Legalizing Drugs: Costa Rica and the World Moving Towards Policy Reform

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    The Costa Rica News (TCRN) – It’s exhilarating when the ground shifts under policies once thought permanent and unchangeable—when the unthinkable becomes commonsense. That is happening today with drug policy, and Costa Rica has an opportunity to be part of it.
    The Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes the former presidents of Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Switzerland, as well as the former UN Secretary-General, just released a groundbreaking report that categorically rejects the prohibitionist’s half-century-old strangle hold on drug policy. They call, instead, for a move to a public health approach to drug addiction.
    This is not happening in a vacuum. Three out of four Americans believe that the war on drugs is a failure, and with good reason: Police conduct 4,320 expensive, futile drug arrests every day in the U.S.. And yet, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment, the number of Americans using illegal drugs has increased significantly over the last four years. Abuse of heroin and other dangerous drugs is on the rise, especially among young people. Mexican-based cartels now “dominate the supply, trafficking, and wholesale distribution of most illicit drugs in the United States,” operating in more than 1,000 U.S. cities and towns. Major candidates in the last US election talked openly about military intervention in Mexico!
    Wasting our precious tax dollars on this futile policy guarantees the most violent cartels and gangs a monopolized market with no restraints on promotion, age limits or product purity. It guarantees the proliferation of lawless, uncontrollable street gangs everywhere it is in force. And, as a former prosecutor in a major U.S. city, I can assure you that it does not reduce drug use, especially among our youth.
    As former warriors in the drug war, all of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition’s cops, judges, and prosecutors once shared a “tough on drugs” approach. But in every country that has begun to move away from the criminal justice approach, crime, addiction and blood-born diseases have fallen. More than a decade after Portugal removed criminal sanctions from drug possession, for example, their children’s use of marijuana fell by over 20 percent, and Dutch children, who see marijuana sold in legal, well regulated “coffee shops,” use that drug at half the rate of their American counterparts, who face arrest.
    Tobacco in the United States has been dramatically reduced by education, persuasion and regulation, not by eradication, prosecution and criminalization. Use of other dangerous drugs could be similarly reduced without the use of blunt force.

    We at LEAP embrace legalization as a clear path to the very things we worked to achieve while active in law enforcement: helping people with addictions get treatment without fear of punishment, cutting off the cartels and street gangs, helping to rebuild families and communities. 

    Treatment centers are an extremely valuable resource in this regard because they help people to fight all kinds of addictions. It does not matter if these individuals are addicted to legal or illegal substances, they can find the help that they need at one of these treatment centers. Addiction is a disease that affects the body, the mind, and the spirit, so only through a complete healing program can individuals remove these substances from their lives for good. When a drug dealer is thrown in jail, another one is there to replace him. By treating those who are suffering from addiction, however, we can get to the root of the problem. In short, reducing problematic drug use.
    And that is why our current strategy includes a proposed amendment to United Nations treaties. These treaties, some over a half-century old, criminalize all recreational drugs and have been used to justify the War on Drugs throughout the world. Reflecting and augmenting the global Commission’s approach, our amendment replaces the prohibition and incarceration model with a human rights, health and harm reduction approach. Here are links to both it (in English and Spanish) and a letter LEAP’s Executive Director Neil Franklin wrote to world leaders: (English) and (Spanish) and (Letter to world leaders) and  ( petition supporting the LEAP amendment).
    It will be exhilarating and liberating if Costa Rica’s leadership joins this growing international chorus and takes a lead role in moving the ground as it shifts towards sanity and compassion.
    Sometimes, ironically enough, we may be safer without the institutions or policies that claim to protect us. Costa Ricans can handle drug use and even drug abuse without resort to the dysfunctional use of state force and coercion. Your hard earned freedoms, the envy of many of your northern neighbors, are the source of your security.
    Legalizing currently illegal drugs so you can bring them into your regulatory system will allow you to redirect tax dollars away from an endless prohibitionist cat and mouse game and towards education and rehabilitation. This will provide real security while containing crime and drug addiction.
    In addition, the availability of treatment centers, such as the facilities that offer drug rehab in Texas and Arizona, will make this transition much easier. These centers not only work with individuals who are addicted, but also with their families. Rather than sweeping this problem under the rug and allowing the courts to dictate how it is handled, legalizing these substances would raise awareness about the power of addiction and encourage people to get the help that they need to get better.
    It will be as exhilarating as a zip line run. And every bit as safe.
    By James E. Gierach
    Former Chicago prosecutor James E. Gierach is a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition,,  a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs and in favor of amending U.N. drug prohibition treaties

    The Costa Rica News (TCRN)

    San Jose, Costa Rica

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