Earlier this month the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report that stated the “war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” The Commission boasted former heads of five countries, as well as human rights, business and government leaders, all of whom believe that “the war on drugs has not been, and cannot, be won.”
In an Op-Ed piece in Friday’s New York Times, former President Jimmy Carter praised the Commission’s report, which he commended as “extraordinary” and “courageous and profoundly important.”
President Carter has long been a supporter of cannabis decriminalization – in 1977 he recommended decriminalizing marijuana possession of an ounce or less on the federal level – as well as a proponent of drug treatment options in place of prison sentences. In his Op-Ed piece, Mr. Carter recalls cautioning against imprisoning young, non-violent drug offenders: “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”
However, Mr. Carter noted that in the 1980s, under former President Ronald Reagan, national drug policy shifted to “futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.” In addition to an increase in expense, drug-related violence and dependence on police and military forces to wage this war on drugs, Mr. Carter noted that this policy shift led to unprecedented prison populations.
“Just before I left office, 500,000 people were incarcerated in America; at the end of 2009 the number was nearly 2.3 million. There are 743 people in prison for every 100,000 Americans, a higher portion than in any other country and seven times as great as in Europe. Some 7.2 million people are either in prison or on probation or parole – more than 3 percent of all American adults!,” Mr. Carter wrote.
Mr. Carter also lamented state budgets that now spend more on prisons than on higher education. He is hopeful that the Global Commission’s report “will give some cover to political leaders who wish to do what is right.”