The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.
Martin Jelsma, from the Transnational Institute, prepared an analysis for theLatin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, explaining the drug policy situation in the European Union and the current state of debate in the United Nations agenda. The commission is an initiative born of former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, from Brazil, César Gaviria, from Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo, from Mexico, to respond to concerns related to the problems of drug consumption and traffic in Latin America. The idea to constitute a commission capable of consolidating a debate concerning this problematic also responds to the necessity of reviewing the world drug policies in the scope of the United Nations, which began in March 2008.
No one is suggesting that drugs are not harmful. The critical question is one of scale and degree. We need a full and open discussion of the evidence and a mature debate about what the drug laws are for - and whether they doing their job? In `Estimating drug harms: a risky business', Professor David Nutt, of Imperial College London argues that the relative harms of legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are greater than those of a number of illegal drugs, including cannabis, LSD and ecstasy.
J.G.C. van Amsterdam, A. Opperhuizen, M.W.J. Koeter, L.A.G.J.M. van Aerts, W. van den Brink
30 June 2009
In its report Ranking of drugs: A comparison of the harmful effects of drugs, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has performed a risk assessment on the harmful effects of 17 drugs plus that of tobacco and alcohol. These 19 items were ranked according to their degree of harm.
Reflections upon this year’s CND are mixed. On the one hand, some states went further than ever before in openly challenging the current regime on the grounds that, after a century, it needs modernising. That the government of Uruguay is currently considering a domestic policy on cannabis that would put it in breach of the Single Convention shows that, in one instance at least, we have moved beyond rhetoric and posturing.
This is the second edition of the IDPC Drug Policy Guide aimed at national government policy makers. This publication is a collaborative effort by a number of members of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and partners, and brings together global evidence and best practices on the design and implementation of drug policies and programmes at national level.
In 2007, the Government of New Zealand entrusted an independent agency, the National Law Commission, to review the country’s drug law. The Commission will present a final report which is likely to feature a new approach to personal possession and use of drugs placing less emphasis on conviction and punishment and more on the delivery of effective treatment. New Zealand’s approach to drug law reform may provide lessons for other countries.
The UK system of classifying drugs according to their harmfulness has been in place since the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act in 1971. Over the past 35 years patterns of drug use have changed quite significantly, and recent debates about the classification of certain drugs, especially cannabis, have led to questions about the clarity of the current system and whether it remains fit for purpose.
In my view, perceived harms associated with drugs are vulnerable to so many restrictions on reliability and validity that, for the time being, a serious estimate of drug harm per drug is impossible. In my view, it is even invalid to associate harms to drugs alone. Drugs are used by humans, under individual, social and legal conditions, in certain purities and dosages. Whatever the 'effects' of drugs, harmful or not, they cannot be estimated or even discussed without associating the drug with a particular user or user culture. Drugs per se do not meaningfully exist.
David J Nutt, Leslie A King, Lawrence D Phillips, on behalf of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs
01 November 2010
To provide better guidance to policy makers in health, policing, and social care, the harms that drugs cause need to be properly assessed. This task is not easy because of the wide range of ways in which drugs can cause harm. This study undertook a review of drug harms with the multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) approach. This technology has been used successfully to lend support to decision makers facing complex issues characterised by many, conflicting objectives.
There is a long history of psychoactive substances being regarded as dangerous and subsequently being banned or forbidden. Often the bans were introduced on substances new and unfamiliar to a society, which were viewed as more dangerous than substances which were well known and enculturated. With industrialisation and the globalisation brought by European empires, the growing availability of psychoactive substances was increasingly seen as a problem in the 1800s, setting off social and policy reactions – what we know as the temperance movement against alcohol,
and initial UK legislation limiting the sale of ‘poisons’.
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.
This presentation gives a short overview of legislative reforms in Europe and Latin America that provide lessons learned in practice about less punitive approaches intended to reduce drug-related harm to the individual and society. Evidence suggests that fears that softening drug laws and their enforcement would lead to sharp increases in drug use, have proven untrue.
David Nutt, Leslie A King, William Saulsbury, Colin Blakemore
24 March 2007
Drug misuse and abuse are major health problems. Harmful drugs are regulated according to classification systems that purport to relate to the harms and risks of each drug. However, the methodology and processes underlying classification systems are generally neither specified nor transparent, which reduces confidence in their accuracy and undermines health education messages.
On the basis of the available evidence, the overwhelming majority of Council members consider that khat should not be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. In summary the reason for this is that, save for the issue of liver toxicity, although there may be a correlation or association between the use of khat and various negative social indicators, it is not possible to conclude that there is any causal link.
The Transnational Institute condemns the decision by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in their 2007 annual report released today, which calls on countries to ‘abolish or prohibit coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of coca tea’.
Due to its prevalence of use, MDMA is a significant public health issue. The Council believes that criminal justice measures will only have limited effect and strongly advises the promulgation of public health messages. It is of vital importance that issues of classification do not detract from messages concerning public health.
The classification of drugs has a profound impact on the lives and well-being of individuals across the world and where the classification is incorrect, people suffer unnecessarily. This is an issue that deserves greater public awareness and greater engagement with citizenry and that where such public awareness is in place it should be galvanised in order to work towards a new democratic answer to this difficult situation.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs reviewed the classification of cannabis in the light of real public concern about the potential mental health effects of cannabis use and, in particular, the use of stronger strains of the drug.
The principal aim of these guidelines is to put in place a sound methodological and procedural basis for carrying out each risk assessment. The risk assessment has regard to the health and social risks of the use of, manufacture of, and traffic in the new psychoactive substance, the involvement of organised crime and the possible consequences of control measures. The guidelines were finalised and adopted by the EMCDDA’s Scientific Committee in November 2008.