Should the white flag be waved in the 'War on Drugs'?

  • 28/03/2016
Should the white flag be waved in the 'War on Drugs'?

The so-called 'War on Drugs' which has been waged for the past 50 years isn't working and non-violent minor drug offences need to be decriminalised, a new report says.

It's some of a number of findings in the major report ahead of the UN General Assembly Special Session next month -- the first meeting on drugs since 1998.

Published by the John Hopkins-Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy, the report says "compelling" evidence from countries like Portugal and the Czech Republic which have decriminalised minor drug offences have seen benefits from the policy.

It shows significant public health benefits, cost savings and lower incarceration with no significant increase in problematic drug use.

Looking at international evidence, drug law enforcement has been applied in a discriminatory way against racial and ethnic minorities as well as women and has undermined human rights, the report writers suggest.

New figures estimate the prisoners in Mexico are more likely to be tortured or abused since the government decided to use military force against drug traffickers in 2006.

The commission also found harsher prison sentences were associated with higher rates of hepatitis C infection among injecting drug users.

The report's authors say there's a need for an evidence-based approach to drug policy. They urge governments look to find lessons from four US states and Uruguay which have legalised cannabis when considering such regulated markets.

"The goal of prohibiting all use, possession, production, and trafficking of illicit drugs is the basis of many of our national drug laws, but these policies are based on ideas about drug use and drug dependence that are not scientifically grounded," says Commissioner Dr Chris Beyrer, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"The global 'war on drugs' has harmed public health, human rights and development. It's time for us to rethink our approach to global drug policies, and put scientific evidence and public health at the heart of drug policy discussions."

Commissioner Dr Joanna Csete from the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, says reducing harm is key to all public policy in areas like tobacco, alcohol and food, but that doesn't seem to extend to drugs.

"When it comes to drugs, standard public health and scientific approaches have been rejected. 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."

She says decriminalising non-violent drug offences needs to happen as a first and urgent step as part of a larger process to re-think drug policies across the world at a fundamental level.

Public health and international drug policy report