Legalised Regulation of Drugs- a strategy for reducing violent crime and protecting Financial Institutions
I shall start with an anecdote of some old boys from this College.
Yesterday, when Jack was showing me around this historic and lovely campus he pointed to a portrait of an ex student of this college- Samuel Taylor Coleridge- one of England’s famous Romantic poets. He is the one who wrote Ancient Mariner and the unfinished stirring epic Kublai Khan.
I remembered having read a book in my wife’s library about Coleridge’s drug use. I asked her for some details last night. This is what I got. In the book “Samuel Taylor Coleridge- a bondage from opium” the author Molly Lefebure describes the drugs of choice of Coleridge and his scientist friends like Sir Humphrey Davy, Sir Thomas Beddoes, Sir Joseph Banks, who started Kew Gardens, and Sir Thomas Wedgwood. Opium, laudanum, cannabis and even bhang.
Had Colerdige been alive today, most likely that genius would be in jail with his career nipped in the bud.
The reason? The Single UN Convention on Narcotics in 1961. This single document has diverted attck from the traffickers to the drug users. Not one of the 200 or so signing countries has been able to stem the supply in the streets. Above and beyond this they have not even been able to stop drugs being provided in prisons all over the world. This is the background of my short presentation.
Slide # 1: UN’s Single Convention of 1961 was supposed to rid the world of drugs in twenty five years.
The reality is that though drug use and trafficking have increased phenomenally, only the weakest have suffered from harsh laws. Petty crimes have increased, and so have big ones, as the people who should be in jail are not. Law Enforcement has failed to subdue this scourge. A more humane and practical solution is needed as the UN’s Conventions have encouraged only to batter sheep.
Jack Cole of LEAP, USA, the eaarlier speaker today, has dramatically shown what an exorbitantly expensive failure the War on Drugs has been in America. I shall try something similar for India and the region.
Slide # 2: India got its Narcotics Act in 1985. Arrests of drug users jumped to 30 times more than before ‘85.
Slide #3- Every village along Punjab’s border with Pakistan has most of its young between 15 to 30 yrs hooked to drugs, mostly Afghan heroin. Punjab had sports clubs for every 3 or 4 villages. These are being replaced by de addiction centres.
A recent study by the Department Of Sociology of the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar has shocked everyone with the revelation that 73.5% of all of Punjab’s youth are drug users.
Most demand more policing. Not that it is a health problem. The only concession is that 8 jails will soon have drug de addiction facilties and gyms!!
Slide #s 4: In most other parts of India drug use is not so high, but only drug users continue to bear the brunt of a relentless enforcement. These figures, from 2001 to 2011, from 3 of the 9 police divisions of Delhi, show that this is a national practice to treat drug dependants as criminals. Of the 4155 arrested merely 35 were traffickers
Slide # 5: Despite the severe laws drug use continues to rise.
Slide # 6: Illicit cultivation of cannabis and opium is increasing alarmingly. In India illicit opium cultivation was at least around 20,000 hectares three years ago according to Indian satellite surveys. Again only the poor cultivator is hit but not even the commissioning agents.
Slide # 7: Not only has production of illegal opium increased but also of heroin, which is improving in quality every year.
Slide # 8: Seizures of narcotics substances in India have more or less remained static for a decade, despite more funds and personnel. The drug user is their favoured quarry, as he is poor and helpless.
Slide # 9: India’s Narcotics Act 1985 was so dreadful that some penalties for drug users had to be eventually decreased in 2001. Even then, the drug user still faces a 6 months incarceration. India needs at least 50 times the nearly 500 good bad and ugly treatment centres that are there now.
Slide # 10: Zero tolerance policies have hammered Central And South Asia and failed.
In Central Asia there has been a steep increase of registered drug users since 1992- from about the time the Soviet Union broke up. The actual numbers will be at least 10 times that much.
At the southern end of Asia is Maldives- a group of 200 inhabited tropical islands. Here too drug use increased rapidly.
1995- one cannabis user.
2010- 33,000 registered users of all kinds of drugs.
Slide #11 : Afghanistan has suffered a volcanic eruption in not only illegal cultivation and trafficking of cannabis and opium but in the number of drug users, some of whom are women and children. The ruthless attempts to destroy opium cultivation and opium use have failed and so drug users are being jailed.
There are nearly 1 million (age 15- 64) regular problem drug users (2008) in Afghanistan, which had a very high prevalence rate of 2.64% in 2008. Up from 1.4% in 2005.
From 2005 to 2008 regular opium users grew from 150,000 to approximately 230,000 ‐ a jump of 53%.
The numbers are even more alarming for heroin.
2005-> 50,000 heroin users.
2008-> 120,000 users. A giant leap of 140 per cent.
(Source- Second National Drug Survey of Afghanistan, 2009)
Afghanistan too jails drug users. 29% of prisoners are drug faithful. Only a few cultivators, minor couriers and one big trafficker have been jailed! Official connivance ensures that their choice of drugs is supplied in prison too. The rich traffickers own the most palatial buildings in Kabul. Even banks are scared of them.
About $1.2 billion is the farm gate price of opium of which 10% is swiped by insurgents, 20% goes to the poor cultivator, and 70% goes to the drug gangs, who make another $3 billion by smuggling heroin out.
Slide # 12: US led NATO’s response to increasing trafficking, illicit cultivation and drug use is to use more force. In the first half of this year 125,049 kgs of opium, hashish, heroin and morphine were seized. Considering the immense possibilities it is less than average. Billions of dollars continue to be wasted.
However, if drug users were out of their reach the performance of under staffed Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan would improve. Pakistani and Turkish criminal groups continue to get heroin into the EU with astonishing ease.
Slide #13: How did this appalling War begin? War on drug users is an old American practice. Soon after the First International Opium Convention was signed at The Hague on January 23, 1912 attack on drug users started in the US. Only producers and traffickers were mentioned but drug users became the targets.
This cutting from a newspaper of Feb, 1912 says it all.
This idea of showing no mercy to the weakest in the drug chain influenced the Single Convention of 1961 and the subsequent two. Such a move shows a high number of trouble free arrests, and if the rich criminals are free no headache from politicians and courts either.
President Nixon was merely continuing an American practice when he declared War on Drugs 41 years ago.
Slide # 14 : The 1961 Convention did mention drug use sympathetically in Article 30 (2) and sub clause b (i). Yet it ensured that for 51 years fire and brimstone were heaped on mainly the drug users.
Some Articles of the Conventions need changing. The so called experts were not expert enough for this task. Look at the impossibly optimistic Article 49. Yet the UN and its Friends are resisting change of even such false hopes, which are being kept alive beyond their expiry date.
Slide # 15: There is hope, though. Countries like Bolivia, Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland, broke away from slavishly following the Conventions, and humanized practices. They treated drug addiction as a health problem and not as a cardinal sin. They have contained addiction and HIV, and successfully targeted bigger criminals. Predictably, UNODC, and most of the world are scornful and skeptical of such innovations. Yet the future is here.
In this slide a patient is being given methadone at the de addiction facility of TAIPAS, in a Lisbon hospital.
Slide # 16: My last slide urges reform of some Articles of the Conventions. Policing, of which this picture is symbolic, has not worked. Drug users are “*patients needing help, not criminals needing to be locked away”. Enforcement alone is not the answer. A word about Financial Institutions- many are too big to touch and waist deep in the slush of high profits from narcotics criminality. It’s a topsy turvy world we live in.
*Page 23 of Drug Policy in Portugal by Arthur Domostawski and published by Open Society Foundations