Nearly 40,000 fatalities later in a mere four and a half years, the only reasonable conclusion is that the Felipe Calderón administration’s war on drugs has failed. The worst part is that from all indications, it will get far worse before it gets any better.

Yes, the government seizes drug traffickers and even major figures almost every day, but it refuses to recognize this simple fact of life: for every trafficker or czar that is grabbed, there are instantly three or four others ready to take his place.

Contrary to what some pundits claim, the recent U.N. Global Commission on Drug Policy paper, which essentially recommends the legalization of drugs, was not directly aimed at Mexico: it only seemed that way. At any rate, both Mexico and the United States dismissed the report offhand, regarding it not as the viable alternative it is, but as an intrusion in each country’s internal affairs.

In a way, the commission, whose membership includes former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and other world figures, is like the drug equivalent of the International Monetary Fund, except it doesn’t actually affect policy, it just makes recommendations. So in that regard it might be more like the U.N., whose own recommendations nobody minds. At any rate, it’s the highest international authority on drugs and the political, social and economic impact of their criminal status.

According to the report, the global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after Richard Nixon launched the U.S. government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.

Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers.

Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use. Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction, it says.

In summary, the recommendation notes: End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.

Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation that can accomplish these objectives and provide models for others.

Offer health and treatment services to those in need. Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available, including not just methadone and buprenorphine treatment but also the heroin-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada. Implement syringe access and other harm reduction measures that have proven effective in reducing transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections as well as fatal overdoses.

Respect the human rights of people who use drugs. Abolish abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment – such as forced detention, forced labor, and physical or psychological abuse – that contravene human rights standards and norms or that remove the right to self-determination.

Apply much the same principles and policies stated above to people involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets, such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers. Many are themselves victims of violence and intimidation or are drug dependent. Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations .

In conclusion, says the report, there appears to be almost no limit to the number of people willing to engage in such activities to better their lives, provide for their families, or otherwise escape poverty. Drug control resources are better directed elsewhere .

In others words, break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is now . Since all else has failed, this plan should be worth a try.

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