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Legalising drugs goes hand in hand with peace

Last week the government released its 'new' drug strategy – but there’s nothing new. It's time to listen to the real stories of families who have suffered, and support their demands for reform. Spanish

“'I ask any politician to stand by my daughter's grave and tell me that our drugs policy works” – Anne-Marie Cockburn, whose daughter Martha died in 2013. 

20 July 2017 was the fourth anniversary of the death of 15-year-old Martha Fernback. Martha died of an accidental ecstasy overdose in 2013. Deaths like Martha’s are preventable, and the families losing loved ones deserve better. We urgently need a new approach to drugs. We need to legalise and regulate.

In the UK drug-related deaths are at a record high – 50 deaths a week, 50 Marthas – our prisons are in crisis and drugs are getting stronger.

The Home Office’s long-awaited drug strategy was published last week (14 July) and outlined a continued commitment to tackling drug-related harms through the criminal justice system. Evidence-based recommendations for reform – such as the adoption of drug consumption rooms and heroin-assisted treatment for dependent users – which would better protect people and save lives, were, regrettably, ignored.

In the UK drug-related deaths are at a record high – 50 deaths a week, 50 Marthas – our prisons are in crisis and drugs are getting stronger.

Yet this alleged ‘new’ strategy fails to acknowledge that drug prohibition does not afford young people, like Martha, protection.

Not only that, but it fails to recognise the link between the production and supply of drugs, with demand. Prohibition yields colossal amounts of profit and power to organised crime, creating an escalation of violence in producer and transit countries, and ordinary people are increasingly caught in the crossfire.

In Mexico, in the first five months of 2017 alone, 11,155 people were killed in drug war-related violence. That’s one murder victim every 20 minutes.

Yet Mexico’s Congress continues to debate an internal security law, which seeks to expand and normalise the military’s presence in public security. This is despite evidence that more than a decade of military deployment to combat organised crime in the country has been ineffective and counterproductive. The militarisation of drug war policies has resulted in grave human rights violations with little impact on the drugs trade itself.

“They cannot silence our voices and hide our cries of pain, our anger, our fear, or our courage. If we talk about the drug war, we will win. They cannot ignore us any longer.” – Araceli Salcedo Jímenez, mother of Fernanda Rubi, a young Mexican woman kidnapped in 2012. 

The human cost of the drug war

Anyone’s Child 'Families for Safer Drug Control' is an international network of families who have lost loved ones or otherwise been harmed by the failure of the global drug war.

Anyone’s Child aims to expose the human cost of the drug war and show that moving away from prohibition and criminalisation will better protect ordinary people. These families are telling their stories to illustrate the utter futility of the drug war, and to show the collateral damage caused by our failed approach to drugs at every stage of the drug trade across the world.

It may appear rational to ban drugs and to place criminal restrictions on their production, supply and use in order to protect the young and vulnerable. But 50 years of prohibition has failed to prevent a dramatic rise in both the use of drugs, and drug-related harms, despite ever growing resources spent on enforcement.

Beyond this failure, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified a harrowing range of negative “unintended consequences” caused by the drug war. These include the creation of a huge criminal market; the displacement of production and transit to new areas (the balloon effect); the diversion of resources from health to enforcement; the displacement of use to new drugs; and the stigmatisation and marginalisation of people who use drugs.

The Home Office’s drug strategy ignores these appalling costs, too.

Politicians in both Mexico and the UK continue to fight this war rather than genuinely engage with the overwhelming evidence showing that prohibition kills, while legal regulation (complemented by meaningful social improvements) can save lives and reduce harm.

We are all someone’s child. The brave families involved with Anyone’s Child speak for all of us as they defy the drug war rhetoric and press for a new approach to drugs.

Rosa Julia Leyva

“By sharing my life story I'm trying to mend the social fabric a little.” – Rosa Julia Leyva, tricked into trafficking heroin and imprisoned for 11 years.

Rosa Julia is a woman from a poor rural community in Guerrero, Mexico, a region plagued by poverty and full of opium poppy fields. Rosa became a casualty of the drug war when she agreed to accompany an acquaintance through airport customs and was tricked into carrying large amounts of heroin through security. She was subsequently sent to prison and tortured into signing a confession. She was raped and abused by authorities that ought to have been protecting her. As a result she spent close to 11 years in prison.

Rosa’s story illustrates how the consequences of prohibition in Mexico do not stop at murder, disappearance and terror. With the authorities taking a zero tolerance approach to drug-trafficking, violence escalates and ordinary people are caught in the crossfire. Rosa is now part of Anyone’s Child and campaigns with other families from across the world for the legalisation of the drug market, to prevent other families from suffering.

Anyone’s Child Mexico

Anyone’s Child Mexico, the interactive documentary, tells the real-life stories of families and communities on the frontline of the international drug war, and their fight for safer drug laws. Through a free phone line in Mexico connected to the documentary, casualties of the drug war are able to have their stories heard across the world.

Wider support from the international community for these casualties of the drug war is crucial. Efforts to boost international solidarity can contribute to putting an end to this violence and promote a change in policy that ensures human rights are fully respected and protected.

Do something

“Before, I used to say ‘it won't happen to me.’ But I have seen it in real life, with my own eyes. I believe that every single person, young and old, must fight, to leave behind us a better Mexico, a better society, a better world for our children.” – María Herrera, mother to four disappeared sons.

It is time for casualties of the drug war to be at the centre of the drug policy debate.

One of the biggest obstacles that must be overcome in order to achieve meaningful reform is demonstrating to policymakers that public opinion is supportive. An important way to change public opinion is by listening to the heart-breaking real-life stories of families who have suffered, and their demands for reform, so that others can see the harms this war is causing.

Publics worldwide have had little opportunity to hear the testimonies of people affected by the violence that is inevitably linked to drug prohibition. New technologies and new innovations such as Anyone’s Child Mexico allow us to, for the first time in some cases, listen to the testimonies of people who have become casualties of the drugs war.

We ought to remember that all UN member states – who are signatories to the UN drug war conventions – are responsible for the casualties. We are responsible. By listening to the stories and making our outrage known to our elected representatives, we can demand that they make the policy changes to prevent these stories being replicated in the future. We must call on our political leaders to put in policies that genuinely try to protect us – rather than punishing us.

It is time for casualties of the drug war to be at the centre of the drug policy debate.

About the author

Mary Ryder is Anyone's Child coordinator at Transform Drug Policy Foundation. She tweets at @maryder93.


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