Why legalize drugs seems a taboo

· Conflict, Violence

If we are going to talk about a modern taboo, it is the problem of legalize drugs. From a simple view, it seems like a kind of idea that would destroy our civilizations. Drugs is something that is naturally fight by military and judicial repression and this conception is openly hold by the drug czar of the United Nations, Antonio María Costa, although we have plenty of studies demonstrating that such policy has not produced positive results in the last years.

Repression against drug trafficking does not mean only the persecution of consumers, most of them in USA and Europe, while it is proven that a minor can get drugs easier on the streets than alcohol and cigarettes. It means also billion of dollars fighting powerful drug cartels in countries like Mexico, Colombia, Peru or Thailand. Further than expensive military assistance, the high human costs in the war against drugs is as much as it were any political war in the globe. In the case of Colombia, the fighting against the mafias in the last 30 years have produced only instability and violence, while the drug traffic nets seem untouchable and even strongest, changing their methods and improving their ways to avoid the technological and powerful systems of security.

Costa defends the current strategies against drugs, but several organizations with teams of scholars and experts in different levels are not agree with him if we have today numbers as 208 million drug consumers and 4.9 percent of the world population. What many experts are proposing to the international community is treat the drug problem as a health problem, not remaining in a single legal frame.

However, Costa dismisses the proposal of the drug legalization as a view from “a minority of groups” that “believe that legalization is the best solution.” It is possible that Costa is at the other side of the “minority” of those who believe that the only solution is repression and forbidding, a policy that has proven unsuccessful since it was adopted years ago.

The Duch Model

The drug legalization in the Netherlands is matter of study, since it is the most objective example of what drug legalization would mean if it is adopted in other countries. Contrary to what we could think about the Dutch society, it is not under the chaos of drug consumption and its rates are not higher than what it is in US or other European countries.

The following is a comparison provided by Drug War Facts between USA and the Netherlands between 1999 and 2001:

Social Indicator

Comparison Year


Lifetime prevalence of marijuana use (ages 12+)


Past month prevalence of marijuana use (ages 12+)


Lifetime prevalence of heroin use (ages 12+)


Incarceration Rate per 100,000 population


Per capita spending on criminal justice system (in Euros)


379 Euros

223 Euros

Homicide rate per 100,000 population

Average 1999-2001


Source: Drug War Facts

In the meeting of the Vienna NGO Forum with Costa, the Dutch psychiatrist Frederick Polak asked him: “If prohibition is the only way to contain the drug problem, how do you explain that the prevalence of cannabis use is lower or similar in the Netherlands than in many neighboring countries?

The answer of Costa is analyzed by the Hungarian Drug Reporter NGO:

“Well, Dr. Polak did challenge him. But instead of giving an honest and definite answer, the global drug czar used a false argumentation which is often called the Red Herring. The name of this fallacy comes from the sport of fox hunting in which a dried, smoked herring, which is red in color, is dragged across the trail of the fox to throw the hounds off the scent. In the science of logic, this means a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. Mr. Costa talked about the recent limitations of the number of coffee shops, citing incorrect data and references to divert attention from the very fact that the coffee shop system has been working since 1976 and the prevalence of cannabis use among young people is lower in the Netherlands than in many countries with a restrictive criminal policy. It is true that the Dutch government – under the pressure of other countries and the UN itself, not based on evidence – made some controversial steps to reduce the number of coffee shops (without closing them all), but this proofs nothing. Decisions made by politicians should be based on evidence, but we shouldn’t use political decisions as evidence. Unfortunately, the UN drug control system works in the opposite way: it has its own dogmas based on political decisions that overwrite science and even human rights. When Dr. Polak complained about this, Mr. Costa lost his temper and grudgingly refused to engage in further discussions, giving the floor to another speaker, while Polak was approached by a security guard.

The Colombian Model

And then we have the other extreme of the issue: the production. In a repressive view of the problem, “there is consumption if there is production.” It is not the same if we think like “there is production if there is consumption,” both word alteration of ideas come to be different if we study it carefully.

If the policies of repression of drugs in consume nations has proven ineffective, the policies of repression in production is correlated. The example is, precisely, Colombia where billion of dollars have been poured in campaigns of grows eradication and persecution of the lords of mafia. Such campaigns have been costly for societies like Colombia and now Mexico with the rise of violence and even the worsen of the problem of human rights.

The drug production is one of the most lucrative business of the planet, even if illegal, and it is not only on the hands of rude criminals and their nets of mafia, but it has been the main source of funding for other groups of illegality and crime like paramilitary troops and left guerrillas.

Although so much investment in the fight against organized crime, Colombia still today the first world producer of cocaine as it was during the violent years of the reign of drug lord Pablo Escobar who was killed by a Colombian special force police in 1992. Mafia is not just an individual or a cartel, as in the Hollywood movies, but it is a very complicated net. Even it is not a national situation, but a real global problem without borders.

For example, according with reports of the same US government, the hectares of coca plants grew 19 percent in 2006 (see the report during the 1990’s). It is the most interesting: the money to support the eradication of the coca plants in Colombia (and other producer nations), comes from the same US citizens, while mafias are receiving their own contribution by consumers. Would it not be more logic to get the “funds” of those consumers in rich countries through legalization and pour it in weaken the influence and power of mafias in poor countries?

Anyway, the first problem is to fight the taboo and get down into a more careful study of this global problem.

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