Ethan Nadelmann - Oslo Freedom Forum 2012

Uploaded by OsloFreedomForum on 30.05.2012

Hello everybody. It’s a pleasure to be in this gathering.
It’s a pleasure to be somebody who considers myself a human rights activist,
and to be in the audience and on the podium with other brothers and sisters fighting for human rights.
But I think that the issue that I’m going to talk about now is going to be difficult for some of you.
And I want to ask and especially my brothers and sisters from Africa, from Asia, and the Arab world,
to open your hears, open your minds to a broader way of thinking about human rights,
and to a debate that is happening increasingly in the Americas and in Europe,
but that is not thoroughly spread around the rest of the world, but that will soon.
I believe that the way that we, we as national societies and global societies,
are dealing with drugs–psychoactive drugs, mind altering drugs,
not all of them, not alcohol and tobacco- these other drugs.
I believe that the way that we are dealing with these through our national policies and our international conventions and control mechanisms-
that this represents a massive and pervasive violation of human rights
in ways that almost nobody fully comprehends.
I realize that I’m saying that, and in some respects I may sound like the heretic at the human rights party.
But when we look at what is happening with the problem of drugs around the world,
what we begin to realize is that we are dealing not with one problem, but two.
We are dealing not just with the problems of drug addiction, and drug abuse, and drug-related disease and crime,
but we are dealing as well with the consequences of futile and failed prohibitionist policies.
That the policy that has evolved over the last century,
the global prohibition regime that has evolved over the last century,
whereby certain drugs- marijuana and cocaine and heroin and amphetamines and other drugs like that-
are dealt with primarily as criminal justice issues,
in which the people who dominate drug control policies in most governments come not from the health sector,
but from the security sector, the police, the law enforcement sector.
That itself, is a major, or even greater part of the problem.
What am I talking about here? I come as an American, with our unusual experience with alcohol prohibition.
Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, people were fully aware of the horrors of alcohol,
of the addiction and the accidents, as we industrialized our society, the fears of accidents on the road and factories,
husbands becoming drunk and beating their wives and their children.
And the belief became first through a temperance movement, that ultimately became a prohibitionist movement,
that if we could criminalize alcohol we would eliminate alcohol from our society
and thereby free families, free industry, free from all of the horrors of alcohol addiction,
this dangerous and deadly drug.
And in fact we adopted an amendment to our constitution to criminalize alcohol.
And at first it appeared to work. Alcohol use fell, alcohol problems fell.
But then over the course of the 1920s and into the early 1930s, what happened?
Well at first, alcohol use and problems stopped falling and began to increase.
Alcohol began to become more popular, the speakeasy culture, 0:04:15.000,0:04:19.000young people became appealing, bootleggers became role models.
What else happened? Hundreds of thousands of people began to be blinded, and poisoned, and killed by bad bootleg liquor,
liquor that was more dangerous because it was illegal.
What else happened? Al Capone and organized crime and violence and corruption.
Jail cells and courthouses filling with nonviolent alcohol law violators.
Shootouts on the American borders with Canada and Mexico, the US trying to impose our prohibitionist policies on our neighboring countries.
Disrespect for law and order. Hypocrisy with laws being applied against the poor but not against the wealthy.
And at some point, my grandparents or great grandparents woke up and said “Enough is enough."
This prohibitionist policy with alcohol has clearly failed.
Better to have a policy of taxation and regulation and warning against the dangers of alcohol.
Better to have an intelligent and thoughtful regulatory policy,
because as the Europeans had shown simultaneously, an effective and thoughtful regulatory policy
can reduce the harms of the drug alcohol more than a prohibitionist policy can.
And rather than putting all of the money into the hands of the criminals and the black market,
can put it into the hands of government coffers.
I look at what’s going on with drugs around the world today,
and it’s like what America had with alcohol prohibition times 50.
The United Nations estimated that in the late 1990s the global black market in drugs was worth $400 billion a year, maybe 7 or 8% of global trade.
Some people said that was high, but maybe it was only $250 or $300 billion a year.
The black market for drugs, the number one source of illegal revenue for
terrorist organizations, criminal organizations, political organizations of the left and right.
There is a barely a terrorist or a criminal political organization that does not derive revenue in this area.
Look what’s going on in Mexico now. From Ciudad Juarez to other cities to Sinaloa.
Look what’s going on in Central America right now. Look what’s going on in parts of Latin America,
and in Afghanistan, and parts of Asia. Look what is spreading now into West Africa.
We condemn the drug trafficking and the drug dealing.
But what is that about? Why is this not being properly regulated? 0:06:51.000,0:07:00.000It’s because we have a prohibitionist policy that results in the market being dominated by criminals and criminal organizations.
Think about it. I’m no right wing economist, but I can tell you,
so long as there is a demand for these substances, there will be a supply.
That the only thing that one nation can hope to do in terms of success
is push down on drug production and trafficking in its own country and push it elsewhere.
Colombia can succeed by pushing it into Central America. Central America into Mexico.
Mexico can’t push it anywhere because it’s right next to us. Maybe they push it into the Caribbean.
Maybe Afghanistan stops producing opium and then what happens?
It spreads through Central Asia and back into Burma and back into Pakistan.
A war on drugs ultimately cannot defeat what is essentially a dynamic global commodities market.
Because what we are talking about here are global commodities,
like alcohol, like sugar, like tobacco, like precious metals, and all of that.
The question is, will we sensibly regulate it? Or will we persist with a policy of prohibition?
People think somehow that prohibition represents the ultimate form of regulation.
