Every year, the United Nations designates June 26th as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Sounds good, right? Who wouldn’t want to help prevent the harms associated with problematic drug use and take down the drug cartels that have made life in much of the developing world intolerable? While some of the activities associated with the day are in line with notions of harm reduction—treating those who use drugs with basic human dignity and eschewing criminal penalties for a public health focus—others are flat-out ghastly. In recent years, some countries have “celebrated” their approach to drug abuse and trafficking by executing and torturing those convicted of drug crimes. Still sound good? Not so much.
And so, in response, people around the world are challenging not only the harshest of punishments for people convicted of drug crimes but also the criminalization of drug use in the first place—namely the war on drugs, which began in earnest in this country over 40 years ago and has since been spread worldwide with the help of the UN. For the second year in a row, an international groundswell of activists have organized a Global Day of Action under the moniker Support, Don’t Punish, with support from groups like the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the International Drug Policy Consortium, and the Drug Policy Alliance. In addition to the thousands of actions around the world focusing on various aspects of the failed drug war, drug policy reform advocates will be taking their protest right to the source: the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
This is a day to advocate for policies that truly reduce the ills caused by problematic drug use and illicit drug markets: truthful drug education, the prevention of drug-related illness and injury, and effective, non-coercive drug treatment programs. As part of their run up to the day, the Global Commission on Drug Policy has just launched a new campaign, “Hey, We Need to Talk About Drugs,” and a new website, http://needtotalkaboutdrugs.com, to go with it. Of course, what we need to talk about is how we can reform our punitive drug laws in favor of a health-centered approach to drug use and misuse.
In a coincidence that borders on (if not brazenly crosses over to) tragic irony, June 26th is also the UN’s International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture. Somebody from this UN Day might want to get in touch with the folks from the previously-mentioned Day to tell them to stop creating more victims of torture in need of support. In other words, stop waging the war on drugs because it’s really just a war on people—and often the most vulnerable among us.
Daniel Altman is a communications fellow with the Drug Policy Alliance.