” (overwhelmingly synthetic marijuana) in the past year, such arrests are clearly unable to hold back the tide of synthetic-drug use. More 12th graders used synthetic marijuana (11%) in the past year than took prescription painkillers (8%), heroin (.8%) or stimulants like Adderall (8%), according to the most recent national survey in 2011.

Nonetheless, the U.N. continues to stand by its international antidrug laws, which have not been revised significantly since 1988. In a preface to its report, the U.N. drug czar Yuri Fedotov wrote that member states “remain committed to the drug-control system” despite admitting that “globally, the demand for drugs has not been substantially reduced.” He offers no particular rationale for doing more of the same, simply calling for the rules to be “strengthened” and arguing, again, without providing specifics, that the system actually is “equipped to deal with the emergence of new substances.”

(MORE: Drug War Blocking Potential Treatments for Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Journal Claims)

New Zealand thinks otherwise. The country has had significant problems with legal highs since at least 2000, particularly with an amphetamine-like drug called benzylpiperazine (BZP). After catching on in California and being banned by the DEA, the drug became a popular source of highs in the 2000s, sold as an “herbal” or “natural” supplement with no regulations to stop it.

By 2008, when New Zealand outlawed BZP, sales were estimated at about $19 million to $27 million annually, with 5 million pills sold in 2007 alone. At first, New Zealand’s government played the same cat-and-mouse game with manufacturers of such substances that other countries still engage in globally. “Since we introduced the first of the temporary bans in August 2011, I’ve banned 33 separate substances, 51 or 52 different products and they keep being reformulated and reappearing,” New Zealand’s Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne told the New Zealand Herald, summarizing the revolving door of formulations that has kept the synthetic-drug business alive around the world

Now, however, the government is trying another approach. Rather than chasing after chemists but doing little to stop them from introducing new, unknown and potentially addictive products for uncontrolled human experimentation, New Zealand is proposing to regulate the drugs. Just as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was founded decades ago to prevent sales of adulterated and risky medical drugs, New Zealand will be the first country to create a similar approval process for new recreational drugs.

The new law, which is expected to be enacted in August, has generated worldwide interest. Companies will have to pay around $140,000 just to apply to have their products licensed and must spend an estimated $800,000 to $1.5 million to conduct clinical trials, which include human subjects, to prove their safety. Government-appointed scientists will judge the safety standards guiding these trials — but the law is not clear on whether the bar will be so high that most of the drugs will remain prohibited.

The law bans sales to youths under 18, advertising anywhere other than at the point of sale and requires that all ingredients be listed on the label, which must also include contact information for a poisoning hotline. The mandate for ingredients is crucial, since many synthetic drugs are made without safety or sterility standards and could contain toxic compounds, not to mention discarded drug candidates that have already been deemed unsafe for human use by the pharmaceutical companies that developed them. But whether companies will actually try to go through the approval process — and whether this will generate interest from Big Pharma to enter this potentially huge new market — remains to be seen.

(MORE: Should the FDA Regulate Recreational Drugs?)

Legalizing and regulating recreational drugs is obviously controversial. Would government approval signal an endorsement? The FDA recently approved its first cigarettes under new powers that give the agency authority to review the safety of certain tobacco products. While the FDA made clear that the approval only indicated that the cigarettes were no more dangerous than existing smokes on the market, critics fear that new types of tobacco products like “vaping” with e-cigarettes could reverse the current momentum toward eliminating smoking. If New Zealand starts to regulate and “approve” synthetic drugs, it could affect drug-use trends in unknown ways — even if the drugs it approves do turn out to carry fewer risks.

What is clear, however, is that outright prohibition has failed and that something needs to be done to address the conveyor belt of man-made products that are pouring into citizens worldwide, with no regulation and no oversight. Is New Zealand leading the way, or opening a Pandora’s box of new woes that will dwarf our current drug problem? History suggests that regulation reduces more harm than Prohibition.

