|Fernando Henrique Cardoso Former President of Brazil
The report of the Global Cannabis Commission convened by the Beckley Foundation is a valuable contribution to our thinking on the thorny subject of illicit drugs. It is based on solid research and it is argued in an imaginative and yet realistic fashion. The failure of the ‘War on Drugs’ strategy is quite evident around the world, but the alternatives are not easy to grasp. A paradoxical condition prevails, where prohibitionist laws coexist with a growing diversity of real life alternative practices.
In Latin America, however, we can no longer afford to look the other way. The human and the institutional costs are too high. We need to change our way of thinking and acting on this matter. New policies must be based on empirical data, not on ideological assumptions and dogmas. The notion of focusing on cannabis, as proposed by the Beckley Commission, is a key contribution to the debate. It points towards more efficient and more humane methods of dealing with this matter.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso November 2008
Jaswant Singh Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House, India
I agree with the conclusions and recommendations of the Global Cannabis Commission Report. In India, historically and culturally, associations with psycho-active substances have never been a cause of social concern. Because of the nature and self-regulating systems of our society, India has never really needed any externally imposed ‘rules’, or even ‘management’ of its production, consumption or ceremonial and ecclesiastical intake. Such activities, never ‘hidden’, were and are accepted as cultural norms, restricted only by society’s restraints. Consequently, cannabis, opium and similar natural products remained free of any ‘underground’ dealings – until, that is, ‘control and commerce’ arrived.
It was the British East India Company that first made opium a commercial commodity, leading to the Opium wars with China of 1839 and 1856. Legislation inevitably followed, but this marginal legislation, as introduced by the British, had no impact for instance on Rajputana, which continued to live by its own ancient social and cultural mores. We still do.
After independence in 1947, as part of its ‘modernization process’, India adopted the Western or US method of drug control, signing the Single Convention of 1961, and enacting the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1964 which, ignoring the cultural specificity and plurality of the Indian situation, committed India to eradicate ‘all cultural usage’ of cannabis within a 25-year time span. Cannabis (which, in India can grow anywhere) and opium products were made illegal. Sadly, we in India had not even publicly debated this important legislation, nor had we researched it well enough before adoption. This legislation has changed the nature of our drug trade. Traditional farmers were replaced as suppliers by criminal networks. The sale of cannabis and opium became as risky as selling modern psychotropic drugs, so the emphasis shifted to selling ‘chemicalised’ hard drugs with higher profit margins. This became a permanent shift.
Politically unsettled conditions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and many parts of India has seen the involvement of several militant groups in the drug trade.
Fortunately, rural India still stands largely unscathed, and India’s cultural norms remain. But for how long will this constructive, culturally organic solidarity last in our rural hinterland? I have no answer to this troubling thought and question.
Jan Wiarda Former Chairman of European Police Chiefs
During my 45 years of service in the police, from sergeant to Chief Constable of The Hague, and chairman of the EU-Police-Chiefs, I have been a privileged witness of the war on drugs. I saw in the 1960s the decline and fall of the post-war approach of authoritative maintenance of public order. I saw how the older generations wrestled with the completely different attitude of the baby-boomers in the 1960s and 1970s. The consumption of stimulants became more and more widespread, with negative effects for the addicts themselves, and for their relations with society.
I was pleased by the introduction of the more realistic, sensible approach of regulating the availability of cannabis for consumers, and the harm-reduction programmes for users of other stimulants, such as methadone programmes, needle exchange, user rooms, etc. The majority of my colleagues in the police were also in favour of the new policies, even if it was not always easy to cope with the conflicting interests of drug-users and law-abiding citizens. But in the end, the policy worked to the advantage of both the individuals and society. I am astonished by the ongoing world-wide pressure, from the early 1980s to the present day, to continue and to intensify the war on drugs, instead of turning to a system of regulation and control. Huge investments in eradication and crop-substitution (as in Columbia and Afghanistan), huge investments in enforcement, in investigative powers and manpower and criminalisation of users have had little effect on drug production and consumption.
But now it is time for change! The Beckley Foundation has had the stamina and endurance to bring about the Global Cannabis Commission Report, Moving Beyond Stalemate. The outstanding scientists who composed this report point the way ahead – to a world that is not taken hostage by a misconception of human behaviour towards stimulants, and a world that is not terrorised by organised criminals whose only interest lies in expanding the war on drugs, because it is the real source of their profit.
The time for change has come.