Unit 2: Hades and the Underworld
Before You Read
Discuss these questions with a classmate or together as a class.
- What are drugs?
- Why do some people use drugs?
- Why are some drugs illegal and some not?
- What kind of drug policies are in your country?
- Do you agree with your countries’ drug policies?
- What are other ideas to help fight against drug usage?
Skim the next reading. What do you think is the author’s purpose of the text: to inform, entertain, or to persuade? How will that affect the way you take notes on the reading?
Find the word in the paragraph given. Use the synonyms and definition to help.
- P1: inflicting or intended as punishment (adj.): ______________________________
- P2: decline, deterioration (n.): _____________________________________________
- P2: treated badly or inhumanely (v.): _______________________________________
- P3: imprisonment (n): _____________________________________________________
- P3: treated as unimportant or insignificant (v): ______________________________
- P3: beginning, birth (n): ___________________________________________________
- P5: the action of forbidding something, especially by law (n.): _______________
- P5: an official order or law (n.): ____________________________________________
- P6: related to a court or judge (adj.): _______________________________________
- P9: held, usually in jail (v.): ________________________________________________
- P9: found guilty of a crime (v.): ____________________________________________
- P9: to say what the punishment is for someone (v.): _________________________
- P13: doing the legal process against someone who committed a crime (n.): ____________________________________
- P15: something that causes great trouble or suffering (n.): __________________
- P16: general agreement (n): _______________________________________________
Pandora’s Box: The Real Impact of Drug Policies
In 1971, President Nixon began what would continue today as the “war on drugs.” Now every year nearly one million Americans end up in jail for drug-related offenses. They are not offered drug addiction treatment and often end up getting arrested once again for similar reasons. Now that they are a criminal, they will have difficulty finding someone that will hire them. Jobless, depressed, with no support, they will go to drugs to find peace and will probably end up in jail once again. Drug use opens a Pandora’s box of problems, but drug abuse policies do as well instead of helping addicts. Policies that should simply have been health strategies have actually opened the door to a punitive system which has increased the rate of violence and widened socio-economic gaps and inequality for people around the world, not just the US. Can we close ‘Pandora’s box’?
Today’s drug policies are finally under debate. Above all, they are in crisis. What is the goal of these “war on drugs” policies? Their stated objective was to establish a policy to control numerous dangerous substances, to prevent the addictive behaviors that these substances cause in those who consume them. These substances were considered so dangerous that the best way to ensure that people stay away from them was to make them illegal, making their purchase, possession or consumption a crime. This basis was associated with the morality of the substances themselves and of the ‘degeneration’ of certain groups of people associated with drug use, usually poor minorities, which justified their being persecuted and discriminated against. It created an extreme policy of prevention.
But things were not as simple as they appeared in this plan, which was actively promoted by the United States throughout the twentieth century. Over time, this kind of “war against drugs” policy was implemented almost everywhere in the world. Research shows that there are deep connections between drug prohibition policies and incarceration rates, the rate of HIV transmission, the militarization of the police in the Americas, lack of access to pain treatment for terminally ill patients, and social control over marginalized groups of society. All of these are tied to strong imbalances in the international burden of a war on drugs doomed to failure from its inception.
Why are human rights organizations in Latin America worried about this? Why are feminist organizations voicing their opinion? Why are village leaders speaking out? Why are an increasing number of scholars from the most influential academic institutions raising alarm bells among policymakers?
In Latin America, it is because the situation is dramatically exposed. Maintaining prohibition policies has involved a series of actions focused on criminal penalties and military and police action to combat drug trafficking. The mandate is to stop the shipment of drugs to Europe and North America in order to prevent consumption. This has had an impact in many communities, particularly those most directly affected due to their geographic location along trafficking routes or their climatic conditions favorable to drug crops. These communities have experienced levels of violence equivalent to civil war in some cases, and tens of thousands of lives have been lost in recent years.
The steady rise in the use of security forces, armed forces, helicopters, radar, and increasingly advanced weapons has not been effective in achieving the main goal of these policies: to reduce the supply of prohibited substances. The criminal organizations that control these illegal markets continue to operate, and they easily replace members who are killed or imprisoned. Organized crime has shown a remarkable capacity for manipulating security forces, political institutions and judicial systems, mainly due to the huge profits these organizations earn from illegal markets.