111 comments
dianemgoldstein
dianemgoldstein

As both a speaker and Executive Board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition this article points out what I discuss each day. Notably that by not controlling the market as New Zealand proposes contributes to many of the bad outcomes resulting from bad policy. Clearly the discourse on the topics of our drug policy should not be on the drugs itself but whether the laws are effective. We should ask "are we safer because of our current policy" and are the costs of incarceration and enforcement justified?  My answer is no to both. Because of the black market we have chaos. It has contributed to policy displacement (drugs being tested versus rape kits, 1 example), geographical displacement ( stop in one location, drug dealer pops up in another), substance displacement ( the creation of synthetic drugs in particular), police corruption, the subversion of civil liberties as well as contributing to deaths of all those involved in using, procuring or enforcing the laws. Costs of drugs are at an all time low and purity is at an all time high. There has been literally no metric of success in the ongoing fight to eliminate drug use in society. So at what point do we become smart on crime by introducing harm reduction strategies, instead of just merely tough on crime which doesn't work. And as controversial as the subject maybe, I see a greater understanding by the the public of the nuances surrounding the conversation. Implementing a new policy is simply a failure of polictics not of resources.

Du4
Du4

I feel the need to clarify that I was referring to the comments below mine... 

Du4
Du4

Wow! This Mcclain72 fella needs to find a hobby.. Roll one up buddy, have a toke, and then try to tell me the world will go down the drain through legalization.. Grow up

Powder99
Powder99

To exile a person for life for first offence seems like exaggeration instead of reason to me. I am not sure where I exaggerated as if you are drunk and crank up the stereo too loud the police will show up. And then, unless I misread your statement, you'd suggest "exile for life." 

Perhaps the statement "shooting speeders on the spot" is what you believe is the exaggeration. Speeding is far more dangerous than a young man having few too many beers at home and cranking the stereo so I would assume the penalty should be far greater.

How you discipline your kids is pushing the limits so I apologize for that lapse of decency.

Anyway, it is too hot to argue. 

terryclifton1
terryclifton1

In Mexico, there has been an estimated 40,000 deaths attributed to the "Drug War". Our prisons are over flowing with drug offenders, and yet, drug treatment facilities are getting harder and harder to find. Methadone Clinics which are badly needed to combat addiction are shunned by the very communities that are infested with drug addiction. Until we treat drug addiction like we treat heart disease, cancer, and other health issues, the "War on Drugs" will continue to cost more lives around the world. Legalizing drugs is the only answer to stop the violence and needless bloodshed.

gemco
gemco

All drugs were legal in 1900's. You could buy them OTC in drug stores without a prescription, Then, there were no drug wars, no drug-related multiple murders with thousands being killed each year, and no crime-controlled organizations involved. But there was also no money in these drugs. So we made them illegal and it all changed, except for the numbers of people who use them. So we have given billions a year to gangsters for drugs  and billions a year to police organizations to clean it up and nothing has changed except the money involved. What a disgrace.

drudown
drudown

At this point, what, pray tell, is the foreseeable and realistic "risk" of the State imposing exceedingly thorough Executive regulation over a single recreational drug that unequivocally has a myriad of medicinal purposes, e.g., marijuana. The State should impose substantial taxes on both this newly created cash crop (i.e., at every level of manufacturing, distribution and sale) that are used to subsidize the erection of an unprecedented, mixed-use "living border" with Mexico and Canada in urban areas and completely control the jurisdiction of the United States once and for all. The ongoing stream of this multi-tiered tax system can easily justify the issuance of bonds and/or new investment vehicles that allow investment in specific projects that the GOP's suicidal policies (see, e.g., "no new taxes, ever") keep such change from ever moving forward. 

Here, given the enormous fiscal waste trying to control a desired good from entering the Market, perhaps the State should (no pun intended) "capitalize" on its own market's pecuniary upside for a change. You never know. We might actually raise revenue to improve our National Security, Defense and help protect natural resources. 

evoc
evoc

Yes, but not that crazy stuff that makes people eat people.

US1776
US1776

Prohibition has made a nightmare of the entire situation involving drugs use.

Prohibition does nothing but spawn black markets, criminal gangs, drug lords and horrendous levels of violence in addition to these new mimic drugs.

The best thing that the entire world could do is to legalize ALL drugs.

And take the money that was spent on trying to put drug users in jail, and instead spend that money (really only need a fraction) on drug rehabilitation and treatment programs for those that get addicted to HARD drugs.

SOFT drugs like marijuana should be completely legal worldwide as it was prior to 1934.

