Break the Taboo—The Debate to End the War on Drugs

“The message of the Global Commission came at the right moment and allowed a certain crystallization around this call for breaking the taboo all over the world,” said Ruth Dreifuss, the former President of Switzerland and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

President Dreifuss’ words refer to the taboo against challenging the war on drugs that has existed for more than four decades. But a timely film reveals the beginning of a global debate on the once untouchable subject of drugs. 

Breaking the Taboo’ chronicles the disastrous 40-year history of the drug war and introduces the leaders now calling for a fresh approach. 

Those calling for change include members of The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a body of experts drawn from politics, business and the arts. 

The Commission’s first report in 2011 exposed the drug war’s impacts on public health, human rights and security. It called for a serious discussion about policy models to undermine the power of organized crime, including legal regulation of drugs. 

The second report of the Commission was released last June. Titled, ‘The War on Drugs and HIV/AIDS: How the Criminalization of Drug Use Fuels the Global Pandemic,’ the paper documented the tragic effects that criminalization has had on public health, especially with respect to HIV. 

Since the formation of the Global Commission we have seen a seismic shift in the drug policy debate. The Organization of American States is carrying out a scenario-planning process to evaluate alternative policies, the UN General Assembly will hold a Special Session on drugs in 2016 and US states are introducing regulatory approaches. 

But, as ‘Breaking the Taboo’ shows the damage of the global war on drugs is still being done. Hundreds of thousands of people remain incarcerated; millions more are marginalized and stigmatized, driven away from life-saving services. 

Nevertheless, the film also reveals that the taboo has been broken. We encourage you to watch this film and participate in the debate that it has stimulated

Break the taboo and end the war on drugs

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I am pleased to know that President Juan Manuel Santos signed the "Breakig the Taboo" letter and that he is expressing a need for alternatives to the repressive Drug War model. What is, however, truly upseting (to say the least) is the fact that the 2012 Drug Bill to be discussed in March 2013 not only attacks itself to small-crop growers bus also pretends to "legalize" the most appalling of all drug-war measures: aerial spraying. For the past 34 years aerial spraying has been applied and sanctioned by Administrative Regulations and environmental norms that are basically passed after the fact. Now, however, if the Santos Government's Drug Bill is passed as is, the Colombian State will be passing a law which allows it the legal, even if inmmoral and totally unethical, right to use chemical war measures against its own people. Aerial spraying is one of the main causes of criminal forced internal displacement in Colombia and the ensuing dispossession of small-peasant lands by large narco landowners. It strengthens the narcotics traffic and the armed-hold it has over small crop growers as of State abandonment and persecution. Fumigation is a Drug War measure which, clearly violates IHL, as it attacks itself to unarmed peasants who are in no way part of the hostilities.

President Santos has to made to understand that changing the current paradigm also means devising alternatives to criminnalization and persecution of impoverished Colombian peasants.

We would like your support for a letter to Ban Ki-moon
requesting a moratorium on aerial spraying until the necessary studies on the impacts of this measure are carrried out. We have already started collecting "personal" signatures. We are hoping to send you the letter once it is fully translated into English so that you might hopefully help us to gather support for this initiative. Aerial spraying has to be stopped and it would be totally inhumane for it to be incorporated into the 2013 Drug Bill.


María Mercedes Moreno

Dear Maria,

Yes, aerial eradication has had many, many problems. Thanks for drawing attention to it and I look forward to seeing the letter.

Thanks again.

Best wishes,

Go get them Maria MM

From a sister of commitment and focus in DP Reform


I thought this film was, generally, quite good. It could use some further editing - especially in the beginning. I am very glad that you have created this and that we can use it as a tool to foment humanistic change.

Thanks Scott. We're really glad this film is freely available online. We've gotten really positive feedback. Cory Booker even gave a positive review urging people to check it out!

Dear Maria,

Congratulation. It is beyond doubt that the war on drug has failed miserably; billions in $ , times and efforts, and lives lost for very minimal result; completely out of target. It is a pity that we do not have anybody from Africa and Asia giving positive response. The film will be useful in my campaign for a more humane drug laws in Malaysia.

Hi Tan Sri,

Thanks for commenting. I hope this film can help us all in our advocacy. It really helps that so many high-profile people contributed their time and efforts to this.

Best of luck in Malaysia!


For many years now I, and many others, have been thinking that the 'War on Drugs' is an absurd and idiotic notion. You can only enter into a war where there are clear objectives and clear and measurable outputs otherwise you are merely an idiot. Well, the “War on Drugs' doesn't fit any rational measure for a war so by definition must be idiotic. Worse than that, how can you possibly win a war when vast numbers of your own people are totally opposed to such a war, as are significant numbers of people around the world. The war is supported by those of a puritanical tendency and religious fanatics who hate to see people enjoying themselves, as well of course by US/multi-national big businesses who gather enormous profits from the war. The police and judicial system too tend to support the war as it provides them with much greater resources than they would have had otherwise. Above all, gangsters and criminals also all love the war as they can earn so much more money and power. The losers are taxpayers around the world and innocent ordinary people around the world. The lessons of US Prohibition in the 1930's, an earlier 'war on alcohol', are easy – just don't do it. Furthermore in many countries, like the US, individuals, including morons, are allowed to own guns, which do far more damage than drugs do, so where's the logic of a war on drugs. No, the 'answer' to drugs has always been very clear – stop the war, legalise most drugs, organise the sale of drugs the same way as gun shops, tax the drugs, and use the drug taxes to pay for any medical and policing costs when people overdose, and for cracking down on illegal sales. Then see the Government Deficits shoot down. The People win, Big Business (and other criminals) lose, great!

True stories published re U.S. justice system during "war on drugs" period:

1. Los Angeles Times Jan 30, 1996.
Judge in Citron Sentencing Hard to Gauge
Courts: J. Stephen Czuleger can be both tough and lenient, but peers agree he's always judicious.

LOS ANGELES — In eight years on the bench, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger has made a reputation as someone who can hand down the harshest of sentences but also show compassion for contrite criminals.

Those searching for clues in the cases Czuleger has handled will find a judge who surprised prosecutors when he fined a drug dealer $2 million more than they recommended but was more lenient than expected with a former museum director convicted of swiping and selling artifacts.


2. Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1999, page A20:

"Ovando: Man Shot by L.A. Police Freed from Prison."

"In allegations filed in court, Ovando said officers had him in handcuffs when they shot him, and later planted the rifle.

When Ovando was sentenced to 23 years in prison, Superior Court Judge Stephen Czuleger noted that the defendant, who was in a wheelchair, failed to show remorse.

Why would he? Romero asked, when he stubbornly maintained his innocence. She recalled him wondering: 'I'm in jail - for what? I didn't do anything. I'm in a wheelchair and I'm here for 23 years.'"

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