from Substance Website
legalization and prevention made some strides -
even as violence, poverty and other social ills
afflicted countries from Mexico to Greece
to Ukraine to China.
2014 was an eventful year for the international drug war.
Given that it consists mainly of violence, corruption, impoverishment, incarceration, addiction and other social harms, that is hardly good news, although a cynic might say that it makes for good drama.
The following 10 events were among the most dramatic. Not only did they make headlines but they reflect larger themes - the extent to which drug war issues intersect with economic policy, military funding, public health, natural resources and the like. Taken together, they also reveal why the policy of prohibition, which has given rise to a trillion-dollar industry run by terrorist cartels, fuels the very war it is allegedly intended to end.
Yet those looking for good news can find it in the growing consensus among global organizations and people in high places, especially in Latin America, that the entire 40-year-old enterprise is a boondoggle of historic proportions.
Most Americans agree: 82% of US adults, according to one poll, believe Washington is losing the drug war.
1. Top Political Leaders Call for Drug War's End
In May, the London School of Economics (LSE) published a report, "Ending the Drug Wars," signed by notables including five Nobel prize-winning economists, Britain's deputy prime minister and a former US Secretary of State.
A new global drug strategy ,
Four months later, the Global Commission on Drug Policy upped the ante.
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) and Ruth Dreifuss (Switzerland), and others called for,
On the one hand, these critiques draw crucial attention to the consequences of current drug policies.
On the other hand, suggesting that the drug war is a failure misses the point.
It's true the current model "has produced enormous negative outcomes" - but not for everyone. The US prison system is thriving, for example. And the "drug war" is often invoked to rationalize repressive measures stemming from conflicts over, say, land or resources.
That happened in Mexico in the 1990s, when Zedillo, now a Global Commission on Drug Policy member, was running the country.
If the aim is to identify the roots of prison booms and political violence worldwide, we need to ask:
2. Conflict in Ukraine Has Grim Consequences for Drug Users
Ukraine has been a regional leader in needle exchange and substitution therapy, while Russia's,
Russia's policy is criminal. But US public health legacy in Ukraine is hardly laudable.
Two decades ago, Washington,
This transfer exacerbated,
One outcome was,
The extent, then, to which Washington's policies shaped the present conflict can certainly be debated - but not ignored, if we aim to get to the root of the problem.
3. "El Chapo" Is Captured in Mexico
A swarm of Mexican soldiers and cops closed in on a beachfront apartment in Mazatlán on February 22.
The event made great copy. The Washington Post quoted Attorney General Eric Holder, who,
But it was likely less of a triumph than it seemed.
First, it's unclear what impact Guzmán's arrest has had.
Second, many have questioned the circumstances of El Chapo's capture. Hector Berrellez, a retired DEA agent, believes the arrest was "arranged," while ex-DEA director Phil Jordan commented that for Chapo,
And journalist Anabel Hernández told me that it's,
Was Chapo's capture a hollow victory or a hoax? We may learn the truth someday.
4. The WHO Strategizes to Fight China's Tobacco Epidemic
The WHO, in an April 8 briefing, encouraged,
The country's tobacco habit is severe, killing around 1 million annually. Nearly 30% of adults there - 53% of men - smoke.
Why did the epidemic emerge? A long-term change in US smoking patterns - thanks partly to federal and state regulations - helped prompt this Asian pivot, according to law professor Charles Whitebread.
Cigarette companies, confronted with a restricted US market, began,
But graphic warnings go only so far.
China may adopt these proposals.
Its government is considering a hike in cigarette taxes, for example, while Beijing intends,
5. Is Indigenous Extinction the Legacy of "Plan Colombia"?
UN official Todd Howland reported in April that some 40 Colombian indigenous groups may soon be extinct.
A 2008 US governmental report noted that,
When "Plan Colombia" began, the Colombian government also desired to wrest national lands from guerrilla control.
6. The Greek Austerity-Driven Health Crisis Deepens
The impact of austerity measures on health care in Greece has been grave.
Public health outlays plummeted 25% after a pair of bailouts imposed spending cuts. Unemployment is at 28%, and some 800,000 jobless men and women struggle to survive without unemployment coverage. The number of sex workers has also grown sharply in recent years.
Little wonder many Greeks turn to drugs and alcohol to escape. But because of health cuts, efforts to numb despair often dead-end in other nightmares.
Tania M.'s story, related in a dramatic Al Jazeera report by Fragkiska Megaloudi earlier this year, is emblematic. Tania is in her mid-20s, and does sex work for drug money. She weathered sexual assaults. She had a son. He tested positive for HIV - Tania only then discovered she was ill. The news overwhelmed her, drawing her deeper into addiction.
Her case reflects a national crisis, with condom and syringe supplies for injecting drug users down 24% and 10%, respectively, as new HIV and TB cases among this group surge.
University of Oxford Professor David Stuckler argues that Greece's public health disaster,
7. Uruguay's Pot Legalizers Roll Out Plans - and a Party or Two
Uruguay became the world's first country to legalize the production and sale of marijuana a year ago.
The US marijuana model is one where "you prescribe it yourself," he elaborated - as opposed to the Uruguayan system, which regulates consumers.
To that end, residents 18 and older will be able to choose between three forms of access to non-medical weed; each buyer will register with the government and be restricted to 10 grams each week.
By setting the price at $1 a gram, the state hopes to weaken illicit gangs by eliminating one of their revenue sources.
Although Uruguay's pot legalization project has faced public and political opposition, leftist Tabaré Vázquez won last month's presidential election, meaning the new government will proceed with Mujica's plan.
8. Amphetamine Stimulant Use Accelerates in Asia
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's annual World Drug Report,
A Brookings Institution paper published in March reinforces these findings, explaining that,
The ATS surge,
Punitive policies "and cloudy legalities surrounding needle distribution" only worsen the problem, promoting the risky conduct that helps spread disease.
Why the ATS boom?
The Guardian lists,
9. Afghan Opium Cultivation Reaches Record Levels
But has the US really been trying to curb Afghan drug production?
In 2001, only one of the country's regions continued extensive cultivation: the 5% of the territory the Washington-allied Northern Alliance controlled. The US teamed with these warlords to assault the Taliban after 9/11.
Washington's ensuing move to eradicate opium poppies failed to meet its publicized goals.
Michael Pizzi points out that the booming "illicit trade" is also,
Afghan activist Malalai Joya declares that her country,
But according to a recent disclosure, Washington,
What that means for reform of the poppy policies remains to be seen...
10. Drug-War Funded Mexican Authorities Attack, Abduct 43 Students
On September 26, Mexican police blocked three busloads of students from the Rural Teachers' College of Ayotzinapa in Iguala, then started shooting.
Authorities abducted 43 students in the end.
The fate of the majority remains unclear, though earlier this month at least one of them, Alexander Mora, was
The discovery lends,
The gang then allegedly murdered the students,
Demonstrators also had broader demands, calling for the resignation of the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and for an end to corruption, Ayotzinapa exposed the rot at Mexico's core - a rot progressing with the aid of billions of US taxpayer dollars.
The story evinces an apparent collaboration between Iguala's police and the local drug traffickers. And an explosive recent story in the Mexican news magazine Proceso cites,
Some Mexican and US officials may want the abduction considered an isolated atrocity, if not forgotten outright.
But this unprecedented act of state violence may yet yield a sustained, national movement for social justice in 2015.