Former President Bill Clinton and a number of other world leaders are declaring the “War on Drugs” a failure in a new documentary about the remarkable violence, illegal activity and mass incarceration caused by worldwide drug prohibition. The free online film notes the immense “taboo” for politicians against discussing shifts in drug policy. Below are some of the most noteworthy statements from national and world leaders, including Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the first sitting president to call for new approaches to drug policy and possible legalization:
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton:
Obviously if the expected result was that we would eliminate serious drug use in America and eliminate the narco-trafficking networks, it hasn’t worked. […]
We could have fighting, killing over cigarettes if we made it a felony to sell a cigarette or smoke one. So we legalized it. If all you do is try to find a police or military solution to the problem, a lot of people die and it doesn’t solve the problem. [...]
I think there should be safe places where people who have addiction could come, and not think they’re gonna be arrested and will have basic needs met. I have experience with this including personal experience. I have a brother who was addicted to cocaine, so I know a lot about this.
Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso:
When I was in office in Brazil, of course I was aware of the situation of the drugs, but I was convinced that true repression would be possible to stop the production of drugs. But I was wrong at the time.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos:
I think a new approach, or at least to open up or break the taboo is what the world should do. There are many possibilities, including the possibility of legalizing drugs. Politically, I know that this has cost a lot. I have already incurred this cost. They have attacked me for saying what I am saying to you. But I don’t think politicians or leaders of any country can only say what people want to hear.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (from the film’s web page):
Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.
Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria:
I personally fully disagree with the U.S. saying that they are being more successful just because they have more people in jail or because they have more sentences against traffickers than they had 20 or 10 or five years ago. That is not a good way to say that a policy is successful. … If they had less violence and less consumption, well that would be a success.
Former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss:
I am sure that regulation by the state with very clear limitation is the solution.
Jorge G. Castañeda, former Foreign Minister of Mexico:
I think the war has created the situation. The situation did not create the war. The problem is that the Mexican military is not trained for this. It’s not trained for police missions. This is a police task and you’re asking it to fight a war it cannot win and it knows it is not winning. And so the military go in and they shoot. That’s what soldiers do. All of this has been going on now for 4 or 5 years and it’s getting worse and worse and worse.
Dr. Peter Moskos, criminologist and former police officer:
In the neighborhood I policed [in Baltimore], men who are born there have about a 12 percent chance of getting murdered in their lifetime. It seems like these problems are far more important than some sort of futile goal of creating a drug-free society. People should care more about all these deaths and by and large the vast majority are related to prohibition.
The documentary notes that two U.S. states passed ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana after filming was complete. Even more recently in late November (and not mentioned in the film), the United Nations ceded to calls from Latin American leaders to hold a symposium devoted to exploring new drug policy approaches — another indication that the moment may be ripe for a shift away from the War on Drugs.