By Rafael Custódio
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” One of the most famous quotes attributed to Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) perfectly fits the increasingly forceful and persuasive debate that is questioning prohibitionist drug policies all around the world. Among the list of issues informing the debate, one deserves special attention: why should human rights organisations participate in this debate and in what way?
In 1971, then United States President Richard Nixon announced that “America’s public enemy number one is drug abuse.”This moment marked the beginning of the so-called “war on drugs”. Today, however, a young resident of Denver, Colorado can go to the corner and legally purchase up to 28 grams of marijuana per month for recreational use. If the same youth were in San Francisco, California, he would have been able to use medical marihuana to fight chronic pain since 1996.
Why are so many things changing at a relatively fast pace not only in the US, but also in countries as diverse as Portugal, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain and Uruguay? These countries have approved drug policies that move – some more than others – in the opposite direction of prohibitionism.
While it is difficult to identify just one response to an issue informing so many different realities, one thing is clear: if we want a world based on the respect for human rights, anti-prohibitionism should be on everyone’s agenda.
Violations of the rights of communities affected by violence, mass incarceration, capricious criminal justice systems, abusive police practices on the street, the militarisation of security policies and the lack of adequate health policies are just some examples of rights violations that characterise the repressive logic underpinning the war on drugs.
In addition to the violations they perpetuate, prohibitionist policies are one of the main incentives for the formation of armed criminal organisations, since violence is the principle mode of regulating illegal markets. As a result, drug trafficking is necessarily accompanied by arms trafficking, territorial disputes, and the corruption and undermining of democratic institutions, namely the police, the justice system and government institutions. Countries such as Colombia,Mexico,Braziland those that make up Central Americaare (just some) notorious examples of the negative effects of prohibitionist policy.
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