The upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) in 2016 is an unprecedented opportunity to review and re-direct national drug control policies and the future of the global drug control regime. As diplomats sit down to rethink international and domestic drug policy, they would do well to recall the mandate of the United Nations, not least to ensure security, human rights and development. Health is the thread that runs through all three of these aspirations, and the UN global drug control regime has the ‘health and welfare of mankind’ as its ultimate goal. But overwhelming evidence points to not just the failure of the regime to attain its stated goals but also the horrific unintended consequences of punitive and prohibitionist laws and policies.
A new and improved global drug control regime is needed that better protects the health and safety of individuals and communities around the world. Harsh measures grounded in repressive ideologies must be replaced by more humane and effective policies shaped by scientific evidence, public health principles and human rights standards. This is the only way to simultaneously reduce drug-related death, disease and suffering and the violence, crime, corruption and illicit markets associated with ineffective prohibitionist policies. The fiscal implications of the policies we advocate, it must be stressed, pale in comparison to the direct costs and indirect consequences generated by the current regime.
The Global Commission proposes five pathways to improve the global drug policy regime. After putting people ́s health and safety at the center of the picture, governments are urged to ensure access to essential medicines and pain control. The Commissioners call for an end to the criminalization and incarceration of users together with targeted prevention, harm reduction and treatment strategies for dependent users.
In order to reduce drug related harms and undermine the power and profits of organized crime, the Commission recommends that governments regulate drug markets and adapt their enforcement strategies to target the most violent and disruptive criminal groups rather than punish low level players. The Global Commission’s proposals are complimentary and comprehensive. They call on governments to rethink the problem, do what can and should be done immediately, and not to shy away from the transformative potential of regulation.
The obstacles to drug policy reform are both daunting and diverse. Powerful and established drug control bureaucracies, both national and international, staunchly defend status quo policies. They seldom question whether their involvement and tactics in enforcing drug policy are doing more harm than good. Meanwhile, there is often a tendency to sensationalize each new “drug scare” in the media. And politicians regularly subscribe to the appealing rhetoric of “zero tolerance” and creating “drug free” societies rather than pursuing an informed approach based on evidence of what works. Popular associations of illicit drugs with ethnic and racial minorities stir fear and inspire harsh legislation. And enlightened reform advocates are routinely attacked as “soft on crime” or even “pro-drug.”
The good news is that change is in the air. The Global Commission is gratified that a growing number of the recommendations offered in this report are already under consideration, underway or firmly in place around the world. But we are at the beginning of the journey and governments can benefit from the accumulating experience where reforms are being pursued. Fortunately, the dated rhetoric and unrealistic goals set during the 1998 UNGASS on drugs are unlikely to be repeated in 2016. Indeed, there is growing support for more flexible interpretations and reform of the international drug control conventions aligned with human rights and harm reduction principles. All of these developments bode well for the reforms we propose below.
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS CAN BE SUMMARIZED AS FOLLOWS:
Putting health and community safety first requires a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions. Read more
Focus on reducing the power of criminal organizations as well as the violence and insecurity that result from their competition with both one another and the state. Read more
Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the upcoming UNGASS in 2016 to reform the global drug policy regime. Read more
Ensure equitable access to essential medicines, in particular opiate-based medications for pain. Read more
Rely on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers, couriers and others involved in the production, transport and sale of illicit drugs. Read more
“The world needs to discuss new approaches… we are basically still thinking within the same framework as we have done for the last 40 years … A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking… If that means legalizing, and the world thinks that’s the solution, I will welcome it. I’m not against it.”
Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia.