Drugs should be decriminalised across the globe as existing policies are directly contributing to ‘many of today’s most urgent public health crises’, according to a commission of medical experts.
The commission, which was set up by the Lancet and Johns Hopkins University in the US, also wants to see better access to harm reduction measures, policies that ‘reduce violence and discrimination’ in drug policing and an end to aerial spraying of drug crops with toxic pesticides. The report has been published to coincide with the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem.
All ‘minor and non-violent drug use, possession and petty sale’ should be decriminalised, says the document, and coupled with much greater investment in health and social services for drug users. The report is based on a review of existing evidence as well as new research into drug-related violence, imprisonment and infectious disease.
‘The idea of reducing harm is central to public policy in so many areas from tobacco and alcohol regulation to food or traffic safety, but when it comes to drugs standard public health and scientific approaches have been rejected,’ said Joanne Csete of New York’s Columbia University. ‘Worse still, by dismissing extensive evidence of the health and human rights harms of drug policies, countries are neglecting their legal responsibilities to their citizens. Decriminalisation of non-violent minor drug offences is a first and urgent step in a longer process of fundamentally re-thinking and re-orienting drug policies at a national and international level. As long as prohibition continues, parallel criminal markets, violence and repression will continue.’
‘The case for reform has always been compelling, but who is making the argument is crucial,’ according to Transform policy officer George Murkin. ‘When arguably the world’s most respected medical school and medical journal speak out so emphatically on an issue like this, there can be no excuse for inaction.’
Meanwhile, a report from Release states that decriminalising drugs leads to fewer drug-related deaths, lower HIV transmission rates, improved opportunities for drug users and substantial savings to the state. Fears that decriminalisation leads to a surge in drug use are ‘simply not borne out by the evidence’, adds A quiet revolution: drug decriminalisation across the globe. More than 200 civil society groups have also signed a statement condemning governments for ‘failing to acknowledge the devastating consequences of punitive and repressive’ drug policies in the run up to the UNGASS.
Public health and international drug policy at www.thelancet.com
A quiet revolution: drug decriminalisation across the globe at www.release.org.uk
The UNGASS outcome: diplomacy or denialism? at idpc.net