Global Issues

Overview

Because the Law Enforcement Action Partnership was founded (as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) to end the War on Drugs, and because the War on Drugs has effects around the world, LEAP remains dedicated to studying the impacts of global drug policy. We call attention to both the disastrous impact of the War on Drugs on other nations and the innovative drug policy solutions other nations are pioneering.

Learn More: Full Overview

Because the Law Enforcement Action Partnership was founded (as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) to end the War on Drugs, and because the War on Drugs has effects around the world, LEAP remains dedicated to studying the impacts of global drug policy. We call attention to both the disastrous impact of the War on Drugs on other nations and the innovative drug policy solutions other nations are pioneering.

Fostering Crime and Corruption Abroad

Most of the burden of our War on Drugs—in terms of violence, governmental corruption and rampant crime—falls not within the US but on the producer and transit countries, particularly Mexico, most of Central America, and Afghanistan. Through foreign aid and military assistance contingent upon keeping drugs illegal and fighting those who produce or transport drugs, the US has forced these countries to the frontlines of our War on Drugs. Since local citizens cannot vote against these coerced drug policies, the US is undercutting democratic accountability across the globe.  

The harms are immense. Profits in the $300 billion global illegal drug industry flow to terrorist groups and international criminal networks, and those profits are protected through murder and extortion. Attempts to quash these groups lead to massive bloodshed; the Mexican Army’s battles with drug cartels cost 10,000 lives every year.1 Police rarely solve the killings, even as headless and burned bodies are found outside Mexico City. Courts barely function, and journalists and politicians are muzzled by fear.2 Also, as immigrants to the US have been deported for involvement in drug gangs, the US has exported its gangs to Central America. Today, Honduras and El Salvador are two of the most violent countries in the world, largely because of gangs that began selling drugs in Los Angeles.

These global consequences return to haunt the United States. Democracy is weakened. Drug cartels fund the terrorist groups that threaten American national security. The gang and cartel violence in Central America and Mexico drives thousands of children north every year, where they are preyed upon by human traffickers, forced to hide in a country that does not want them, incarcerated in inhumane, expensive detention centers, and deported.

In Afghanistan, which supplies about 90% of the world’s demand for opium poppy, the U.N. has declared the crop illegal. UNODC estimates the ultimate street value of Afghan opium at $68 billion.3 The criminalization of opium poppy has fostered corruption among government officials and the Afghan National Police, as they are paid to look the other way or actively participate in the drug trade. Corruption undercuts the credibility of the government, further driving the insurgency, and Taliban rebels gain local support by protecting the crop—fueling our longest-running conflict and resulting in the deaths of US soldiers and Marines.

Other Countries Have Pioneered a Better Way

Other countries have shown that treating drug users as patients, not criminals, has greatly reduced harms from drug use in society.

In 2001, seeking a solution to high rates of drug use, Portugal abolished criminal penalties for the use and possession of small amounts of all drugs. The government invested heavily in treatment for those who were ready to quit. For those still using drugs, the government encouraged them to come out of hiding by removing the threat of arrest and mobilizing social workers and doctors to provide support services, health care, and education. Drug use did not increase, and crime, drug-related infections, and overdose deaths fell dramatically.4

In 1994, Switzerland was suffering an epidemic of heroin use. Even with expanded treatment, many people continued to relapse. So the Swiss founded heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) clinics, in which medical staff provide and assist with pharmaceutical grade heroin. Since these users no longer need money to buy their heroin from dealers, they stop stealing, selling their bodies, and selling drugs, reducing both crime and youth heroin use.5 And because the drug is tested for purity and potency and administered in safe conditions, HAT patients suffer no overdoses, tissue infections, HIV, or Hepatitis C. Once they find jobs, get married, and have families or otherwise stabilize their lives, most stop using heroin—the average patient quits entirely within three years. Once they heal the pain in their lives, they can successfully quit the painkiller.

Partnership Around the World

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  1. Kimberly Heinle, Cory Molzahn, and David A. Shirk. “Drug Violence in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico Project Report, University of San Diego, April 2015. Accessed January 13, 2017 at https://justiceinmexico.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2015-Drug-Violence-in-Mexico-Report.pdf.
  2. Nina Lakhani. “‘Journalists Are Being Slaughtered’- Mexico’s Problem with Press Freedom.” The Guardian, August 4, 2015. Accessed January 13, 2017 at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/04/journalists-mexico-press-freedom-photographer-ruben-espinosa-murder.
  3. United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. World Drug Report 2012. United Nations publication No. E.12.XI.1, June 2012: 60. Accessed January 13, 2017 at https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/WDR2012/WDR_2012_web_small.pdf.
  4. Samuel Oakford. “Portugal’s Example: What Happened After It Decriminalized All Drugs, From Weed to Heroin.” VICE News, April 19, 2016. Accessed January 13, 2017, at https://news.vice.com/article/ungass-portugal-what-happened-after-decriminalization-drugs-weed-to-heroin.
  5. Joanne Csete. “From the Mountaintops: What the World Can Learn from Drug Policy Change in Switzerland.” Open Society Foundations Lessons for Drug Policy Series, New York, 2010. Accessed January 13, 2017, at https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/from-the-mountaintops-english-20110524_0.pdf.