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Legalize Drugs, Says Former British Spy Chief

Warning: Contains Graphic Images of Death

The latest figures from the United Nations show that both the production and consumption of cocaine and other illicit drugs are increasing. That’s despite the so-called "war on drugs" being fought in an increasing number of countries around the world. A new two-year investigation claims the current approach is failing, in both consuming and producing countries.

Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border - a frontline in the global war on drugs. Mexican authorities recently intercepted this haul of weapons and ammunition, destined for the drug gangs that make this transit route one of the deadliest in the world.

More than 50,000 people have died in drug violence across Mexico since the government sent the army to fight the drug cartels in December 2006.

In a new report, the International Institute for Strategic Studies argues the West is losing the war on drugs. Nigel Inkster, a former deputy chief of Britain’s intelligence agency MI6, is the author.

“Mexico is now experiencing two wars, one between the government and drugs traffickers, and the other between drugs trafficking groups," said Inkster. "Afghanistan is another example where what we’ve seen is the narcotics trade not causing conflict, because conflict was there long before, but acting as a perpetuator of conflict.”

NATO and Afghan forces have been battling the production of opium - used to make heroin - at the same time as fighting insurgents. Commanders say the two are often linked.

The U.N. estimates that 123,000 hectares of opium poppies were grown in Afghanistan in 2010 - more than 60 percent of the global supply. Production in Burma soared by 20 percent from 2009 to 2010.

“You squeeze production in one region and it simply displaces elsewhere. Same thing is true of supply routes, you crack down on one supply route and alternatives are found,” said Inkster.

West Africa is now a key transit route for drugs en route from growers to consumers in Europe.

The latest U.N. figures show that cocaine use in Europe has doubled over the past decade. Globally, it’s estimated the total number of drug users has grown to 210 million. Inkster said drug use cannot be eradicated - so it should be managed instead, like tobacco.

“Governments raise considerable revenues from the sales of tobacco, but over the past few years, consumption of tobacco has been nudged away from being something that is socially acceptable towards something that is increasingly not seen as acceptable,” said Inkster.

Inkster warns that more and more countries are being dragged into the global industry in illicit drugs - with devastating consequences on both sides of the trade.