BBC world affairs editor John Simpson examines if the West can ever reduce the international trade in illegal drugs.
Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
As a worker in mental health, I work with clients with drug issues. Criminalising their behaviour only succeeds in preventing them from accessing help, putting money into the hands of the real criminals, the dealers and tying up valuable police time. For example, in areas where heroin has been given to addicts, crime related to fuelling their drugs has dropped dramatically. The users are more likely to engage drug services and this in turn reduces the risk of HIV/Hepatitis and other related illnesses thus also saving the NHS.
Glenn Chapman, Sydney, Australia
Decriminalisation of recreational drugs would allow governments to moderate production and distribution, eliminate the criminal element associated with the drug trade AND provide enormous revenue for the government through taxation.
Thom James, Auckland, New Zealand
All drugs should be legal and properly controlled by the authorities in the same way as alcohol. I find it extraordinarily incompetent of governments worldwide that they all fail to take a lesson from what happened as a result of Prohibition in the 1930s in the USA. Just as now, it resulted in criminal gangs reaping enormous profits, consolidating their power and having the money to diversify into every part of society. Another aspect of the 'war on drugs', particularly in the US, is that a lot of people are making a lot of money from it in the form of prison-building and job security (police, customs and the people selling coca eradication tools).
Hugo Vanneck, Tokyo, Japan
Thanks for a great piece on the failed approach to illegal drugs that we still follow on a global scale. The only winners from the current situation are organised criminals, corrupt law enforcement officials, terrorists and those who profit from the operation of private prisons. Everyone else loses in one way or another. It's time to start undoing the damage, by following a rational policy of regulation and breaking the nexus between these substances and crime. This will not be easy after such a long period of irrational policy, but is of vital importance.
Steve Cleary, Brisbane, Australia
I really enjoyed the article. I am attending USC grad school for Social Work and we are currently studying marco-policy issues and this happens to be a big one. I recently presented an article on Swiss drug policy and its four tiered approach to dealing with such an issue, and I think we here in America could learn a thing or two about reality from such bastions of sensibility. Unfortunately American legislatures and many voters have put the carriage before the horse on the issue of morality and reality. People are dying exponentially due to our ignorant and stubborn view of what drug addiction is and the socio-economics that govern its expansive growth.
Alexis Remillad, Santa Ana, CA, USA
At last someone with common sense. I have never used drugs but have seen their effect on society and people, having spent some time in Spain's jails. 90% of people are in for drug related abuses etc. Is there really NOTHING European and US countries can do to stop the rot?
The "War on Drugs" is a business. Large sums of money flow to arms contractors for equipment and the DEA is a hungry monster. Since this "War on Drugs" began, the incarceration rate, particularly of blacks, has skyrocketed. Has drug use declined? No. Are the streets safer? No. This is a plan that is obviously not working. Time to rethink?
Dave, St. Paul, USA
My wife is Bolivian and I've travelled through Bolivia and Peru and the coca leaf is an important part of everyday life. The drugs problem involves two parts, supply and demand. Take out one drug lord or one street dealer and they will be replaced as the customer is still there. Much, much more needs to be done with destroying the glamour of drug taking. The next time a celebrity or sport star is caught with drugs, they really need to be publicly punished.
Alan, Witham, Essex
The idea of governments buying up the crops has been around for quite a while. While it may appear logical, one probable outcome would be to increase the street price of drugs due to their scarcity. This is turn would create the demand for more acreage to be devoted to such crops for illegal use, so we are back to where we started from.
Scott Masteller, Fleetwood, PA, USA
I respect John Simpson, but he's missed the point he actually makes himself. Economic forces always prevail. The problem is at home, we are allowing drug dealers to make a profit on our streets. And that's so easy to fix. Reclassify addicts as sick people, which they certainly become when they don't get their drug. Then supply them on the NHS, charging them the usual prescription charge. Ensure that they can only take it at a "clinic". The drug dealers' profit would disappear, the government would collect revenue, and drug users would be freed from the need to steal our belongings to pay for their "hit". Now isn't that simpler? I think so.
Chris Graff, Liverpool, UK
Above and beyond the facts detailed in your article, there is this business of enforcement. The "little" guys get jail terms, the "big" boys have their hands slapped. If that! So much time, effort and energy went into ensuring that tobacco would be eradiated from the work place, restaurants, bars and sundry. If only bits and pieces of that time, effort and energy went into 'fighting' drugs, the approach wouldn't be such an abysmal failure. Until and unless enforcement is taken seriously, efforts to control the drug trade will continue to languish by the wayside.
Mmark Schoenberg, St Johns, Canada
There does appear to be a growing consensus that the war on drugs has been lost. It is absurd that our politicians and police forces waste so much time and resources on trying to stop drugs for which there is not only a huge demand but also a ready supply. It would be far better to licence, tax and then educate on the use of drugs.
Simon, London, UK
This sounds like an excellent idea, and it may indeed provide a solution to the shortage of painkillers. Unfortunately the end result is likely to be a bidding war between the drug dealers and the pharmaceutical industry. The poppy growers will have to supply two groups of customers, which will require an increase in production. I would agree with the article's assertion that "not an awful lot of logic has been applied".
