Illegal drugs including cocaine, ecstasy and opiates can potentially be less harmful than tobacco or alcohol yet are seen as dangerous narcotics due to cultural biases and politics rather than actual science, according to a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
Calling for a comprehensive review of the international system that classifies drugs, the commission—comprised of 14 former heads of states from countries including Mexico, Colombia, Portugal and New Zealand—blasted the “incoherence and inconsistencies” of laws that cherry-pick the harmful effects of certain substances using “unreliable and scientifically dubious” methods.
The group also described how the scheduling system has propped up a global drug control regime that imposes major costs on society in the form of “collateral damage,” with some substances facing strict controls and others allowed for medical purposes. This has entailed patients in low-to-middle income countries facing surgery without anesthetics, a lack of crucial medicines, and excruciating and painful deaths that were wholly unnecessary and a result of a ban on opioid pain treatment.
In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 83 percent of the global population resides in countries where access to opioid pain relief is either inadequate or nonexistent.
Michel Kazatchkine, a French physician and former head of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said that 75 to 80 percent of the global population lacks access to medicines and “all of the reasons are linked to repression and prohibition-based control systems,” according to the Guardian.
Other consequences include the spread of infectious diseases, higher mortality rates and prisons around the globe that are filled to the brim with drug users.
The group wrote:
“Such drug control policies have resulted in social and economic problems not only for people who use drugs but also for the general population, including health epidemics, prison overcrowding and arbitrary enforcement of drug laws.”
Continuing to criticize the arbitrary and biased application of drug laws, the group wrote:
“This de facto prohibition is arbitrary. the current distinction between legal and illegal substances is not unequivocally based on pharmacological research but in large part on historical and cultural precedents.
It is also distorted by and feeds into morally charged perceptions about a presumed ‘good and evil’ distinction between legal and illegal drugs.”
Ruth Dreifuss, former president of Switzerland and commission chair, blasted the classification while calling for a “critical review” that centers the WHO, modern scientific research and a criteria that sufficiently takes into account the harm and benefit of substances. Dreifuss said: