“The war on drugs has failed,” the editors of the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal declared this week, arguing that doctors should lead the global effort to reform drug policy. Fiona Godlee, the journal’s editor-in-chief, and Richard Hurley, its features and debates editor, penned an analysis citing academic and scientific reports to argue global policies on drug use — including the United Nations’ — have fallen drastically short. Godlee and Hurley note the annual cost of prohibition, which entails criminalizing “producers, traffickers, dealers, and users,” totals at least $100 billion annually.
“But the effectiveness of prohibition laws, colloquially known as the ‘war on drugs,’ must be judged on outcomes,” they write. “And too often the war on drugs plays out as a war on the millions of people who use drugs, and disproportionately on people who are poor or from ethnic minorities and on women.” The authors cite a variety of reasons why the global war on drugs has been a failure. Citing an academic study on international drug policy from the Lancet medical journal, the authors argue that “prohibition and stigma encourage less safe drug consumption and push people away from health services.”
These policies have other negative consequences. Godlee and Hurley highlight the current situation between Russia and Crimea, “where patients in Crimea died after the Russian invasion because they were forced to stop taking methadone, which is viewed as opioid misuse and illegal in Russia.” Further, though opioid addiction is a growing epidemic, “drug control policies effectively deny two-thirds of the world’s population—more than five billion people—legitimate access to opioids for pain control.” Another problem [pdf] with prohibition policies, they argue, is that “they impede research into medical use of cannabis and other prohibited drugs despite evidence of potential benefit.” This is the case in the United States, where the federal government’s designation of cannabis as a Schedule I drug has hampered the ability of scientists to research the medical effects of the plant. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently ruled to maintain this classification. This decision was largely deemed hypocritical, especially considering the United States government holds a patent on cannabis for its antioxidant properties. The federal government’s National Cancer Institute also admits cannabis can help treat the symptoms of cancer and that “[c]annabis has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory.” In spite of the promise of the plant, it remains prohibited under…