How do we end the war on drugs?

December 8, 2022 393 views 3 comments 2 minutes reading time
How do we end the war on drugs?

Former US president Richard Nixon’s infamous “war on drugs” has been criticized for its punitive approach and negative impact on communities in America and abroad.  Launched in June 1971 to crack down on drug use, it put pressure on law enforcement and the penal system and led to the imprisonment of millions for non-violent offences.

Since then, there have been major policy developments to implement drug-policy reforms in the US and across the world. Last year President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of people who had been convicted on federal charges of marijuana possession as part of the war on drugs.

In Africa, similar reforms have begun. Former South African Constitutional Court justice Edwin Cameron has written about the negative impact of the ‘war’ approach and its reliance on criminalisation. “Language is potent. When we speak about wars, we invoke the image of the Enemy, of the Outsider, who threatens our security and prosperity. When we slip between Criminal and Drug User, we do more than create a criminal offence – we criminalise a significant sector of our society, including many in our circles or families.”

UN human rights experts echoed similar sentiments in a statement issued ahead of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in June this year. It said:

“Data and experience accumulated by UN experts have shown that the “war on drugs” undermines health and social wellbeing and wastes public resources while failing to eradicate the demand for illegal drugs and the illegal drug market…”

“These same policies also propel detrimental practices such as racial profiling and sustain the scheme of systemic and structural discrimination affecting those made vulnerable and marginalised communities, especially people with multiple intersectional identities.”

As this shift unfolds, we take a closer look at the state of drug use and abuse in Africa and alternatives to the “war on drugs” approach.


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