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Former Heads of State: Drug Classifications Are All Politics, No Science

Former Heads of State: Drug Classifications Are All Politics, No Science
PHOTO Tim Dorr

Politics

Former Heads of State: Drug Classifications Are All Politics, No Science

As anyone who’s read the Controlled Substances Act can tell you: duh.

Juan Manuel Santos is the former president of Colombia, which makes him a bit of a drug-policy expert by default.

Center to a generations-long civil war is a struggle over his country’s coca-producing regions, which are responsible for as much as 60% of the raw material supplying global cocaine demand.

Coca production is both a key means of subsistence for rural farmers as well as a clear sign of the severe economic imbalance between the global south and north. As such, international cocaine policy — such as the 25 years’ worth of the weed-killer glyphosate sprayed onto 4.2 million acres of Colombian farmland, a U.S.-backed interdiction campaign that Santos opposed — is propelled by political and economic concerns rather than public safety or public health.

Which makes cocaine a typical drug. Politics, and not science or public health, inspire the classifications and restrictions imposed on illegal drugs including cannabis and heroin as well as cocaine, according to a report released this week from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a Switzerland-based organization of former heads of state, of which Santos is a member.

“It was a political decision” to classify cocaine and cannabis as dangerous drugs, and to allow other powerful and deadly narcotics, like opiates, to be prescribed by doctors, Santos said, as per the Guardian. “According to the studies we’ve seen over the past years, substances like cannabis are less harmful than alcohol.”

Other members of the commission include British billionaire and drug-policy reform advocate Richard Branson; former U.K. deputy prime minister Nick Clegg; Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the U.S. federal reserve; and former presidents and prime ministers from Nigeria, South Africa, Chile, Portugal, Poland, Switzerland and others.

Individual countries are free to set their own drug laws, but three international treaties agreed to under the auspices of the United Nations also influence drug-control policy. The most recent international treaty on drug control was signed in 1988, which means neither scientific understandings nor practical policies have been reviewed in more than 30 years. Controls are recommended by medical and scientific experts, but — like most laws — are voted on by U.N. member-states part of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which leaves classifications ultimately beholden to politics.

And that is a significant problem, said Ruth Dreifuss, the former president of Switzerland and chair of the commission. “The international system to classify drugs is at the core of the drug control regime,” she said, “and unfortunately the core is rotten.” Dreifuss wants a total overhaul of standing drug classifications, and wants health and medical experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) to lead it.

Though some countries, including the United States, have bullied others into abandoning liberalized drug laws because they violated these treaties, domestic developments make a further mockery of the international drug-control order and further prove the commission’s point.

Thirty-four U.S. states have passed liberalized cannabis laws that violate American federal law, which continues to claim that cannabis is a highly addictive drug with no medical benefit. That statement is directly contradicted by a steady stream of scientific research, including a significant review conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

These bad policies have worse effects than mere hypocrisy. As much as 80% of the world’s population lacks access to life-saving and life-sustaining medicines, and “all of the reasons” why “are linked to repression and prohibition-based control systems,” according to the commission.

Restrictive policies set along political lines have fueled both the ongoing human and natural destruction in Colombia as well as the American opiate crisis, according to the commission. More than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses in America in 2017, an annual toll greater than the total number of American dead during more than a decade of combat in Vietnam.

But now what? The former heads of state saying their current counterparts should do something else, something different, all have something in common — they are all former heads of state, no longer in a position to act politically. The first step is admitting you have a problem. If the former heads of state weren’t quite able to fix the issues they’re not identifying, figuring out why and mustering the political support to put science, and not power or votes, in charge of drug policy might be the commission’s greatest benefit, rather than telling us yet again what most already know.

TELL US, do you think drug classifications have more to do with politics than science?

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Dazzling Dolphin

    July 2, 2019 at 12:30 am

    Just too bad that cocaine skews the hip to waist ratio in human body.

  2. YearofAction

    July 1, 2019 at 12:57 am

    In particular, cannabis prohibition is political. The versatile and valuable renewable natural resource that is the cannabis plant was promised to the people in 1791 by the 9th and 10th Amendments, and promised to citizens in 1868 by Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, but not promised to corporations. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 initiated cannabis prohibition by conflating marijuana with cannabis, which was definitely motivated by politics.

    Reconstructing the malformed federal definition of marijuana to clearly describe how marijuana is actually derived from cannabis while preserving the legitimate prohibitions that control the undesired proliferation of marijuana itself, will carefully deschedule cannabis and help to expose the politics that motivated cannabis prohibition, which could lead to the end of marijuana prohibition.

    Consider this reconstructed definition of marijuana that solves the embedded riddle: What is all parts of the plant, and simultaneously does not include the mature stalks?

    The Reconstructed Definition:

    The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L. which is, as are the viable seeds of such plant, prohibited to be grown by or sold by any publicly traded corporation or subsidiary company, and such smoke is prohibited to be inhaled by any child or by any person bearing any firearm, as is the intake of any part or any product of such plant containing more than 0.3% THC by weight unless prescribed to such child by an authorized medical practitioner.

    We can contact our members of Congress about reconstructing this malformed definition from the Farm Bill of 2018, which contains the embedded riddle:

    (16)(A) Subject to subparagraph (B), the term “marihuana” means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.
    (B) The term “marihuana” does not include (i) hemp, as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946; or (ii) the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.

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