In production and trafficking regions like Latin America, consumption has also become a worrying factor. The rise in local consumption is creating concern in society, which tends to react fearfully. Drugs are identified as the cause of security problems and crime (ignoring social inequality and other structural causes) and, as a result, society resorts to punitive and control-oriented actions. These criminal justice approaches and laws directly associate drugs and crime. Furthermore, without rigorous empirical evidence, they sustain and justify the criminalization of consumers, particularly among the poor.
The effects of this problem have become so widespread in Latin American countries that many social organizations working on human rights issues in neighborhoods and communities, or on justice issues in prisons, or health issues, have come up against serious situations due to drug control laws on a daily basis.
CELS (the Center for Legal and Social Studies) is a human rights organization in Argentina with a long tradition of working on security, justice and prison policies. In the mid-2000s, while conducting research on violence in women’s prisons, we found prisons in the north of the country that were populated entirely by women who had been detained on the border with Bolivia with small amounts of drugs in their possession. They accounted for 100% of the population in these prisons, and all of them were convicted (or waiting to be sentenced) for the same crime: drug trafficking. Every one of them receives the same penalty: four and a half years in prison.
The imprisonment of women due to drug-related offenses has soared since the mid-1990s in every country in Latin America. In Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Peru, over 60% of the female prison population is incarcerated for drug-related offenses. The driving forces behind the excessive rates of incarceration are the extremely punitive drug laws being passed and the burden of unfair penalties.
Similarly, work done on justice and policing from a human rights perspective reveals clear dynamics regarding the relationship with drug laws that are impossible to overlook. Policies against drug trafficking almost always dominate discussions on security in many countries, introducing the logic associated with police and military action, which has intensified the levels of violence.
As a result, police arrests, the weakening of due process guarantees, the use of pre-trial detention and inconsistent sentences for drug offenses are all often seen in most countries. The consequences are more overcrowding in prisons, the clogging of justice systems, and a concentration on the minor players in the trafficking chain: consumers, small local sellers, and micro-traffickers. These are the people who end up in prison – without reducing hardly anything in illegal markets, which replace these minor players without losing any time and continue to operate as if nothing happened.
And yet all of this punitive effort to reduce drug trafficking has not found its counterpart in the health field, where there are still huge gaps in healthcare for people seeking help. Were not all of these efforts being made to address rising concerns about the impact of drug use on health? Then why are countries spending over 95% of their resources on criminal prosecution?
The international debate on the effectiveness of the existing drug control model only partly addresses the consequences of the system’s implementation. There is still no full acceptance of this drug control policy’s responsibility for the situations it has created. The global system seems to support the idea that the debate about drug policy is a discussion about drugs.
And what reality shows is that this debate about drug policy is really a discussion about health, wellbeing, justice, rights, development, and equality. We have before us a prohibitionist model that has increased violence and widened social gaps, economic inequality, and political differences. The international system must attempt to intervene in this business’ terms of trade, and states must stop using the ‘scourge’ of drugs to justify actions that violate human rights.
‘Pandora’s box’ has been open for some time, and its evils have spread out. But in the story of Pandora, ’hope’ still remained at the bottom of the box. Now, there is a need to rethink a system that has caused much greater damage than what it was supposed to prevent. The number and variety of voices joining this debate show that the consensus has been broken, and it’s time to think about change.
Answer the following questions about the article. Compare your answers with a partner.
- How is this article related to Pandora’s box? What might be Pandora’s box in this situation?
- What are 4 negative consequences of the drug policy described in the article?
- Who are affected by these drug policies the most?
- What are two reasons the author gives to show how prohibition drug policies do not work?
- According to the author, instead of punitive policies, what should be done to fight drug usage? Do you agree? Explain.
- The author says, “The global system seems to support the idea that the debate about drug policy is a discussion about drugs.” What does she mean here? What should the debate about drug policy discuss?
CEFR Level: CEF Level C1