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Will Godfrey Will Godfrey

International Campaign Spotlights What the War on Drugs Costs Us All

Prohibition damages public health, human rights, the environment, the economy and much more, points out "Count the Costs."

29 Substance

The millions of people incarcerated or worse for drug “offenses” might be the clearest victims of the global war on drugs, but its impact is also severe in many less obvious ways. The Count the Costs campaign is a collaborative effort between numerous NGOs around the world to make all of the reasons for supporting drug policy reform crystal clear.

It breaks down the costs of the war on drugs into seven areas: Development and Security, Public Health, Human Rights, Discrimination, Crime, Environment and Economic. By spreading awareness of the harms caused by drug prohibition in these different—and sometimes unexpected—fields, the campaign seeks to convert a broad range of non-drug-related NGOs to the drug policy reform cause in advance of the UN drugs summit (UNGASS) in 2016.

Representatives of several members of the Count the Costs coalition spoke at an Open Society Foundations (OSF) event in New York yesterday about different aspects of the campaign.

Danny Kushlick of Transform explained the need to recruit non-drug-policy NGOs, noting that drug policy NGOs are still relatively small, but that “when Amnesty International, for example, stamps its foot, the world shakes.” Count the Costs, he said, is an opportunity to tell people working in many totally different areas that “the war on drugs is compromising what you do”—while allowing those NGOs that might consider drugs a politically “toxic” subject to “explore alternatives,” without necessarily having to reposition themselves.

Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno of Human Rights Watch broke down the worldwide human rights costs of the war on drugs into three clear “baskets”: first, the way that the profits of the illicit drug market motivate and empower armed criminal gangs to commit atrocities and undermine democracy; second, the abusive and discriminatory enforcement of drug prohibition; and third, the sometimes-forgotten fact that criminalizing personal drug use “tramples on individual autonomy.”

Jorge Javier Romero of the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) discussed the security and development costs of the war on drugs in his native Mexico, where the recent brutal killings of 43 students have highlighted collusion between cartels and the authorities and the undermining of public institutions. He also described how increased use of military forces in a police capacity is resulting in many extra-judicial executions in a country where “the cartels have not disappeared but rather multiplied as a result of fragmentation.”

Patrick Gallahue of the OSF’s Global Drug Policy Program spoke of the role of bad drug policy in the HIV epidemics currently afflicting Eastern Europe and Central Asia, as well as the existence of more successful alternatives to prohibition in countries like Switzerland and Portugal. He also mentioned a notable example of the kind of unlikely seeming NGO conversion that Count the Costs is seeking to make: the UK Prison Governors Association.

Resources, evidence and further information about the campaign are available at CounttheCosts.org.