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Ex-ambassador: US drug policies wrongheaded

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American policymakers should heed the recommendations of a damning report that said the global war on drugs has failed, a former British ambassador to Colombia and longtime advocate for the legal regulation of drugs told on Thursday.

"The United States should look at the extraordinary costs that its policies have brought about," said Sir Keith Morris, who is on the advisory board of the International Council on Security and Development, a think tank that supports drug policy reform.

Morris, who was Britain’s ambassador to Colombia from 1990 to 1994 during the height of the drug-related fighting there, pointed to the extreme violence and dislocation that the trade causes around the world.

And he called it "extraordinary" that British and American troops in Afghanistan were dying at the hands of militant groups financed in part by illegal drug consumption in the United States and Great Britain.

Morris spoke after a commission that includes former heads of state, a former U.N. secretary-general and a business mogul released a sweeping assessment of the drugs war that said that it had failed and governments should explore legalizing marijuana and other controlled substances.

The report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy argued that the decades-old worldwide "war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."

The 19-member commission includes former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. official George P. Schultz, who held cabinet posts under Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

Changing policy, and direction, after spending so much money on it, and having lost many lives in the so-called war on drugs, would be very difficult, Morris admitted.

"To turn around and say that 'this is been a failure' and make a U-turn is terribly difficult," he said. "It's like trying to turn around a 400,000-ton supertanker."

Most officials he spoke to actually agreed that reforms were needed, but they did not feel they could speak out publicly, he said.

"So many people one knows privately agree but keep their mouths shut publicly," said Morris, who supports a legal regime of drug regulation, with different approaches crafted for different types of drugs.

"Heroin might be (regulated) entirely through prescription … cocaine through pharmacists," he said, adding that many major tobacco companies had already "geared up" to sell cannabis-like cigarettes through stores.