War on Drugs “Failed", but Singapore Not Listening

Jun 13, 2011
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It is still saying, “The death penalty works! It does! Killing people is totally the way to win the war on drugs.”

Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.

965 Photo: Listverse

This report was published on BBC News today: Global war on drugs has ‘failed’ say former leaders. The Global Commission on Drug Policy has issued a report saying that the war against drugs has failed, and are urging world leaders to look into the legalisation of some drugs and an end to the criminalisation of drug users. Members of the commission include former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, president of the International Crisis Group (Canada) Louise Arbour, prime minister of Greece George Papandreou and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz (who is the honorary chair). It is chaired by Brazil’s former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Personally, I’m still conflicted with regards to the legalisation of drugs. Of course, it depends very much on what drug we’re talking about; I have a lot less problem with the legalisation of marijuana than, say, the legalisation of cocaine. But I do agree that for certain drugs legalisation and regulation might be a better way at trying to control the problem and keeping people safe instead of indiscriminate punishment and enforcement, and that this is a matter that we should seriously examine and explore before dismissing it out of hand.

What really impresses me most about this report is that it does not shy away from the fact that we have failed, and that it is time to find some other way. The Commissioners are saying, “Look, this isn’t working. We have tried and we have fought and we have lost. This is not going anywhere and we’re not doing the best we can to protect our people. Let us try to find some other way to deal with this problem, so we can do our best to keep people safe – even those who have already fallen to drugs.”

Meanwhile, what the Singapore government is still saying is, “The death penalty works! It does! It works! Stop questioning it! Killing people is totally the way to win the war on drugs. So shut up.”

Contrary to the many accusations that have been levelled against me since I started campaigning against the death penalty for drugs, I am not a drug taker and neither am I pro-drugs, drug trafficking or drug abuse. I just think that the death penalty – the premeditated murder of so many people – is not helping anyone at all. It is not acting as a deterrent, it is not saving lives, it is not preventing more people from abusing drugs… It does nothing but create a whole new class of victims: the poor, the uneducated, the underprivileged, the marginalised and disenfranchised who get tricked/misled into being drug mules.

Although the report does not mention Singapore or the death penalty (they are against the criminalisation and overly harsh law enforcement measures taken, so you can imagine that the death penalty is right out, not even an option) it does mention drug mules (emphasis added mine):

967 Photo: Probert Encyclopaedia

An indiscriminate approach to ‘drug trafficking’ is similarly problematic. Many people taking part in the drug market are themselves the victims of violence and intimidation, or are dependent on drugs. An example of this phenomenon are the drug ‘mules’ who take the most visible and risky roles in the supply and delivery chain. Unlike those in charge of drug trafficking organizations, these individuals do not usually have an extensive and violent criminal history, and some engage in the drug trade primarily to get money for their own drug dependence. We should not treat all those arrested for trafficking as equally culpable – many are coerced into their actions, or are driven to desperate measures through their own addiction or economic situation. It is not appropriate to punish such individuals in the same way as the members of violent organized crime groups who control the market.

Unfortunately, thanks to our Misuse of Drugs Act, the presumption clauses and the mandatory death penalty, this is exactly what is happening in Singapore – we are punishing people indiscriminately, no matter what role they play, as if a drug mule were as equally culpable as a big drug baron (who we hardly ever seem to be able to apprehend, by the way). I hope that we will not shy away from this topic anymore. I hope we will be able to be mature enough to face up to it and admit that killing is not a solution, and that it is high time we sat down and re-evaluated the situation. Instead of squeezing eyes shuts and repeating the same “it works it works” mantra over and over again, it is time for us to start an open debate and discussion and ask, “How else can we deal with this?”

Break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is now.

This article was first published in funny little world in June 2011.