If you are an opponent of the global war on drugs, than there may be some good news coming your way.
At the moment, it's little more than speculation — but it comes from a reliable place. Famed businessman Sir Richard Branson wrote in an article for Virgin that documents from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have circulated and indicate a uniform effort is underway to halt the war on drugs that has criminalized addiction and left millions of nonviolent criminals in jail.
According to Branson, the documents "call on governments around the world to decriminalize drug use and possession for personal consumption for all drugs," he wrote. "This is a refreshing shift that could go a long way to finally end the needless criminalization of millions of drug users around the world."
When it was published, his article had yet to be substantiated. But this morning, the UNODC released a statement confirming that there were talks happening but also offering a word of cautious optimism:
The briefing paper on decriminalization mentioned in many of today's media reports, and intended for dissemination and discussion at a conference in Kuala Lumpur, is neither a final nor formal document from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and cannot be read as a statement of UNODC policy.It remains under review and UNODC regrets that, on this occasion, there has been an unfortunate misunderstanding about the nature and intent of this briefing paper. UNODC emphatically denies reports that there has been pressure on UNODC to withdraw the document. But, it is not possible to withdraw what is not yet ready.Overall, UNODC remains committed to the balanced approach that, in particular, promotes alternatives to incarceration in line with international human rights standards.
The War on Drugs, which was started by U.S. President Richard Nixon, has since become a topic of hot controversy. Just this week, Sendhil Mullainathan wrote for The New York Times that, despite using drugs at almost the exact same rate as Caucasians, African-Americans "are more than twice as likely to be arrested on drug-related charges."
That bias has even left African-Americans with average jail sentences for drug use (58.7 months) that almost match the average jail sentences whites receive for violent crime (61.7 months), according to the NAACP.
But, as Branson wrote for Virgin, the issues with the War on Drugs go beyond just racial disparity and discrimination. At its most fundamental level, "we should treat drug use as a health issue, not as a crime. While the vast majority of recreational drug users never experience any problems, people who struggle with drug addiction deserve access to treatment, not a prison cell."