Five former presidents demand an end to the war on drugs

3/24/16 The Economist

drug_war_02AS THE drug war has rumbled on, with little to show for all the money and violence, its critics have become a more diverse bunch than the hippies and libertarians who first backed drug reform. The latest broadside against prohibition was fired on March 24th by a group of former heads of state and businesspeople, who put forward a sober case for rethinking the international approach to drug control.

“Ending the War on Drugs” is a collection of essays by former presidents of Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria and Switzerland, as well as a former deputy prime minister of Britain and assorted scientific folk. George Soros, a financier who has bankrolled many pro-legalisation pressure groups, provides a chapter; the book carries an introduction by Richard Branson, a business mogul whose company, Virgin, is its publisher. All condemn what they see as a political, economic and public-health failure.

The arguments are well-rehearsed but bear repeating, especially when made by such a diverse and level-headed group. In spite of its vast cost to taxpayers (estimated by the authors at $100 billion per year) the war against drugs has failed to stop people taking them, instead driving up the price of narcotics to the point where they generate upwards of $300 billion a year for their dealers and traffickers. More than 1.4m drug arrests are made each year in America alone, and they are unevenly distributed, with black Americans jailed for drug offences at ten times the rate of whites, the authors write.

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