.

rbwphd
rbwphd

Legalize recreational drugs. Tax and regulate them. Put the dealers out of business. Stop wasting money on the DEA!

mrcatman9
mrcatman9

When organizations like LEAP advocate drug legalization,you have to pay attention.These are the thousands of police officers and sitting judges that have first hand experience with the drug culture: http://www.leap.cc/

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

Legalization on drugs for recreational use is probably one of the most idiotic ideas right next to socialized healthcare. I work in an industry where the mental faculties are vital. Marijuana has been proven to reduce mental alertness and where I work could result in loss productivity, injury or worse, loss of life. How in the hell would one determine recreational use? The problem is not the drugs, it is the idiots who believe they are better with them. Their work ethic is diminished. The quality of work is sub-par at best. The hippie mentality needs to go away. If we permit legalization, what drugs would be permitted? Marijuana, heroine, cocaine, LSD? People say that this would reduce the drug cartels power, but how about the lives that could be lost due to people operating motor vehicles? Apparently people forget that when under the influence and operating equipment, people including innocent bystanders are at risk. The death toll would skyrocket. 

themaeven
themaeven

The legalization of marajuana needs to happen.  Too many people, myself included, are in chronic pain, and it allows relief for a while.  If the government would legalize it, tax it, and allow access, I am convinced that we would accomplish  a huge tax benefit, which with out debt at 17 million dollars, we truly need.  Secondly. the Mexican cartels would loose millions in income.  And last, but certainly not least, those of us who hurt all the time will be able to function in a more normal fashion.  The War on Drugs is not working, it's merely adding to out overcrowded courts and prisons.  I can only hope that this eventually will change the current laws of the land.

FelixSinclair
FelixSinclair

As long as alcohol and cigarettes are legal, recreational drugs and prostitution should be also.

DougBond
DougBond

It is important that the U.S. legalize and regulate marijuana for the following reasons:  1. Take the distribution network away from dealers who have truly dangerous drugs available (with samples) for their customers (read: children).  This is the only reason marijuana is a "gateway drug". Those who are addictive in nature will obtain their fix no matter what and need therapy.  2. Stop the hemorrhage of dollars currently wasted in futile interdiction attempts. 3. Tax sales reasonably. 4.  Legalizing marijuana would put the synthetic dealers OUT OF BUSINESS! Synthetic cannabinoids are truly dangerous and people would not attempt to buy them if real marijuana was readily available.  I am not naive and realize there will be a "homegrown" black market.  Nevertheless it should be obvious that we are tremendously wasting our money and resources in this futile endeavor!

edlf
edlf

Legalize 'recreational' drugs?  Of course.  Considering the social direction we are now going, why not?  I am not up on these things, I presume cocaine is one of our 'recreational' drugs.  I am also a firm believer in human rights.  If one desires to ruin one's life one has that right.  If one desires to commit suicide one has that right.  If one does not desire to commit suicide one also has that right.

181113
181113

all drugs s/b legal.

Paulpot
Paulpot

@gemco Actually there was money in these drugs at that time but it was money for small scale cottage industries and rural industries. The money went to farmers and their workers and the rural communities. Prohibition is ultra fascism. It moved a substantial amount of capital from the rural sector to the limited population of the industrial sector. Prohibition is a war on the farmer and the common people.

mrcatman9
mrcatman9

@US1776 

Agree 100%. The current system does not work,so a different approach is needed. As Albert Einstein once said,and I am paraphrasing  : "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over,and expecting a different result"

 Read more >>   Options >>  

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

@mrcatman9 and the government says spying on you protects you but do you believe that?

WandaFraser
WandaFraser

@rgmcclain72 The idea isn't to legalize drugs flat out. It's to legalize drugs and regulate them the same way tobacco and alcohol is regulated. By your logic, alcohol should also be banned. Alcohol reduces mental alertness and can cause serious injury or death if someone drives while intoxicated which is why driving under the influence is illegal. And if you work in an industry where mental faculties are vital and someone chose to come to work drunk, I would imagine that person's substandard work could cause injury or loss of life which is why drinking on the job is probably a big no-no where you work. This isn't hippie mentality. It's logic, plain and simple. Every argument you make against drugs could be made against drinking and we tried prohibition for alcohol and it didn't work. It made things worse by creating a violent, dangerous and thriving black market - which is exactly what drug prohibition has created. That's not even starting in on the damage done to the prison system in this "war on drugs". 

mrcatman9
mrcatman9

@rgmcclain72 And because all these substances are now illegal,nobody drives under the influence? Give me a break!

chaski
chaski

@rgmcclain72 Gosh, tranquilizers and many prescription drugs also have detrimental effects. Perhaps we should criminalize prescription medicine also. And, while we are at it, booze has all kinds of side effects. Let's make that illegal...oh wait, that didn't work so well, did it?

