Keywords Cannabis, cocaine, drug control, drug
policy, international treaties, legalization.
JONATHAN P. CAULKINS
Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Submitted 23 September 2017; ﬁnal version accepted 25 September 2017
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FROM FAILED GLOBAL DRUG PROHIBITION TO
REGULATING THE DRUG MARKET
The failure of global drug prohibition, now increasingly
acknowledged, demands urgent consideration of an
alternative approach which is politically feasible while also
respecting powerful market forces. Regulating as much of the
drug market as possible is the only realistic option
notwithstanding the political and other difﬁculties of
‘At ﬁrst people refuse to believe that a strange new thing
can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then
they see it can be done—then it is done and all the world
wonders why it was not done centuries ago.’ A Secret
Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett.
As Hall notes , the international drug control system
has been increasingly criticized as drug markets expanded
and became more dangerous . After heroin was
prohibited in Australia in 1953, overdose deaths increased
55-fold between 1964 and 1997 . In developing coun-
tries, especially those producing or transiting illicit drugs,
global drug prohibition has often had an even greater
negative impact than in rich countries.
In 2011 the Global Commission on Drug Policy,
comprising former and current Presidents and Prime
Ministers, noted  that ‘the global war on drugs has
failed with devastating consequences for individuals
and societies’. Judging failure does not require compari-
son of the results achieved to the absurd 1998 United
Nations Ofﬁce on Drugs and Crime (UNDCP) slogan ‘A
drug free world: we can do it!’, but that slogan reminds
us how detached from reality many international drug
control leaders were until recently. Consideration of
future drug policy options must start by acknowledging
the magnitude of this failure. The time for tentative
equipoise is over. Identifying beneﬁts of drug prohibition
remains a challenge, while severe unintended negative
consequences are often self-evident. Commercial organi-
zations as unsuccessful would have been declared bank-
rupt long ago.
The fall of the Berlin Wall heralded the collapse of the
former Soviet Union and its satellites. Sooner or later,
ignoring powerful market forces exacts harsh costs. The
value of the global illicit drug market for 2003 was esti-
mated  at US$322 billion. While the accuracy of this
and other estimates has been challenged, there is little
doubt that the global drug market is impressively large
and immensely proﬁtable.
The international drug treaties are already being
ignored. It is unlikely that a new set of drug treaties could
be negotiated. More countries are likely to start ignoring
these treaties and start reforming their drug policy, mostly
nervously and incrementally. No one can pretend that the
end game is obvious or that getting there will be easy, but
essentially the choice is between allowing demand for
psychoactive drugs to be supplied almost entirely by an
unregulated black market and encouraging that demand
to be supplied mainly by a regulated market. Already,
© 2018 Society for the Study of Addiction Addiction, 113,1224–1230