Media Silent as US Announces Unprecedented Move to End Drug War

Drug-War-CooperBy Claire Bernish

Slipping by virtually unnoticed, the United States made a surprising move last week toward entirely ending the contentious and wholly ineffective War on Drugs.

With the approach of the first Special Session of the U.N. General Assembly to discuss international drug policy in nearly 18 years, Bill Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, discussed the potential for an historic shift in U.S. drug policy with a panel on March 8th.

Seeking to return to a “greater focus on public health and healthcare as relates to the drug issue, rehabilitation, treatment, [and] education,” Brownfield described what will be “a pragmatic approach to reform … global drug policy.”

Despite the moniker Land of the Free, the U.S. recently fell under intense criticism after a number of reports noted the country houses the largest prison population on the planet — a fact President Obama reluctantly admitted last summer.

Should it follow through with decriminalization as Brownfield described, the U.S. government would be marking the first effort to weaken the now-massive prison-industrial machine — including the controversial, corrupt, private prison corporations that now dominate the criminal justice landscape.

“We will call for pragmatic and concrete criminal justice reform, areas such as alternatives to incarceration or drug courts, or sentencing reform,” Brownfield explained. “In other words, as President Obama has said many times publicly, to decriminalize much of basic behavior in drug consumption in order to focus scarce law enforcement resources on the greater challenge of the large transnational criminal organizations.

We will propose greater focus on what we call new psychoactive substances. These are the new drugs … which in the 21st century the pharmaceutical industry can produce at a faster rate than governments or … the United Nations system can actually review and register.

Asked whether countries deciding to move in the direction of Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs in a massive, successful effort to combat addiction, would be penalized for breaking established international narcotics guidelines, Brownfield stated the issue would not be for the U.S. government to decide. He explained wholesale reform of drug policy couldn’t possibly be applied in a one-size-fits-all format, as individual countries are dealing with problems specific to their needs.

As an example, Brownfield pointed to cannabis policy in the U.S.

It is the position of the United States government, for example, that despite the fact that four of our states have voted to legalize the cultivation, production, sale, purchase, and consumption of cannabis, or marijuana, that we are still in compliance with our treaty obligations, because first, the federal law, national law, still proscribes and prohibits marijuana; and second, because the objective, as asserted by the states themselves, is still to reduce the harm caused by consumption [of] marijuana.

Our argument is that at the end of the day, the issue is not precisely whether a government has chosen to decriminalize or not to decriminalize; it is whether the government is still working cooperatively to reduce the harm caused by the product.

Several times, Brownfield emphasized the necessity for policy reform to hold to international narcotics conventions, but he also expressed optimism that “experimentation, adjustment, and modification” of policy would nonetheless be allowable.

Drug policy experts, activists, and countless others have decried the Drug War’s criminalization in reference to treatment of what is largely viewed as an epidemic of addiction.

“The world is a different place in 2016 than it was in 1959 or 1960,” Brownfield noted. “So, of course, policy changes. Opinions change. Focus and priority changes.”

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Set to take place around five weeks from now, if the Ambassador’s plans are well-received, the UNGASS might produce the most positive reforms to now-anachronistic drug policies since they were imposed decades ago.

“At the end of the day, dangerous drugs are a danger to anyone — right or left; Northern Hemisphere, Southern Hemisphere; developing, developed; industrial, agrarian — it doesn’t matter. The harm is the same on the human being,” Brownfield asserted. “But we must process it through the realities of our planet today.”

This article (Media Silent as US Announces Unprecedented Move to End Drug War) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Claire Bernish and Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email

  • telescreen

    Obama changes national drug policy by prosecutorial discretion. WH announces it is no longer acceptable to say illegal drug abusers. They are undocumented drug dependents. Step aside Prison Inc. Big Pharma’s on the way.

  • Elizabeth Martin

    We’ll see what they have in mind, won’t we? The prisons are so full of “victimless crime” criminals, that there’s no space for actual criminals…………sigh……………

    • dennis baker

      The prisons are so full of the “crime-less victim” of criminal organizations, whom blatantly lie about about cause and effect and harm, Fabrication of scenario’s that utilize “Straw-man Logic” to persuade participants in an open discussion, there point is moot.

  • Bmweric

    When you figure that the War on Drugs has made no headway in the availability or use of any drugs in the USA and costs $7 billion a year just to the DEA and it’s Minions, not counting courts, judges, lawyers, cops, turnkeys, prison cells, etc. It’s been an expensive, ineffective effort that should have been ended decades ago except that it’s an employment program for Drug Warriors. Let’s put those people to positive jobs.

  • John Cook

    Just last night I watched a movie based on the life of the lead singer of ‘Joy Division’ that ended with his committing suicide. Besides him fuking up by marrying too young his main problem was a worsening case of epilepsy and the useless drugs they were feeding him.
    It made me think how the stupid prohibition of hemp harms us all (cannabis is a very effective treatment of epilepsy among a host of other things) and what a crime it was when that prohibition was created by media lying (Hearst) and Rockefeller’s manipulation in order to create ‘Big-Pharma’. The criminal demonization of hemp has harmed us all immeasurably over the last 80 or so years and it’s beyond stupid to continue it.

  • Philippe Desrosiers

    It will not work. Private corporations operating jails in the USA. will write a bill on a remote isolated island, distribute envelopes to the USA. congress and the bill will pass.

  • drbhelthi

    Bullseye !

  • BarleySinger

    Except, despite a lot of hope in the lead in to that UN session, and people talking up “harm reduction” and how the entire war on drugs is based on outright lies about the substances, the nature of addiciton (which is psychological not physical) … guesx what? They didn’t change anything. They reaffirmed heir previous stance and went on with business as usual. They did this AFTER it came out that the US had forced the UN not to release an international study on drug use that showed that every element of the US position on illicit drugs use is wrong… they have no science on their side at all. The report was leaked to wikileaks.

    Meanwhile Canada has decided as a nation to legalize cannabis use for adults next year. Mexco’s supreme court said that the use of Cannabis is a human right. It looks like California will very likely legalize the use of pot for adults next year too.

    But hey … the US has a new fake enemy to use as an excause for their proxy wars now. They are at war in 137 nations at the moment (all undeclared of course).

    So the UN is becoming irrelevant, and all over the planet, most people now admit freely that the US is the largest danger to world peace. *HINT* it has been for a very long time. Given that that the United Nations has (unfortunatly) been used as a club to extort and coerce nations into doing whatever the “member nations” of the Security Council tell them to do… and that OTHER alternative groups of nations are forming replacements to the UN that actually DO help people, things are getting interesting.

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