By  and Bohuslav Sobotka for The Guardian. Standing on the podium at the United Nations in New York in June 1998, Kofi Annan declared: “It is time for all nations to say ‘yes’ to the challenge of working towards a drug-free world!” The leaders assembled at that meeting agreed: illegal drugs were to be eradicated from the face of the planet. They even set a deadline: 10 years to rid the globe of this scourge. A drug-free world by 2008.

We all know that drug use can cause great damage to individuals, their families and communities. Drug addiction can be miserable, debilitating, and often fatal. And a profitable illegal market only strengthens the organised crime groups that we fight so hard to contain.We want to get to grips with these problems. We expect our politicians to work together to reduce and eliminate suffering wherever possible.But with hindsight, the naivety displayed by world leaders in 1998 and at many previous and subsequent meetings is breathtaking. There is something profoundly misguided about the idea that human beings, who for thousands of years have taken an array of chemicals and plants for recreational and ritual purposes, would, in the space of 10 years, suddenly sober up at the request of the UN.

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