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

@DougBond to answer your statements:

1. Legalizing would only increase the flow to children. Look at alcohol and cigarettes.

2. If we increased our border security rather than limit border patrol powers would stem the efforts.

3. Alcohol and tobacco are taxed significantly yet people are finding ways to skirt around it. What makes you think this would be any different.

So if we legalize marijuana what next? LSD, cocaine, heroine? All have proven effects that reduce mental faculties and damage to the body. Yes alcohol and cigarettes are legal but that does not make them right or healthy either.

themaeven
themaeven

@181113 Now that is an ignorant position to take.  Somehow I don't think we'd like a world where heroin addicts abound.

mrcatman9
mrcatman9

@rgmcclain72 @mrcatman9 You're getting off topic,but no,I think NSA spying is NOT protecting me,and at the same time,further erodes my right to privacy.Do you not think professional terrorists haven't heard of TOR??

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

@WandaFraser I would be fighting a strong uphill battle if I wanted an all out ban. I see it as first marijuana, then what next? It is the challenge of lawmakers where they would decide how to set limits. And yes the very same logic made against drugs can be made against alcohol. However, why do we need to add more vices that are proven to impact the health and lives of people in a negative way. Primary reason prohibition was a failure was that it was already legal and widely used in the first place.

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

@mrcatman9 So you want to increase the number of fatalities? Alcohol alone is responsible for over 10,000 vehicle deaths per year. Marijuana has proven to be a cause for several thousand deaths. 

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

@chaski wow your comment shows some ignorance. Apparently you forget that prescription drugs are issued under the guidance of a doctor. I know all about the booze issue, but at what point do you say enough is enough. First marijuana, then follows the rest. It is a very slippery slope and once you go down that path, you cannot return. 

Powder99
Powder99

@rgmcclain72 @DougBond  "Legalizing would only increase the flow to children. Look at alcohol and cigarettes."

When I was kid in high school pot was much easier to get than alcohol - cigarettes were not even regulated. Dealers never ask for ID, they just want the money. Legalizing pot would not make it more available. I don't think pot could get much more available to those who want it. 

mrcatman9
mrcatman9

@rgmcclain72 @DougBond  Look how effective current interdiction efforts have been,while keeping drug lords living the high life! Do you realize heroin and cocaine used to be sold over the counter in drugstores at the turn of the last century? How does the DEA explain why that didn't lead to the collapse of society?

PhillipHansen
PhillipHansen

@themaeven @181113 Heroin addicts exist weather the stuff if illegal or legal. Regulating it would not make more addicts. It would bring the current addicts out into the open where their addiction can be dealt with.

chaski
chaski

@themaeven @181113 I assume the basis for your contention is that legalization = heroin addiction. However, there is little objective proof of that.


I don't shoot heroin. Why? I find it disgusting. Does my not shooting heroin have anything whatever to do with it being illegal? No.

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

@mrcatman9 A small study? weak example. Driving while stoned having minimal impact? Wow lets raise the DUI level to 0.2 then while we are at it. What about soldiers and sailors? should they be allowed to use while carrying firearms or operating multi-billion dollar machines? health care get more money? Yet again a pipe dream. That money will be funneled away because of the increased health risks medically proven throughout history. Lastly, in saying that studies do not show increased usage is a pipe dream. Alcohol is legalized and I do not see people screaming to knock down the doors of rehab centers. That percentage is very small. Plus, the increased health risks will be a drain on the current and future health care plans.

The common belief that legalizing drugs would not have a negative impact on society is about at truthful as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

mrcatman9
mrcatman9

@rgmcclain72 @mrcatman9 To address your comments point by point:

-If the people that deal with drug law enforcement think prohibition has utterly failed,who are you or I to disagree?

-Who will we regulate it? Rules will be hammered out to deal with the new realities.Would you rather leave control and distribution to gangsters?

- Heroin addicts CAN control their actions.There was a small British study that supplied heroin addicts with the drug,and they continued to work,pay taxes,and live with their families.

