It is increasingly clear that the “war on drugs” has failed and there needs to be room for new approaches, the head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) said Thursday. UNDP head Helen Clark’s remarks ahead of the presentation of the organization’s 2013 Human Development Report came in a pre-ceremony interview with Reuters.
Clark is no small-time functionary. From 1999 to 2008 she served as the prime minister of New Zealand — three terms, according to Wikipedia – and before that headed the nation’s ministry, among other others. As UNDP chief she is the UN’s third highest-ranking official.
“To deal with drugs as a one-dimensional, law-and-order issue is to miss the point,” Clark said. “Once you criminalize, you put very big stakes around. Of course, our world has proceeded on the basis that criminalization is the approach. We have waves of violent crime sustained by drug trade, so we have to take the money out of drugs,” she said.
Clark didn’t go as far as calling for drug legalization, but she said she was encouraged by recent efforts by Latin American leaders to put the issue on the global agenda.
“The countries in the region that have been ravaged by the armed violence associated with drug cartels are starting to think laterally about a broad range of approaches and they should be encouraged to do that,” she said. “They should act on evidence.”
Latin American leaders have said “that the approach being followed has failed so we need a fresh set of eyes on this as well,” the former New Zealand prime minister added. “And I think the debate going on at the regional level is a very, very useful one.”
“I’ve been a health minister in my past and there’s no doubt that the health position would be to treat the issue of drugs as primarily a health and social issue rather than a criminalized issue,” Clark explained.