March 10, 2009 / 1:16 PM / 10 years ago

U.N. war on drugs seen failing to curb abuse

VIENNA (Reuters) - A United Nations campaign to cut supply and demand for illegal drugs has shown no progress globally in the decade since it was launched, a European Commission report said on Tuesday.

Some of the packages of a consignment of about 4 tons of marijuana are seen before they were incinerated at a naval base in Topolobambo in the north western Mexican state of Sinaloa, January 25, 2007. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar

The report came on the eve of a ministerial-level meeting by the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna to review the decade since a U.N. General Assembly session (UNGASS) set the targets and launched the war on drugs.

Papering over internal dissent over how to make anti-drug policy more effective, U.N. members are expected to sign a declaration committing themselves to the program to fight the drug trade for another 10 years.

The European Commission report said enforcing drug bans had backfired by displacing drug traffickers to relatively lawless regions. The ban had led to addicts sharing needles — spreading disease — as syringe-exchange centers have been unavailable.

Cocaine and heroin consumption had declined in the West but had risen to become “a serious epidemic” in parts of eastern Europe and central Asia, producing a net increase globally since 1998, said the report.

“(We have) found no evidence that the global drug problem was reduced during the UNGASS period from 1998 to 2007.”

“Broadly speaking the situation has improved a little in some of the richer countries while for others it worsened, and for some it worsened sharply and substantially, among them a few large developing or transitional countries.”

“MARKING TIME”

“In other words, the world drug situation seems to be more or less in the same state as in 1998,” the report by the 27-nation European Union’s executive body said.

“Production and trafficking controls only redistributed activities. Enforcement against local markets failed in most countries.”

Asked whether the UNGASS campaign had failed, Carel Edwards, head of the Commission’s anti-drug unit, told a news conference: “This very clearly comes up with our conclusion that there is no indication that it has made any difference.

“We basically seem to be marking time on the spot,” he said.

While a “world without drugs” was never part of the 1998 UNGASS declaration of intent, Edwards said, “nevertheless, at the time, there was an overwhelming publicity campaign that in 10 years we were going to lick this problem. (That) was naive.”

Critics say a U.N. no-tolerance policy will only abet organized crime, help spread HIV and undermine governments.

They argue for more stress on “harm-reduction” policies, like needle exchanges, and even legalization to remove the mafia element responsible for bloody turf wars and failing states.

“The political reality is that the world is not prepared to go in that (legalizing) direction. It’s not on the political radar, not at the UN or the EU,” said Edwards.

The report said prices for illegal drugs had dropped by 10 to 30 percent.

“Cannabis use has become a part of adolescent development in many Western countries. In Australia, Switzerland and the United States, about half of everyone born since 1980 will have tried the drug by age 21,” it said.

The report was based on research in 18 states — Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.

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