HEALTH

World Leaders Of All Stripes Call For Drug Legalization In New Report Ahead Of UN General Assembly

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 7:  Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006, on September 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. A group of activists have submitted about 50,000 signatures in an effort to force a referendum on a marijuana dispensary ban in Los Angeles to take effect next week. A minimum of 27,425 valid signatures from registered voters is needed to let voters decide on the issue in March, and until the number can be verified, the ban will not be enforced. . The ban would not prevent patients or cooperatives of two or three people to grow their own in small amounts. Californians voted to legalize medical cannabis use in 1996, clashing with federal drug laws.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 7: Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006, on September 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. A group of activists have submitted about 50,000 signatures in an effort to force a referendum on a marijuana dispensary ban in Los Angeles to take effect next week. A minimum of 27,425 valid signatures from registered voters is needed to let voters decide on the issue in March, and until the number can be verified, the ban will not be enforced. . The ban would not prevent patients or cooperatives of two or three people to grow their own in small amounts. Californians voted to legalize medical cannabis use in 1996, clashing with federal drug laws. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)  (2012 Getty Images)

In a report released on Tuesday, a commission of former world leaders call on governments from around the globe to end the criminalization of drug use and possession, making it the most distinguished group of high-level leaders to call for such drastic changes in global drug policy in recent years.

Latin American presidents brought up a similar exhortation in a 2012 summit.

Now, bringing together a diverse group of voices – including former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President César Gaviria and business magnate Richard Branson – the report argues that drug use needs to be treated as a public health issue and not a criminal one.

“Harsh measures grounded in repressive ideologies must be replaced by more humane and effective policies shaped by scientific evidence, public health principles and human rights standards,” states the report, titled “Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies.”

The report was released a few days ahead of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, which will open on September 16.

Arguably more than any other region in the world, Latin America has been adversely affected by the drug trade and also from drug policies of other countries. In the last three decades, both Colombia and Mexico have emerged as some of the world’s largest drug producing and transporting nations — supplying everything from marijuana and cocaine to heroin and methamphetamine to the United States’ market.

Since 2006, when former Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared war on the country’s drug cartels, an estimated 120,000 people have died in the ensuing violence and Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations have spread into neighboring Central American nations. The report argues that if drugs were legalized, the power of Mexico’s cartels would be greatly reduced as the once illicit substances are moved off the black market.

“Without the profits obtained on the drug market, drug groups will not have the ability to operate on the level they do now,” former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo said at a press conference in New York on Tuesday.

The report argues that crackdowns on drug trafficking organizations like those in Mexico may only exacerbate criminal violence and public insecurity without actually disrupting the drug trade, production or consumption. Instead of focusing on destroying the drug market, the report says, governments should focus their efforts on dismantling the most violent and disruptive groups.

The commission who compiled the report argue that drugs should be regulated in a way that alcohol, tobacco and prescription medications are across the globe. They claim that the risks associated with drug use increase dramatically when they are sold in a criminal environment.

“We can’t go on pretending the war on drugs is working,” Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group said. “The most effective way to advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation.”

Instead of focusing on the criminal aspects of the drug trade, the best way to combat drug use and the drug trade is to take a public health–based approach, the authors of the report stated.

“Ultimately, the global drug control regime must be reformed to permit legal regulation,” said former president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso. “Let’s start by treating drug addiction as a health issue – rather than as a crime – and by reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives. But let’s also allow and encourage countries to carefully test models of responsible legal regulation as a means to undermine the power of organized crime, which thrives on illicit drug trafficking.”

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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