I was waiting by a corner store near my apartment last week when a man by the door offered to sell me drugs.

"Sorry," he said with a chuckle, when I politely declined.

"Usually people only come to this place because they want to buy."

I knew that, of course. I'd noted the store's poor range of icecreams and its impressively robust security measures.


And having visited the place however many dozen times over the past few years, I'm a sufficiently familiar customer to occasionally witness deals in plain sight.

One time I found a bag of marijuana on the footpath outside.

The normalcy with which people treat drug sales in my neighbourhood should be surprising, given New York's drug laws are still pretty tough. Only cannabis oil has been legalised for medical treatment in New York - everything else is off-limits.

And yet many New Yorkers talk openly about drug use, you can smell marijuana all over the city and a quick survey of any Wall Street bank or Meatpacking nightclub will turn up a heap of cocaine and pills.

Many bus stops in Manhattan are running an ad campaign at present about the dangers of a product called K2.

It is synthetic marijuana, a noxious blend of chemicals, which can lead to erratic and aggressive behaviour but was legal to sell for several years. The city's Police Commissioner describes it as "weaponised marijuana".

And to cap it off, the ongoing heroin epidemic continues to devastate much of the US North East.

On average, 125 people die of drug overdoses every day in the United States. Most of the deaths are opiate-related, frequently brought on by prescription painkiller addictions.

In 2014, the last year with complete records, 47,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US. Which is all to say it isn't working.

The world's approach to drugs simply isn't effective. The prosecute-and-punish model has had its chance and it doesn't work. And as the United Nations convenes for a special assembly on the global drug problem at its New York headquarters this week, it's time for significant change.

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