The War On Drugs Part 1 - Article

The War on Drugs: Is It Time to Change?  Part 1
View this article online here: http://sacsis.org.za/site/article/346.1

South Africa has one of the highest rates of drug abuse in the world. The most commonly abused drugs are alcohol and dagga (cannabis). The abuse of chemical stimulants such as TIK (methamphetamine) has recently soared. Other synthesised drugs like cocaine, heroin and mandrax remain deeply problematic, both to users and society.
The drug scourge is an historical international problem linked to globally connected and well resourced criminal enterprises. Russian, Italian, Columbian, Chinese, Nigerian and European gangs and networks all play a role in the lucrative manufacture and trade in illicit drugs. 
The "War on Drugs," declared by President Nixon has been a thirty eight year failure. Billions of dollars have been wasted while the numbers of people taking, making, and trading in drugs has risen inexorably. The social costs have been massive with over 6 million people arrested for cannabis possession in the US alone between 1992 and 2006. 
South Africa too is seriously affected by this problem, with drugs-related offences rising from 53,000 in 2003 to 109,000 in 2008. The Western Cape accounts for nearly half of the cases. Our overburdened legal system is forced into reactive rather than proactive responses to the problems, wasting precious resources.
A heavy handed approach has solved little. In fact things grow steadily worse. In our massively unequal local and global society, legal and illegal drugs are all freely available to anyone seeking temporary solace from the harsh realities of life.
South Africa's ingrained drinking and binge culture has become a socially accepted norm. This has massive social effects – poor health, the highest foetal alcohol syndrome rate in the world, widespread familial abuse, astronomical rates of assault and rape and drunken driving. If anything is a gateway to drugs, it is alcohol abuse.
Historically, access to alcohol was gained mainly through speakeasys and shebeens. Here a relationship between the drink and drugs trade existed, mainly involving cannabis. The formalisation of the shebeen trade has resulted in the drugs trade moving into the control of gangs and professional criminals. 
The financial heft of the illicit drugs industry renders its influence pervasive. The tangled relationship between our ex top cop Jackie Selebi and Glenn Agliotti, a convicted drug smuggler and alleged crime kingpin, demonstrate how damaging these influences can become. 
International criminal syndicates specialise in actively undermining legal controls – border control is undermined, police become corrupted, Home Affairs is infiltrated and politicians and authorities are targeted. Poor communities identify more closely with criminals than cops, further undermining the social order.
Since our democratic transition South Africa has actively implemented the UN Vienna convention, the primary international agreement aimed at combating the drugs trade. This has led to development of strict anti money laundering laws, while the SAPS drugs bureau was short-sightedly disbanded. Prosecution of the trade is patchy at best. A modern, implementable national drugs strategy remains as tangible as a puff of dagga smoke. Change is needed. 

 The source of this article is attributed to The South African Civil Society Information Service (www.sacsis.org.za).

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