It’s safe to assume most people have never heard of the “Vienna Declaration.” And that simple fact helps explain why public policies that fail — policies that do vastly more harm than good — can live on despite overwhelming evidence of their failure.

The Vienna Declaration, published in the medical journal The Lancet, is an official statement of the 18th International AIDS Conference, which wraps up today in Vienna. Drafted by an international team of public health experts, including Evan Wood of the University of British Columbia, the Vienna Declaration seeks to “improve community health and safety” by, in the words of the committee, “calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies.”

Please don’t stop reading. I promise this will not turn into another of my rants about the catastrophic failure of drug prohibition. I’ve been writing variations on that theme for more than a decade now and everyone knows I am a crazed extremist whose views are not to be trusted by decent folk. I’ll spare you.

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