Home > Advancing drug policy reform: a new approach to decriminalization. 2016 report.

Global Commission on Drug Policy. (2016) Advancing drug policy reform: a new approach to decriminalization. 2016 report. Global Commission on Drug Policy. 44 p.

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Every year, hundreds of millions of people around the world use illicit drugs. Many do so for enjoyment, some to relieve pain, while others use for traditional, cultural or religious reasons. Despite the fact that drug use is both widespread and non-violent, the predominant approach of governments around the world is to criminalize those who use and/or possess drugs. Such policies are enacted with the false hope that, combined with efforts targeting the production and supply of drugs, the drug market and use can be eliminated.

The harms created through implementing punitive drug laws cannot be overstated when it comes to both their severity and scope. On a daily basis, human rights abuses—from the death penalty and extrajudicial killings, to inhuman and coerced drug treatment—are committed around the world in the name of drug control, while strict drug laws have escalated public health crises in the form of HIV and hepatitis C epidemics. Furthermore, in a number of countries drug laws have caused severe prison overcrowding. These extensive damages wrought by a punitive approach to drugs and drug use fundamentally undermine the principle of human dignity and the rule of law, fracturing the relationship between States and their populations.

In order to begin mitigating these widespread harms, governments must as a matter of urgency decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal use. Decriminalization is typically understood as the removal of a criminal record for drug possession for personal use offenses, with the optional imposition of civil penalties such as fines or administrative sanctions, or no penalty at all. Though some governments have already taken this approach, only a small number have implemented policies that have brought about positive outcomes for people who use drugs and society as a whole. What’s more, these governments typically rely on penalizing people with civil sanctions. This approach does not go far enough. The Commission believes that for the principle of human dignity and the rule of law to be firmly upheld, there must be no penalty whatsoever imposed for low-level possession and/or consumption offenses.

Beyond decriminalizing the possession of drugs for personal use, governments must implement alternatives to punishment for many low-level actors in the drug trade, including those who engage in social supply, drug couriers, and cultivators of illicit crops. Many of these people engage in the trade non-violently and may do so to alleviate their severe socio-economic marginalization. Punishing these groups is unjust and only serves to heighten their vulnerability. Ultimately, no longer criminalizing people who use drugs and addressing low-level actors with proportionate responses should be considered as a step toward bringing illicit drug markets under control through sensible regulation. Only then can the societal destruction caused by drug prohibition be properly mitigated.

Drug use is, and always has been, a reality in all of our societies. For too long governments have waged a misguided war against the drug market and people who use drugs, handing down sanctions that are disproportionate, unjust and wholly unnecessary. The evidence of just how harmful punitive drug laws are is irrefutable. Governments can no longer ignore the need for a new approach.


Item Type:Evidence resource
Publication Type:Report
Drug Type:Alcohol or other drugs in general
Intervention Type:AOD disorder, AOD disorder harm reduction
Date:November 2016
Pages:44 p.
Publisher:Global Commission on Drug Policy
Corporate Creators:Global Commission on Drug Policy
EndNote:View
Related URLs:
Subjects:MM-MO Crime and law > Substance use laws
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Policy > Policy on substance use
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Policy > Policy on substance use > Drug decriminalisation or legalisation
VA Geographic area > International aspects

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