It does not. Prohibition represents the abdication of regulation.
It means that whatever you are unable to prohibit nonetheless bubbles up to fill the demand.
It is thoroughly unregulated, and to the extent that it is regulated,
it is regulated by criminal organizations or criminal networks.
I was fascinated a few weeks ago to hear Evo Morales, the leftist president of Bolivia,
former head of the coca growers union, lecturing the United States sounding like Milton Friedman,
“So long as there is a demand how do you expect me to reduce supply?”
This is an issue that pulls together the left, the right, and the center.
There is a growing movement to change drug policies around the world, and we consider ourselves one of you.
We consider ourselves fighters for human rights. Why?
Because we understand that when you wage a war on drugs,
you target tens of millions of people, if not hundreds of millions of people, around the world,
solely because of what they choose to put into their body,
solely because they choose to put into their body that substance rather than that substance. 0:09:24.000,0:09:28.000 That what happens is a black market that destroys human rights.
When you create a culture of fear in parts of the world with gangsters and government and military fighting one another,
there is no freedom in such a society.
When you incarcerate massive numbers of people for what are essentially nonviolent activities,
that is not a matter of freedom of human rights.
When you deprive people of access to medication that could help them deal with their addictions, 0:09:53.000,0:09:55.000 that is not a matter of freedom of human rights.
Now I know, we are fighting here, all of my previous speakers, all my brothers and sisters,
against tyranny, against injustice, against discrimination of religious minorities and women, against slavery.
And yes, the war on drugs in an inherent part of that. It is an inherent part of that.
Now I have to say that as an American, as a very proud American, who loves my country dearly,
and who rues and fears the day when us, America, is no longer the clumsy superpower,
but replaced by another superpower that may be far more venal and have far less regard for human rights.
But I can tell you that in my own country, the war on drugs represents the greatest source
of violation of human rights and freedom in my own country.
The United States of America, my country,
we have less than 5% of the population, we have almost 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.
300 million out of 7 billion, 2.3, 2.4 million out of 10 million people incarcerated.
This is not traditional in American history.
In 1980 we had 500,000 people behind bars now we have 2.4 million people behind bars.
Our rates of incarceration of African Americans make the rates of incarceration
in apartheid South Africa or the Soviet gulags look like nothing in comparison.
Among African American men aged 20-35, 1 in 9 is currently behind bars. 13 million Americans have felony convictions.
America, my country, has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
The Russians and the Belarussians , 2nd and 3rd, huffing and puffing to keep up with us.
But no, America is number one.
And we lock up people at 5,6, 7, 10 times the rate of other societies around the world.
And mind you, yes we use drugs a little more than others, but we are not dramatically higher in our rates of illegal drug use,
we are not dramatically higher in our rates of nonviolent crime.
But what we do, what we do, is we are faster to arrest people,
when we arrest them we are more quick to put them behind bars, when we put them behind bars we keep them there for longer,
when they get out there we make it easier to catch them with a urine test or something else,
throw them back behind bars, and then we treat them as second or third class citizens for the rest of their lives,
in many places depriving them of the right to vote, to get a license,
to be in public housing, to get scholarships to university, what have you.
And unfortunately, this American policy is one that we are promoting to the rest of the world.
Why? Because we’re America, we can promote and we will promote.
And you know something, it makes us feel better when we see our own punitive policies mirrored by everybody else.
Many of you have laws against cannabis that were enacted when nobody in your country knew what cannabis was.
You have laws to prohibit the other drugs that you signed onto because of pressure from my government decades ago,
and nobody knew what it was and nobody imagined it would ever become something commonly used.
But now you have the prohibition laws and you have people using these things,
and you are caught in a prohibitionist framework.
And it’s not just the criminalization and all of the prison.
When HIV/AIDS began to spread around the world in the 1980s,
and not just through the heterosexual sex in southern Africa, but by drug users using drugs, injecting drugs.
Drugs do not spread AIDS, needles do not spread AIDS, it’s sharing dirty needles.
The countries that adopted intelligent, harm reduction policies, needle exchange programs,
treating addiction as a health way: Those were the ones, Australia, Netherlands, even Margaret Thatcher’s England,
that kept the HIVs very low. Those that did the opposite to continue the policy of criminalization and abstinence only,
those were the ones that saw HIV rates rise like that.
In my country a quarter million people are dead today who would not be dead
if our country had adopted the policies of other civilized nations back in the 1980s.
That is the cost of our prejudice, that is the cost of our prejudice.
To take just one tiny example: that beautiful man and musician, who opened up the ceremony, John Forte.
John got caught, involved in some cocaine deals when he was younger.
And the prosecutor said “You have a choice: Plead guilty, get 4 years. Go to trial: get 40 years.”
In the end he got 14 years, and only because of a national campaign to win his freedom
was he released after 7 years and here with us today.
He was the lucky one of which there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of others.
So I’m asking you here to understand,
that when we criminalize our fellow human beings because of what they put in their body,
when we accept that prejudice, that that prejudice and that discrimination
is every bit as venal as other forms of prejudice against people for activities that do no harm to others. 0:15:26.000,0:15:30.000But in this case it generates the crime, the violence, the corruption, the mayhem,
that we see in the newspapers every day all around.
I plead with you to accept this cause of reforming our drug laws and drug policies.
The cause of treating addiction as a health issue, and of regulating these drugs sensibly,
as part of the human rights community.
Ultimately we need to evolve from the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century
to a new global drug control regime grounded in science, compassion, health, and human rights.
Thank you very much.