Sooner weed le­galised, reg­u­lated, taxed, bet­ter for SA – Nadel­mann

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SHEREE BEGA

HE HAS been de­scribed as the “real drug tsar” and the “point man” for drug pol­icy re­form by Rolling Stone mag­a­zine.

That’s be­cause Ethan Nadel­mann, the en­er­getic, Har­vard- ed­u­cated son of a rabbi, says the “back­ward and heart­less” war on drugs has been a dis­as­trous fail­ure. Nadel­mann would know. As an ad­viser to the Global Com­mis­sion on Drug Pol­icy, and the founder of the Drug Pol­icy Al­liance, a New York­based NPO, he has ded­i­cated his life to rewrit­ing drug pol­icy around the globe.

He’s also been touted as the driv­ing force for the le­gal­i­sa­tion of mar­i­juana in the US.

This week, Nadel­mann was the key­note speaker at the SA Drug Pol­icy Week con­fer­ence in Cape Town, where the world’s ex­perts, re­searchers, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists de­bated drug poli­cies, per­cep­tions, use and im­pact on so­ci­ety.

“In­ter­na­tion­ally, the drug pol­icy land­scape has changed dra­mat­i­cally, with the ‘ war on drugs’ in­creas­ingly be­ing recog­nised as not only a fail­ure, but one that has had sig­nif­i­cant and mul­ti­ple con­se­quences that can only be de­scribed as negative,” says the pre­lude to the con­fer­ence.

Nadel­mann con­curs. If South Africa con­tin­ues to in­vest most of its drug con­trol re­sources in ex­pen­sive, puni­tive, crim­i­nal jus­tice poli­cies, its drug prob­lems will only grow worse.

“If South Africans choose in­stead to look hard at the ev­i­dence from around the world, they will find that those coun­tries that de­fine and treat drug prob­lems pri­mar­ily as mat­ters of health rather than crime and polic­ing have proven most suc­cess­ful in re­duc­ing their drug prob­lems,” he tells In­de­pen­dent Me­dia.

Sim­i­lar­i­ties with South Africa can be found ev­ery­where. “Politi­cians who speak boldly but with re­mark­able ig­no­rance as to what works best in re­duc­ing drug prob­lems; cit­i­zens who are fear­ful and also poorly in­formed are em­brac­ing drug poli­cies be­cause they sound tough, not be­cause they work.

“Law en­force­ment agen­cies, some cor­rupt, some not, com­mit­ted to en­forc­ing drug laws with­out con­sid­er­ing whether they may ac­tu­ally be do­ing more harm than good; and good souls work­ing hard, of­ten at the lo­cal level, and in the face of re­lent­less op­po­si­tion, to ad­vance ef­fec­tive and hu­mane drug poli­cies that ac­tu­ally help both peo­ple strug­gling with drugs and the com­mu­ni­ties in which they live.”

New drug poli­cies should be based on science, com­pas­sion, health and hu­man rights. “Suc­cess­ful drug pol­icy re­form de­pends on re­duc­ing the role of crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion and the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in drug con­trol as far as pos­si­ble while ad­vanc­ing pub­lic safety and health.”

The mar­kets in cannabis, co­caine, heroin and metham­phetamine are global com­modi­ties mar­kets “just like the global mar­kets in al­co­hol, tobacco, cof­fee, tea and su­gar.

“Where there is a de­mand, there will be a sup­ply. Knock out one source and another in­evitably emerges. Peo­ple tend to think of pro­hi­bi­tion as the ul­ti­mate form of reg­u­la­tion when, in fact, it rep­re­sents the ab­di­ca­tion of reg­u­la­tion, with crim­i­nals fill­ing the void.

“That’s why putting crim­i­nal laws and po­lice front and cen­tre to con­trol a dy­namic global com­modi­ties mar­ket is a recipe for dis­as­ter.”

For Nadel­mann, the bet­ter al­ter­na­tive is to bring the un­der­ground drugs mar­ket above ground as much as pos­si­ble and “reg­u­late them as in­tel­li­gently as we can to min­imise both the harms of drugs and the harms of pro­hi­bi­tion­ist poli­cies”.

He draws par­al­lels with the fight against apartheid as a strug­gle for hu­man rights and for both in­di­vid­ual and racial jus­tice.

“In my coun­try, peo­ple who are black and brown and poor are no more likely to use or sell drugs than peo­ple who are white and af­flu­ent. But po­lice fo­cus over­whelm­ingly on the for­mer and barely at all on the lat­ter.

“In coun­tries like South Africa, dis­crim­i­na­tions like these may have more to do with class than race – but the fact re­mains that drug laws are never en­forced equally.”

The faster that dagga is le­galised, reg­u­lated and taxed in South Africa, the bet­ter, he says. “Uruguay has now le­galised cannabis. Canada will do so next year. In my own coun­try, over half our 50 states le­gally reg­u­late cannabis for med­i­cal pur­poses and eight states, in­clud­ing our largest, Cal­i­for­nia, have de­cided to le­gally tax and reg­u­late all adult use of cannabis.”

There, ar­rests and crime are drop­ping. “Tax rev­enues are grow­ing. Cannabis use is in­creas­ing some­what among older peo­ple but not among young peo­ple. And drug traf­fick­ers in Mex­ico and else­where are mourn­ing the loss of their mar­kets and prof­its.”

By con­trast, he shows how the ex­plo­sion of il­le­gal heroin use in the US re­flects the fail­ure of cur­rent pro­hi­bi­tion­ist poli­cies.

“The gov­ern­ment spends too much money on in­ter­dic­tion, polic­ing, pris­ons and other sup­ply con­trol strate­gies that are doomed to fail­ure and far too lit­tle on the sorts of ‘ harm re­duc­tion’ strate­gies that can re­duce the de­mand for il­le­gal heroin.”

Therein lies a strik­ing con­trast with the Nether­lands. “That coun­try fo­cuses on treat­ing heroin use and ad­dic­tion as a health is­sue. Ster­ile sy­ringes are read­ily avail­able to stop the spread of HIV and other in­fec­tious dis­eases.

“Methadone is eas­ily avail­able to peo­ple who want to re­duce or stop their heroin use. Those for whom methadone doesn’t work can ob­tain phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal heroin in clin­ics.” What’s the re­sult? “While il­le­gal heroin use ex­plodes in the US, the av­er­age age of Dutch heroin ad­dicts is now ap­proach­ing 40 and vir­tu­ally no young peo­ple – black or

PIC­TURE: MATTHEW BALOYI

Ju­lian Sto­bbs and Myr­tle Clarke, known as ‘the Dagga Cou­ple’, at their fund-rais­ing ini­tia­tive for a le­gal chal­lenge against pro­hi­bi­tion laws in South Africa. The event was held in Joburg last year.

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