A global commission studded with leaders in business, politics and culture on Thursday declared the worldwide drug war a failure and called for legally regulating the drug market.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy argues in its report that “political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.”

The calls for a shift in drug strategy toward prevention and regulation and away from strict law enforcement have grown louder in recent years as drug consumption rises unabated and drug-related violence has ravaged countries like Mexico.

“What’s most new about it is not so much the content—because it has been said by different people for the last several years—but it’s who’s saying it,” said John Walsh, a senior associate and drug policy expert at the Washington Office on Latin America. “People who have credibility are putting their credibility on the line.”

The report’s 19 authors are a who’s who of global elite including Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President César Gaviria and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former president of Brazil. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz also took part.

Renowned authors including Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes and Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa participated; as did the banker and chairman of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation John Whitehead and Kofi Annan, former United Nations secretary general.

The commission recommends ending the criminalization of drug users and treating the fight against drugs as a public health rather than security issue; investing in prevention; and re-focusing repressive action against organized crime in ways that reduce violence.

The report comes on the heels of a survey showing that Mexicans are feeling increasingly vulnerable more than four years into Calderón’s fight against drug cartels and organized crime.

Just 19 percent of Mexicans believe the government is “winning” a war against organized crime, down sharply from 48 percent a year ago. That’s according to the latest joint survey on the public perception of security by polling agency Consulta Mitofsky and the nonprofit Mexicans United Against Crime.

The number of respondents who said they had a “positive” perception of security is hovering for a second year around 16 percent.

Harsh law enforcement over the past 50 years hasn’t reduced drug production, trafficking or use, the commission said in its report.

“In practice, the global scale of illegal drug markets – largely controlled by organized crime – has grown dramatically over this period,” the report said.

The United Nations estimates that global consumption of cocaine rose 27 percent between 1998 and 2008, while consumption of marijuana—the largest market by far—grew 8.5 percent over the same period.

“The drug war has had a long run and it seems the consequences are getting worse not better,” said Walsh. “These are the beginnings of a much more wide-ranging and profound debate about drug policy.”

Calderón’s government took issue with the report, saying in a statement that expanding the market for drug consumption through legalization would “create greater economic stimulus for criminals.”

Lauren Villagran is a freelance journalist in Mexico City.

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