-On what basis do you say legalization would compound the drug problem? I again reminder you studies show legalization will not increase usage,and the main difference will be current users will continue to use,but without being thrown in jail.

-Health care will be improved.With billions of dollars suddenly not needed for prohibition enforcement,money will become available for clinics to treat addicts that want to quit. 

-I admit the authorities will need new tools to deal with driving while stoned,but as I have said before,increased use of drugs while driving will be minimal.

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

@mrcatman9 it was used as a parallel to make a point. Just because someone who was in law enforcement thinks it should be legalized doesn't necessarily make it right. The question is how do you ensure that we protect and regulate it? Sure alcohol is legal but there are limitations (which are violated). Addicts cannot control their actions. Legalization of more drugs would compound the problem. There are side effects on society that need to be addressed too. How will it impact health care? How would the government control usage limits to ensure vehicular safety? The list goes on and to just go by a feeling to make everyone happy would do more damage than good

ShortyHofmann
ShortyHofmann

@rgmcclain72 @mrcatman9 THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A DEATH CAUSED BY CANNABIS IN ALL RECORDED   HISTORY. Fact is that in states where there are mmj laws the accident rates have dropped. this is according to insurance statistics . So how has cannabis killed  thousands of people ????

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

@mrcatman9 Sure that is the intent. Just like nobody plans on becoming an alcoholic. 

mrcatman9
mrcatman9

@rgmcclain72 @mrcatman9 Did you not read my last post? The people that currently use drugs and drive will continue to do so after legalization .Responsible people will not suddenly go out and get high,and jump behind the wheel. Where do you get the idea that legalization will increase use? I have NO desire to start using heroin or cocaine if it becomes legal!

terryclifton1
terryclifton1

@rgmcclain72@chaski 

Vicodin, Oxycontin,Opana, hydrocodone, Xanax, and many other doctor prescribed medicines are abused by millions. Just because you are under a doctor's care, doesn't make you immune from abuse.

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

@WandaFraser@nonamer @chaski and the crowd goes silent because facts do not lie. That is one thing that some people cannot avoid. They may choose to ignore it but in the end the facts are still present. Legalizing drugs is like throwing gas on a fire. You will only make a bad situation much worse.

WandaFraser
WandaFraser

@rgmcclain72 @nonamer @chaski What about all the stories in the news on a regular basis about people killed because someone was drunk on the job or because someone was driving drunk? 

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

@nonamer@chaski Well then when you kill someone because your mental faculties were reduced on the job, don't come crying saying you are sorry. Apparently you missed the recent news where a crane operator killed several people because he was under the influence of marijuana. As to say you being a regular user does not mean that society will follow your actions.

nonamer
nonamer

@rgmcclain72 @chaski You have joined the 1980s bandwagon of saying marijuana is a gateway drug. There is no such thing.  As a frequent user of a "slippery slope substance" I have never failed a college class, lost a job, or had a problem having a relationship due to the use of weed or LSD. Both have medical and recreational uses. I dont think @chaski  is showing any ignorance. He made his point and you just put his point down because you dont have an educated response. As far is when enough is enough, people can make that choice for themselves. In portugal all drugs are legal and instead of locking you up making everyone else pay to keep you in a prison the money goes to a rehab visit  to help the people who have gone in too deep and cant get out. The system now in place is broken. Legalize and help the community  by making money off substances, help users who have sunken too low, and give people their freedom back.

chaski
chaski

@rgmcclain72 @chaski Perhaps, but maybe ignorance happens to just be contrariness to your position, since i have noticed how the first reaction of those on a losing side is to start calling names.


Yes, of course prescriptions are prescribed...duh. Doctor's guidance? You have to be kidding. How many drugs were distributed in this nation last year that fell into hands other than those they were intended? How many doctors' "careful" guidance consisted of running a paper mill?

How many drugs were purchased online w/o adequate guidance? Where there is a will there is a way. It's called human nature

rgmcclain72
rgmcclain72

@mrcatman9 history has shown how those who used opiates fell apart through their addiction. It controlled them. Yes, the society did not collapse because at the time it was limited to those who could afford it while the rest of America was working their tail off to become prosperous.

chaski
chaski

@PhillipHansen @themaeven @181113 It would do something else also...w/o having to force users into crime in order to support their addiction there would be many ancillary benefits.


Heroin addicts don't rob because they enjoy this as part of their addiction. They rob to "fix" their habit.