The Drug Debate

Common Ground Between Vatican and United Nations

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The Vatican and the United Nations aren’t always in agreement, but one of the topics on which they do agree is opposition to the legalization of drugs.

Last Tuesday the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent quasi-judicial body that oversees the implementation of the conventions of the United Nations on drugs, released its report for 2013.

The report has as its central theme the economic consequences of drug abuse, with evidence on the economic and social costs of drug abuse in the areas of health, public safety, crime, productivity, and governance, the press release explained.

The INCB also reiterated its strong stance against the legalization of drugs. The report noted that last year Uruguay’s Parliament approved a bill to legalise and regulate the sale and production of marijuana.

Then, in the United States, both Colorado and Washington State have both recently legalized the sale of marijuana.

One of the sections in the first chapter of the report analysed the arguments in favor of the legalization of drugs. Some maintain that enforcement costs related to drug laws are the main cost regarding drug use, the INCB noted.

Replying to this argument the report observed that “government revenue from the legal sale of alcohol and tobacco is less than the economic and health costs of their abuse.”

Moreover, the legalization of drugs could well lead to an increased use of them, resulting in higher costs for law enforcement. In many countries, the report commented, alcohol, not drugs, is the cause of a higher number of arrests.

In the United States, for example, in 2012 there were over 2 million alcohol-related arrests, compared to 1.6 million arrests for all illegal drugs combined.

Another argument used by proponents of drug legalization is that changing the laws would mean drug cartels and organized crime would no longer be able to use drugs as a source of revenue.

The INCB pointed out, however, that criminal organizations might well enter into a legal market, as well as continuing their illegal operations.

The report cited the case of the illicit market in cigarettes. The sale of cigarettes is legal, yet there is a lucrative black market in their sale.

In the United Kingdom around 9% to 20% of the cigarette market consists of smuggled goods. In Canada, smuggled cigarettes account for around a third of all consumption. While, in the United States, one study in a Chicago neighbourhood found that three-quarters of cigarettes had no tax stamp.

Then, there are the problems that result from a higher incidence of drug use once it is legalized. The INCB said that initial data from Colorado suggests that since the introduction of a widely commercialized “medical” marijuana program, the number of car accidents involving drivers testing positive for marijuana, along with adolescent related treatment admissions and drug tests revealing drug use have all increased.

“If currently controlled substances were regulated as alcohol is in many countries, more people would use them and become addicted, resulting in more adverse consequences,” the report concluded.

Regarding the theme of the economic damage caused by drug use the INCB examined a number of different ways in which drugs cause costs to society.

Globally, it is estimated that drug-related deaths account for between 0.5% and 1.3% of deaths among people aged 15-64 years, or in other terms, around 211,000 drug-related deaths a year.

Drug use, the report explained, is associated with a much higher risk of car accidents. Habitual use of marijuana is linked to a 9.5-fold greater risk of driving accidents. The consumption of alcohol in combination with drugs also significantly increases the risk of serious injury or death while driving.


Drug use is also associated with criminal activity. In the United States 17% of state prisoners and 18% of federal inmates said they had committed the offence for which they were currently serving a sentence to obtain money for drugs.

In the United States drug-related crime costs $61 billion annually, according to the report. Then, the cost of lost productivity when drug users are under treatment or in prison amounts to tens of billions of dollars.

These costs, however, can be reduced through prevention and education initiatives. According to the report for every $1 spent on prevention programs, $10 can be saved in subsequent costs.

“Prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs are essential to reducing demand for drugs and ensuring social welfare, as part of a balanced approach to drug control,” the report concluded.

The use of drugs “inflicts very grave damage on human life and health,” the Catechism says, (No. 2291) Their use, apart from legitimate health needs, is a grave offence, it adds. Whether from an economic or moral standpoint drug legalization is a very bad idea.


International Narcotics Control Board Report 2013 –

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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