Drug production, trafficking and consumption affects every country in the world. Despite forty years of US-led international drug control efforts that prioritize eradication of production, interdiction of traffic, and criminalization of consumption, overall drug production, trafficking and consumption have remained consistently steady.
Even in cases where eradication programs have lowered levels of production in one country, production is simply pushed into another country – this phenomenon is known as the “balloon effect”. This was the case in the 1980s and 1990s with coca production in Peru, Colombia and Bolivia and with opium production in Burma and Afghanistan. The resilience of the global drug market has led to drug trafficking becoming the world’s primary revenue source for organized crime and the illicit drug industry now accounts for an estimated $320 billion dollars annually.
In response, some nations are increasingly adopting less repressive policies including harm reduction approaches and decriminalization. Several countries in Europe are implementing varying degrees of decriminalization – with Portugal as the most notable example. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs and the results have been encouraging. Drug addiction, overdoses and drug-related HIV transmission have decreased dramatically in Portugal, without a significant increase in drug use. In Latin America, which has been brutalized for decades by the US-led drug war, momentum is currently building to explore less punitive measures that would reduce the economic, social and human costs of the war on drugs. Uruguay became the first country to legalize marijuana in December 2013.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy includes Kofi Annan, Richard Branson, and the former presidents of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Poland, Portugal and Switzerland. They broke new ground with their initial report in 2011 by advancing and globalizing the debate over drug prohibition and its alternatives. Their subsequent report, released in September 2014, not only reiterates their demands for decriminalization, alternatives to incarceration, and greater emphasis on public health approaches – but also calls for responsible legal regulation of currently-illegal drugs.