The basic premise of the war on drugs is to destroy the world's supply and production of illicit substances. But this chart, taken from a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), shows that's not happening — at all:
Not only has the drug war failed to reduce the global production of opium, but, as the UN report notes, production of the drug in 2014 reached its second highest levels since the 1930s. And that's despite concerted US efforts in Afghanistan to crack down on opium: America spent $7.6 billion between 2002 and 2014 to eliminate Afghani poppy cultivation.
"The bottom line — record opium cultivation and production — clearly shows we are not winning the war on drugs in Afghanistan," John Sopko, the military's watchdog in Afghanistan, said in a May 5 speech. "Of course, the US government announced its own war on drugs in 1971, almost 45 years ago, and we haven't won that, either."
UNODC and others are calling for change in how the drug war is fought
Perhaps mindful of these failures, UNODC called for a greater focus on economic development that could, for example, give farmers alternative crops to grow so they don't rely on opium production to make ends meet. That could represent a significant shift from the current anti-drug regime, which tends to emphasize law enforcement and interdiction tactics in an attempt to ruthlessly crack down on drug supplies.
Some reformers want to go further by decriminalizing or even legalizing drugs in an attempt to eliminate a black market that has profited criminal organizations, which use the funds to carry out violent operations around the world. The idea is that legalization would push production and sales from criminal hands to a regulated legal industry. (Opponents worry that this legal industry would — much like the tobacco and alcohol industries — essentially market and promote drug abuse, since the most problematic and common drug users would be their best customers.)
But it's unclear if the international drug control treaties, which focus on the strict prohibition and criminalization of many drugs, allow for decriminalization and legalization. Reformers are looking to change this: In 2016, the UN will hold a special session on international drug policy — and advocates plan to push to change the treaties to explicitly allow alternatives like decriminalization and legalization.