Red Cross Calls for Drug Decriminalization

Categories: Health, Marijuana
It turns out it's not just the Castro or rural America: The entire world has a meth problem.

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Not jails
Worldwide demand for methamphetamine "appears to be expanding significantly," according to the 55 countries which comprise the United Nations' Office on Drugs and Crime's Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Meth seizures have nearly doubled since 2008, when 22 tons were seized worldwide, according to a Commission report; the data is still being crunched, but "preliminary results" suggest upwards of 40 tons were seized worldwide in 2010. In Mexico, busts never exceeded one ton prior to 2009; 12.8 tons were busted in 2010.

So what to do? The Commission reported at length about reducing both supply and demand through education and busting up trafficking organizations, but the Red Cross kept it much simpler: decriminalization.

 "Treating drug addicts as criminals is destined to fuel the rise of HIV and other infections," Lasha Goguadze, the Red Cross' Senior Health Officer, testified. "Laws and prosecutions do not stop people from taking drugs.... Governments should recognize once and for [all] that a humanitarian drug policy works."

The Commission comprises 55 member nations -- including the U.S. and drug war ally/drug clearinghouse Mexico -- and as befits such a large international body, its powers are nil, its resolutions ponderous and its recommendations nebulous.

That said, all 55 countries could agree that both demand and supply reduction are vital. The Red Cross' health-centric harm reduction model doesn't exactly fit into that, to the world's detriment, as it focuses on treatment.

The chief drug problem in most countries -- and the chief focus of the Red Cross -- is not meth or marijuana or cocaine, but intravenous drugs, which are fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Half of intravenuous drug users in Brazil are HIV-positive, said Goguadze, who added the world is dangerously close to a "generalized epidemic."

"Yet laws and policies continue with failed enforcement tactics," she said. "The best people who use drugs can hope for is to be driven underground to live with the addiction in the dark back streets and abandoned buildings of our towns and cities. Or even worse, they are criminalized and jailed with little or no regard for their healthcare rights or the impact of this policy on the health of their communities."

In a blow to anti-drug war crusaders, the Red Cross stops far short of calling for legalization or even outright decriminalization. And only addicts, not suppliers, deserve the humanitarian approach.

"Treating drug addicts as criminals, is destined to fuel the rise of HIV," Goguadze said. "It cannot be condoned, but neither should it be criminalized."

Among the Red Cross' suggestions for action are needle exchange and treatment programs. Not mentioned by the Red Cross or any other reports were support for prison spending.

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