(Huffington Post) In an about face, the United Nations on Wednesday lavishly praised drug decriminalization in its annual report on the state of global drug policy. In previous years, the UN drug czar had expressed skepticism about Portugal’s decriminalization, which removed criminal penalties in 2001 for personal drug possession and emphasized treatment over incarceration. The UN had suggested the policy was in violation of international drug treaties and would encourage “drug tourism.”
But in its 2009 World Drug Report, the UN had little but kind words for Portugal’s radical (by U.S. standards) approach. “These conditions keep drugs out of the hands of those who would avoid them under a system of full prohibition, while encouraging treatment, rather than incarceration, for users. Among those who would not welcome a summons from a police officer are tourists, and, as a result, Portugal’s policy has reportedly not led to an increase in drug tourism,” reads the report. “It also appears that a number of drug-related problems have decreased.”
“The International Narcotics Control Board was initially apprehensive when Portugal changed its law in 2001 (see their annual report for that year), but after a mission to Portugal in 2004, it “noted that the acquisition, possession and abuse of drugs had remained prohibited,” and said “the practice of exempting small quantities of drugs from criminal prosecution is consistent with the international drug control treaties,” reads a footnote to the report.
Also for the first time, the report addresses legalization, but argues against it by writing, “Why unleash a drug epidemic in the developing world for the sake of libertarian arguments made by a pro-drug lobby that has the luxury of access to drug treatment?” Unfortunately, that perception exists because it is a report on drugs, not cannabis alone. It would be laughable to exclaim that legalizing marijuana alone is unleashing a drug epidemic in the developing world. Considering how 47% of all drug arrests in America are for cannabis and a large proportion of funds expended worldwide on drug prohibition are spent on cannabis eradication and prohibition, legalizing marijuana would give drug control offices worldwide more resources to deal with the addictive drugs that are unleashing a drug epidemic in the developing world.
One thing we desperately need to do as reformers is to decouple “drugs” from “cannabis”. We also need to emphasize that “legalization” is a very broad term. We need to point out that both morphine and aspirin are “drugs” and both “legal”, but we regulate them very differently. Beer and Bacardi 151 are both “legal drugs”, but you can get one in any supermarket and the other one only at the adults-only liquor store. Alcohol is federally “legal”, but in California you can get spirits in the supermarket, in Utah you’ve got a ton of hoops to jump through, and in some counties in America, you can’t get it at all.
So when we are calling for “marijuana legalization”, it doesn’t mean that we want heroin and crack sold in convenience stores, it doesn’t even call for marijuana to be sold in convenience stores, it doesn’t even mean your local government has to allow marijuana, period. We just figure if we can come up with a regulatory system that allows adults to purchase and responsibly enjoy Bacardi 151 rum, we should be able to regulate something far less dangerous.