Kofi Annan: The 'War on Drugs' Is More Dangerous than Drugs Themselves

By Zachary Siegel 02/26/16

The former United Nations Secretary-General believes that decriminalizing drugs is one of the major critical steps necessary to address the consequences of the failed War on Drugs. 

Kofi Annan: The 'War on Drugs' is More Dangerous than Drugs Themselves
Photo via Shutterstock

Nobel Peace Prize winner and Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently wrote a compassionate essay on Der Spiegel in which he boldly calls for an end to the War on Drugs, arguing that international drug policies are more dangerous than drugs themselves.

“I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives,” Annan writes, “but wrong government policies have destroyed many more.” He continues, "But if our children do develop a drug problem, surely we will want them cared for as patients in need of treatment and not branded as criminals."

He argues that the War on Drugs has created the conditions for a “vast, international criminal market in drugs that fuels violence, corruption and instability” to thrive. He calls it a war that cannot be won. But it’s not too late to change course. 

The 77-year-old Ghanaian diplomat then went on to lay out what he called “critical steps” to address the “unintended consequences” of the failed war. “First, we must decriminalize personal drug use. Second, we need to accept that a drug-free world is an illusion. Third, we have to look at regulation and public education rather than the total suppression of drugs, which we know will not work. The fourth and final step is to recognize that drugs must be regulated precisely because they are risky.”

Annan believes that we must reflect on the original intent of drug policy, which, according to the UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, was to “protect the health and welfare of mankind.” This aim has been lost, evidenced by the 2.2 million people behind bars in the U.S.—many who have been locked up for petty drug crimes—and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost globally because of a war waged on drugs. 

The United Nations General Assembly is set to hold a special session on drugs (UNGASS) between April 19 and 21. The last time the assembly met was 18 years ago in 1998. That session concluded with the fantastical prospect of a “drug free world.” Annan encourages governments around the world to use this upcoming meeting as an opportunity to take a realistic stance, and acknowledge that legalizing and regulating drugs will save many lives.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.