Grahame Rhodes, St Louis, USA
This sounds like a sensible plan, but why do we have to dismiss the idea of ending European (and North American) agricultural subsidies so quickly? They don't seem to benefit consumers, animals, the environment, developing countries, or even good farmers. Is there a good reason to keep them?
Mikey McLean, Leicester, UK
Why don't world leaders just make the stuff legal. That way the bottom would fall out of the black market
Dorothy Patton, San Jose, Costa Rica
I like Senlis Council's idea and I'd say let's do it. But it would be interesting to see how governments compete with drugs middle-men. I predict there would be an immediate impact on the street price of drugs. The other likely impact, however, might be an increase in the cost of already high opiate-derived painkillers. That could come as deterrent to this effort.
Mehdi, Toronto, Canada
I have taught for years that the problem with the drug trade is not that the peasants of South America or Asia want to grow coca and poppies, but that Americans want the product. You correctly note that because the drug trade is outside government regulation, it follows the raw rules of capitalism. So long as there is demand, people will try to supply. The problem is not "them." It is "us." Yet it has been impossible to get effective programmes into the schools, even when pilot programmes have demonstrated effectiveness. Instead, we build prisons. I think that a mathematical analysis will show that in about 100 years there will be only two types of people in North Carolina-inmates and keepers. BAM
Brian McMillen, Ph.D., Greenville, North Carolina, USA
I think all drugs, good and bad should be legalised and made available to all at the right price. Taxes should be collected as with tobacco and alcohol. Then there would be more money in government coffers to educate the populace about the pros and cons of all the available drugs. Let the people then make their own minds up! This is very brief, but the less control of a product the easier it is to manage.
Eduardt Mordt, Harare, Zimbabwe
Neither the US nor the EU can grow coffee, mangos or bananas and other things, so to say that the locals can only grow coca is absurd. Also, if western concerns buy the opiates for medical uses, the growers will simply increase their production to supply both the legal and illegal trades. It is not a zero-sum game. I agree that new thinking is needed, though - perhaps in the area of legalisation and regulation. Outright prohibition has been an abysmal failure.
David Marchetti, Jackson, MS, USA
The point of subsidised agricultural produce of USA and Europe is very relevant. It is also financing terrorism to a good extent. USA and Europe will have to change their way of life and thinking. The agricultural subsidy is indirectly financing drugs and terrorism.
Avinash Chaudhary, Pune, India
He is right to say the "war on drugs" has utterly failed, and indeed the term "war on terror" has the same hollow connotations. Go to any city and town in the UK, scratch the surface and they are awash in all communities at all levels.... Farmers in producer countries need alternative ways to make a living but that in itself will not eradicate drugs and their production. As long as the trade is illegal the profits are massive and unrestricted and thus the cycle of a criminal drug trade goes on. We need to massively re think our approach to illegal drugs in the West, including considering the regulation of them by legitimate channels.
I agree with John Simpson. What's more I would go further and say why not buy up the whole year's harvest? Whatever remains after the pain-killers have been produced could be distributed to registered addicts. It would be free of charge (through the NHS) and consequently the drug-barons and their gangs will have been sidestepped!
Rodney Burton, London, UK
Good ideas from John Simpson, but hasn't he missed the point? Drugs are a multi-billion dollar business, and money makes the world go round. Do those at the top really want to eradicate it? If they did they could legalise drugs, force prices down, and ridicule (rather than dramatise) it on public campaigns, as anti-social and a waste of money, health and youth, in the same way they are dealing with tobacco, one of the most addictive drugs there is.
Tunde, Barcelona, Spain
The proposal seems to make good sense as a start. But do we not also need to address the demand issues - mostly (but not limited to) in richer countries? Small countries of the Caribbean are facing increasing problems of drug use - and their plight tends to get lost in the discussions about Colombia, Afghanistan etc.
John Steward, St. James, Barbados
I think as far as the US is concerned the best solution would be to put more effort into actually stopping the drugs from ever getting into the country. Law enforcement expends an incredible amount of manpower and time tracking down the drugs after they get here and arresting those involved. If that energy was diverted into stopping the drugs from ever getting into the country it would do a lot more good. No supply, no market.
Parsons, Birmingham, AL
Even if we were not to use the produce for morphine or codeine, we should buy as much as we possibly can directly from the farmers. It would be a tiny fraction of the European street price, and would wipe out supply. After all, we haven't had much luck dealing with demand or supply on our own streets
David Morrison, Dublin, Ireland
Why don't they just legalise it? The damage that drug money laundering operations are doing to efficient businesses with whom they compete must now be significant. If the whole drug business has to compete with other forms of agriculture drug prices will drop and money laundering will cease.
Russell Clark, Harare, Zimbabwe
It is very important that like other illegal commodities, we recognise the underlying reasons for why farmers grow narcotics in the first place. To simply throw police/military activities and money at the problem is to ignore the socio-economic reasoning behind what they do and why. Dumping by the US and EU is one factor amongst many others that must be addressed before any kind of dent on the "War on Drugs" can be made. People facing poverty and starvation are going to do what they must in order to feed their families. Viable alternatives for them must be created. In addition, farmers growing drugs are only a symptom. The use and addiction to illegal drugs needs to become a greater focus for those wishing to stop it.
Angus Grant, Toronto, Canada