By Ian Broughton
South African drug policy is rooted in racism and class discrimination. This was the view expressed by Dr Ethan Nadelmann at the opening of SA Drug Policy Week in Cape Town earlier this month.
Nadelmann is the founder of the Drug Policy Alliance. He has dedicated most of his life to changing America’s drug policy that resulted in a war on drugs.
Speaking to delegates, Nadelmann said that South Africa was on the wrong path which has serious consequences.
More than 150 delegates from different government and civil society sectors, as well as drug policy experts and activists participated in this year’s event. The delegates shared ideas and experiences, and proposed solutions to change the current system of heavy anti-drug sentiment.
Three reports were released, including one which describes the most significant development yet in efforts to change South Africa’s drug policy.
Nadelmann warned of the impact unjust laws could have on society – a lesson the US learnt the hard way. Many substances were banned because they were used by minorities such as Chinese, Africans and Mexicans.
Nadelmann criticised the American drug policy, which he said made substances illegal not because they were more dangerous than others, but because of who was using it.
He said there has never been a drug-free society in human history and people shared a universal desire to alter consciousness. “Drugs are here to stay whether we like it or not, and we need to cope with it by building a framework based on science and human values,” he said.
Addressing delegates, he said, “Understand the extent to which drug laws are embedded in racism.” Solutions based on scientific research are necessary, such as harm reduction and opioid substitution therapy (methadone).
But not everyone in the drug treatment field agrees with Nadelmann’s view.
Cathy Karassellos, a clinical…