Saturday, 18 August 2018

Let's pay tribute to Kofi Annan by supporting his campaign for rational drugs policy

Following the announcement that the former UN Security General Kofi Annan has died, a whole host of war-mongering monsters (Tony Blair, Theresa May, Alistair Campbell, David Miliband) took to Twitter to pay glib tributes to the man who did his best to avert the vast human tragedy that they created in Iraq.

Annan remained unequivocal about the catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq, calling it a "disaster" and condemning it as "illegal" under international law, so it's hard not to see these war-monger 'tributes' as gloating that the man who tried so hard to tame their blood lust.

Whether we approve of gung-ho war-mongers with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis on our hands like Tony Blair and Theresa May or not, there's something more we could do than posting glib platitudes on Twitter and then just soon forgetting all about Kofi Annan.

One of the most important things we could do is support one of the ideas that he spent his later years promoting; the concept of a rational approach to drugs policy.

Here's what he said on the issue.
We must take four critical steps.

First, we must decriminalise personal drug use. The use of drugs is harmful and reducing those harms is a task for the public health system, not the courts. This must be coupled with the strengthening of treatment services, especially in middle and low-income countries.

Second, we need to accept that a drug-free world is an illusion. We must focus instead on ensuring that drugs cause the least possible harm. Harm reduction measures, such as needle exchange programs, can make a real difference. Germany adopted such measures early on and the level of HIV infections among injecting drug users is close to 5 per cent, compared to more than 40 per cent in some countries that resist this pragmatic approach.

Third, we have to look at regulation and public education rather than the total suppression of drugs, which we know will not work. The steps taken successfully to reduce tobacco consumption (a very powerful and damaging addiction) show what can be achieved.

The legal sale of cannabis is a reality that started with California legalising the sale of cannabis for medical use in 1996. Since then, 22 US states and some European countries have followed suit. Canada looks likely to become the first G7 country to regulate the sale of cannabis next year.

Initial trends show us that where cannabis has been legalised, there has been no explosion in drug use or drug-related crime. The size of the black market has been reduced and thousands of young people have been spared criminal records. But a regulated market is not a free market. We need to carefully think through what needs regulating, and what does not. Although most cannabis use is occasional, moderate and not associated with significant problems, it is nonetheless precisely because of its potential risks that it needs to be regulated.

And therefore, the fourth and final step is to recognise that drugs must be regulated precisely because they are risky. It is time to acknowledge that drugs are infinitely more dangerous if they are left solely in the hands of criminals, who have no concerns about health and safety. Legal regulation protects health. The most risky drugs should never be available "over the counter" but only via medical prescription for people registered as dependent users, as is already happening in Switzerland.
It really is difficult to see anything in what Annan said that any rational person could take issue with. Yet somehow, under Theresa May's inept leadership (first at the Home Office, and then as Prime Minister) the United Kingdom has continued swimming against the changing tide on drugs policy, pushing the failed war on drugs harder than ever before, while others all around have been accepting that this ideological approach doesn't work and pursuing more rational strategies to deal with the issue.

Sadly Kofi Annan's efforts to avert the catastrophe in Iraq were ignored by the war-mongers, and we're still suffering the consequences today as brutal Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaida thrive in the power vacuum that was created.

The least we could do is listen to what he said in later life, and concentrate on fighting for a rational approach to drugs policy that focuses on regulation, harm reduction and rehabilitation rather than the failing approach of propaganda, punishment, and leaving control of the drug market entirely to unscrupulous criminals.

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