ELEVEN years ago, the UN pledged to win the war on drugs within a decade. It has failed.
At this year's meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, held in Vienna in March, there was a two-day session to evaluate the progress since 1998. In his opening remarks, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, claimed "measurable progress". The drug problem has been "contained", he said, and drug use has "stabilised".
Costa's position flies in the face of the evidence, and by the end of the meeting he was on the defensive. But he said the goal remains the same, and he reiterated the UN's position: that the choice for the world's nations is either to apply strict prohibition or concede to total legalisation.
Soon after the meeting, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, acknowledged the failure to stamp out poppy farming in Afghanistan. Of the US expenditure of over $800 million a year on counter-narcotics, Holbrooke said: "We have gotten nothing out of it, nothing."
Those in charge of the world's drug control system seem more committed to maintaining the existing policy than to addressing its failures. International discussions on the subject have become absurd, and nowhere is this more apparent than with cannabis. Although cannabis amounts to perhaps 80 per cent of total global illicit drug use, there was scarcely any mention of it in Vienna.
Read on about the failed drug war