time to call a halt on the war on drugs

For many politicians there are many policies to which they refer as “Wars on X”. In recent years, most notably we have the “War on Terror”, and the “War on Drugs”. When the former was used by President George W. Bush,

to denote a global military, political, legal and ideological struggle against organizations designated as terrorist and regimes that were accused of having a connection to them or providing them with support or were perceived, or presented as posing a threat to the US and its allies in general. It was typically used with a particular focus on militant Islamists and al-Qaeda” militant Islamists and al-Qaeda.

(from War on Terror (my emphases in bold))

this prompted me to wonder when the US Navy was going to sail up Belfast Lough to attack that well-known stronghold of the Provisional IRA which is the city of Belfast. Afterall, it is a terrorist organisation – or at least it was if it can be said not to be one now.

However, it is the “War on Drugs” which is really on what I want to concentrate today. Once again, it is an American President to whom we are indebted for the first use of the phrase, “War on Drugs”. In this case, it was President Richard Nixon in 1971, and he identified drug abuse as “public enemy number one”.

That may have been helpful back in 1971 (although I am not convinced), the “War on Drugs” is certainly not a helpful campaign in these years of the 21st-century. And even if it were a positive campaign, it has failed. In 2007, there was a unanimous resolution at the United States Conference of Mayors that stated that the war on drugs has failed.

For too many years, the law enforcement policy has been pursued to the expense of other policies that would actually improve the lives of many in our world.

I am not arguing that drug use should be encouraged, merely that it ought not to be criminalised: to my mind there are many good reasons for this.

  1. to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS
  2. to help prevent the crime that is used to pay for a drug habit
  3. to remove the ‘black market’ in drugs thereby ensuring that the best quality drugs are available to those who can pay for them
  4. to ensure that governments can tax legal drugs in the same way that they tax other products including tobacco and alcohol

Campaigning on the issue in number 1 above is particularly high at present following the XVIII International Aids Conference which was held in Vienna in July. The official declaration of that conference is called The Vienna Declaration and the text of it can be found here.

The continued War on Drugs means

  • that far too many people throughout the world are unable to access sterile needles;
  • there are too many people having HIV transmitted to them whilst they are in prisons for drug offences;
  • that public health systems are undermined when law enforcement drives drug users away from prevention scheme

amongst many others.

It is time that the world stops the “War on Drugs” now. That is why I feel that it is important for as many people and organisations throughout the world to show their support for The Vienna Declaration by signing it online.

Signatories of note:
Why I support the Vienna Declaration…

I support the Vienna Declaration because drug prohibition has failed, and in its failure it has caused major social and health-related harms.

In Latin America, despite billions spent on targeting drug cartels and farmers that grow illicit coca crops, the only outcome has been to shift areas of cultivation and drug cartels from one country to another, with no reduction in the magnitude of the drug trade. In the meantime, the violence and corruption caused by these policies continue to harm the region and its most vulnerable people.

Instead of supporting failed policies with serious consequences, we must direct our efforts towards meaningfully reducing the levels of drug consumption and the many harms caused by drugs to people and society. Fortunately, treating drug use as a health, rather than a law enforcement issue, can help address these problems.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso
President of Brazil, 1995 – 2003


Over the last 34 years I have dedicated myself “to protect and serve” the people of my community. But after more than three decades in law enforcement, I can say with certainty that the war on drugs is achieving precisely the opposite effect.

I support the Vienna Declaration because the global War on Drugs has produced staggering rates of death, disease, crime, and corruption.

When you think about the war on drugs and its effects I urge you to think about the real casualties:

  • the tens of thousands of otherwise innocent people who find themselves incarcerated for possessing or using small amounts of illicit drugs;
  • the drug traffickers and innocent bystanders alike, brazenly shot dead on city streets around the world, be it in Seattle or Ciudad Juarez;
  • the members of law enforcement – police, judges, politicians, etc. – assassinated for doing their jobs and courageously responding to the call of duty;
  • the people who used drugs, and who became HIV-positive because, due to stigma and criminalization, were unable to get the health services that could have prevented infection; and
  • the taxpayers, who ultimately must pay the bill for federal, state, and local cops, courts, prosecutors, prisons, probation, parole, and pee-in-the-bottle programs.

Norm Stamper, PhD
Seattle Chief of Poice (Ret.)

What you can do…

I hope that many individuals, organisations, political parties, and even Her Majesty’s Government will take the time to read and think about this issue more thoroughly and then the few seconds it takes to sign the declaration here.

I know that The HIV Support Centre, Northern Ireland’s leading HIV charity, has signed the declaration. Will you support it too?

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