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High time for drug reform?


High time for drug reform?


With an estimated global profit of 230 billion euros from illegal drugs made by organised crime groups each year, the war on narcotics remains as potent an issue as ever.

So too is the surrounding argument as to how best to tackle the supply and demand axis encouraging drug trafficking and addiction. Whilst those in favour of harsher penalties remain adamant deterrence is the only way to dissuade users, advocates of decriminalization point to case-studies in Holland, Germany, and most radically, in Portugal.

Our debate comes twelve years after Portuguese authorities dramatically re-classified drugs as a health problem, rather than a criminal issue. Despite initial predictions this new ‘depenalisation’ model would only abet further usage, overall consumption appears to have fallen.

But is Portugal a special case? And is theirs a model replicable throughout Europe?

Join us for this edition of On The Frontline, with our guests: Antonio Maria Costa, former chief of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, and Howard Marks, a former drug trafficker once described by a British newspaper as the most sophisticated drug baron of all time.

Howard Marks Factfile

  • Marks was born on the 13th August 1945 in Kenfig HiIl, Wales, where he was brought up to speak Welsh, before moving to Oxford to study nuclear physics at Balliol College
  • Despite dabbling with drugs during his undergraduate years, it was only during a Masters course in philosophy that Marks began trading small quantities of hashish
  • Marks quickly expanded his operation and after befriending dealers in Germany, and making connections with various different international cartels – including the Mafia and the IRA – he soon began netting around $80,000 with each shipment of hashish imported from Frankfurt
  • In 1972 Marks was approached by MI6, keen to solicite his services given his connections in the hashish-producing countries of Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan, for his notorious ability to seduce women, and for his contacts with the IRA
  • Between 1975 and 1978, Marks trafficked 55,000 pounds of marijuana and hashish from Nepal through John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. This project involved the aid of the Yakuza, the Thai army, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Pakistani Armed Forces, and Nepalese monks, and netted a total profit of around $48 million
  • At the height of his smuggling empire in the 1980s, Marks had collected 43 different aliases, each with its own passport, 89 phone lines and 25 companies trading throughout the world
  • Marks was arrested in 1988 in a CIA led sting operation and sentenced to 25 years in America’s toughest federal penitentiary, the Federal Correctional Complex in Indiana, of which he served seven years
  • In 1997, Marks stood for election to the UK Parliament on the single issue of the legalization of cannabis, establishing himself as a regular commentator on drug decriminalization

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