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Published on Wednesday, April 16, 2003 by the Associated Press U.S. War on Drugs Called a Failure by William Kole
VIENNA, Austria -- Critics of a U.S.-led global crackdown on illicit drugs declared the policy a failure Tuesday, calling it "the war that America cannot win" and urging a United Nations commission to consider other approaches to the problem.
Activists, think tanks and nongovernmental organizations asked the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs to examine what they called a disturbing lack of progress midway through a global campaign to curb drug cultivation, trafficking and consumption by 2008.
Their harsh assessment came as delegates from 116 countries met in Vienna to review the ambitious anti-drug effort, launched by the U.N. General Assembly in 1998 and loosely modeled after the United States' "war on drugs."
"This strategy has failed," the European Drug Policy Fund said in a statement.
"Far from making progress toward the goal of a 'drug-free world by 2008,' drug consumption is in effect on the rise in both industrial and developing countries, as are drug-related crime and other social ill-effects," it said.
Consensus is building in Europe "that after years of continuous setbacks, and with billions of dollars spent on destroying crops and putting people in jail, it is now time to look at more promising alternatives," it said.
The Open Society Institute, a private foundation started by financier George Soros, said the U.N.'s strict drug control treaties are undermining efforts to prevent the spread of AIDS because they discourage countries from introducing effective public health measures.
Despite the criticism, this week's conference -- organized by the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime -- appeared unlikely to steer the United Nations away from its goals of ridding the world of as much drug use and crime as possible over the next five years.
Hassela Nordic Network, a Swedish organization, presented the U.N. agency Monday with 1.3 million signatures collected from people in 48 countries supporting the ongoing anti-drug campaign.
But the campaign's goals remain elusive, U.N. drug agency chief Antonio Maria Costa conceded in a report issued ahead of the conference.
Although heroin and cocaine abuse have stabilized or declined in some countries, the use of marijuana and illicit synthetic drugs such as amphetamines, methamphetamines and ecstasy is growing in others, the report said.
"It appears that drug markets are expanding, colonizing new countries and introducing new substances," the International Antiprohibitionist League said, calling the campaign "the ignored war that should be stopped."
Raymond Kendall, a retired director of Interpol with the European Drug Policy Fund's delegation, is among many in Vienna questioning the point of sticking with interdiction-based efforts. The Paris-based group said it was "the war that America cannot win."
"We cannot legalize our way out of the problem and we cannot arrest our way out of the problem," Kendall said. "We must pursue those solutions that have proved effective, and try to improve the situation in small steps that are also acceptable to society as a whole."