'Drug Criminalization Inherently Incompatible with Human Rights,' Says Human Rights Watch

President Obama made no mention of the war on drugs in his State of the Union speech, nor its role in both international and domestic crises, signaling that despite marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado and a resounding chorus calling for change throughout the world, the idea of drug law reform still remains on the margins of mainstream consciousness and taboo among the political elite.

On the same day as the President's address, Human Rights Watch released their annual watch report, in which they declared that "drug criminalization is inherently incompatible with human rights." 

The report makes note of how drug laws further entrench the wildly unequal nature of the American criminal justice system, where blacks are ten times more likely to receive a drug conviction than whites despite similar rates of using and selling. It also noted the now familiar statistic that 2.2 million people in the world's oldest constitutional republic are in prison or jail, the highest number in the world--a figure fattened by the number of those incarcerated for low-level drug offenses.

HRW also examines how drug criminalization in the United States incites heavy-handed government policies around the world while simultaneously destabilizing weaker countries. The result is millions dead with many more shepherded into cages or the arms of organized crime every year. 

From their report: 

  • [In Afghanistan]... Richard Holbrooke, then US-representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, decried how US policy of eradicating poppy seeds...bankroll[ed] armed groups such as the Taliban and local warlords responsible for numerous atrocities.
  • In Mexico the homicide rate exploded, with at least 80,000 people killed in the country's 'war on drugs' since 2007 (El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala face similar problems. The US has provided more than $2 billion in funding to Mexico during that time.

The report goes on to propose a series of major reforms to drug policy, which include "decriminalize personal use and possession drugs for personal use, reduce criminal regulation of drug production, and ground treatment and care in human rights."

The think tank Insight Crime critiqued the report for failing to couple calls for decriminalization with concrete ideas for how to regulate production and distribution of drugs. The authors note that while some Latin American countries have decriminalized drug possession and use, sale and distribution are still illegal, and thus the lucrative black market responsible for so much violence and mayhem continues to operate unabatedly.


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