WASHINGTON - A high-level international commission on Thursday declared the global "war on drugs" a failure and urged nations to consider steps such as legalizing marijuana to help undermine the power of organized crime.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy urges international leaders to take a new approach to reducing drug abuse, to replace the current strategy of strictly criminalizing drugs and incarcerating drug users while battling criminal cartels that control the drug trade.

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"The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world," according to the report issued by the commission.

The 19-member panel includes current Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and former heads of state; former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan; British businessman Richard Branson; and former US Secretary of State George Shultz.

The commission said that fundamental reforms are urgently needed in national and global drug control policies.

Among the commission's recommendations:

- Replace the criminalization and punishment of people who are drug users but do not hurt other people with the offer of health and treatment services to those who need them.

- Encourage governments to consider legalizing marijuana and perhaps other illicit drugs "to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens." It said that decriminalization initiatives do not result in significant increases in drug use.

- Countries that continue to invest mostly in a law enforcement approach should focus on violent organized crime and drug traffickers.

Other members of the panel include: former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo; former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss; former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria; former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso; and former US Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker.

"Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption," the report states.

"Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use," the report states.

The commission's report added that money spent by governments on futile efforts to reduce the supply of drugs and on jailing people on drug-related offenses could be better spent on different ways to reduce drug demand and the harm caused by drug abuse.

- The report is posted on the Internet at http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Report.

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