Refocus drug laws

Using extracts from the GCDP press release

The Global Commission on Drug Policy presented their report “Enforcement of Drug Laws: Refocusing on Organized Crime Elites” on 7 May 2020.

In this first report of this decade, the Commission outlines how the current international drug control regime works for the benefit of transnational organized crime. It highlights how years of repressive policies targeted at nonviolent drug offenders have resulted in mass incarceration and produced countless adverse impacts on public health, the rule of law, and social cohesion, whilst at the same time reinforcing criminal elites.

The report argues that the top layers of criminal organizations must be disempowered, through policy responses and political will. It provides implementable recommendations for the replacement of the current policy of targeting non-violent drug offenders and resorting to mass incarceration. Law enforcement must focus on the most dangerous and protected actors and primary drivers of the corruption, violence, and chaos around illegal drug markets.

The control of psychoactive substances in a rational and efficient way must be cantered on people and their needs, and on a repressive approach against criminal elites who benefit from the illegal drug markets’ proceeds and have access to high-level networks, financial and legal support as needed. Only responsible legal regulation of currently prohibited drugs, with careful implementation, has the potential to disrupt criminal organizations and deprive them of their most lucrative sources of income.

The report contains research on the prerequisites for a successful transition towards the reform of the outdated ideology-based international drug control regime, and provides cutting-edge recommendations on how to ensure that international criminal organizations are effectively disempowered by the transition towards a legally regulated drug market under the control of governments.

The overcrowding of prisons worldwide is a direct result of drug policing,” Ruth Dreifuss, former president of Switzerland and chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, told AFP. “These are young people, often only those who possess drugs for their own consumption, or non-violent criminals who are there generally due to a lack of other opportunities to make a living.

The report is available following this link>>>

Recording of the report presentation held on 7 May 2020 is available here>>>


GCDP report set out in detail the irrationality of current global drug laws

On the occasion of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking 26 June, the Global Commission on Drug Policy launched a report “Classification of Psychoactive Substances: When Science was Left Behind“. This GCDP ninth report analyses the history, procedures and inconsistencies of the current classification of psychoactive substances.

In the report, the Global Commission on Drug Policy explains how the biased historical classification of psychoactive substances has contributed to the “world drug problem”. It is the first-ever comprehensive report providing a political reading of the current evaluation and classification, or “scheduling” of drugs according to their harms. “The current distinction between legal and illegal substances is not unequivocally based on pharmacological research but in large part on historical and cultural precedents. It is also distorted by and feeds into morally charged perceptions about a presumed “good and evil” distinction between legal and illegal drugs.

Psychoactive substances should be classified with regard to their potential for dependence and other harms. This is not the case today, where some substances are legally available because they are considered beneficial (medicines) or culturally important (alcohol), while others are seen as destructive, and are strictly prohibited. The classification of drugs is at the core of the international drug control system. As such, governments must ensure that such a classification is pragmatic and based on science and evidence, makes clear the benefits and harms of drugs, and allows for responsible legal regulatory models to control drugs.

Ruth Dreiffus, chair of the organization and a former president of Switzerland, wrote in the foreword: “…this classification or ‘scheduling’ of drugs is the cornerstone of the current repressive approach to drug policy, which has resulted in the ‘collateral damage’ of the ‘war on drugs—tragic consequences that the Global Commission on Drug Policy has condemned since its founding in 2011. The effects of prohibition—in terms of public health and security, discrimination and prison overcrowding, the rise in power of criminal organizations and the associated violence and corruption, as well as the lack of access to essential medicines—highlight the urgent need to change course and implement policies that are more effective and more respectful of human rights.

To read full report, follow this link>>>


Kofi Annan died

The former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, has died at the age of 80 after a short illness, his family and foundation announced today. The Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a press release emphasizing that “A former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Commissioner Annan worked tirelessly for peace throughout his life, and addressed the many challenges confronting the world with wisdom and pragmatism. He initiated the move towards eradicating extreme poverty with the Millennium Development Goals and contributed considerably to the global response to HIV.”

Mr Annan was a great man and hugely important advocate for drug law reform. He will be missed.

Here is a selection of his quotes and an important speech he made in December 2016.

Misguided attempts to prevent the use of drugs by only punitive measures have not worked; instead they have resulted in mass incarceration.

Drug policies should be grounded in scientific evidence and a deep concern for health and human rights.
That is why we strongly believe the time is right for a smarter, health-based approach to drug policy.
Kofi Annan speech at the 68th World Health Assembly on 21 May 2015.

Leadership means finding ways to reach out to all groups, and devising approaches for prevention and treatment suited to their needs – whether young people, sex workers, injecting drug users, or men who have sex with men.
Kofi Annan at AIDS Conference 2004.

When I first moved to the idea of a Global Fund, in fact I called it a war chest, quite a lot of people laughed it off saying “There he goes again, dreaming.” I love dreams. It always starts with a dream.

You are never too young to lead, and we are never too old to learn
Kofi Annan, addressing Global Citizen Live in London, April 2018.


The preamble of the 1961 United Nations single convention on narcotic drugs states that the “health and welfare of mankind”, and I repeat “health and welfare of mankind”, is the main objective of that convention. Unfortunately, current drug policies in many countries will not lead to the achievement of that objective. To the contrary, those policies have resulted in what the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has called ‘unintended consequences’. Those unintended consequences include the creation of a huge, international criminal black market that fuels corruption and spreads violence.

Misguided attempts in some countries to prevent the use of drugs by only punitive measures have not worked; instead they have resulted in mass incarceration. And some countries spent more on prisons than education. In other countries, the so called “war on drugs” has led to massive insecurity. As I have said before and I repeat here tonight: I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more. A criminal record for a young person for a minor drug offence can be a far greater threat to his or her well-being than occasional drug use.

In many parts of the world, drug users are stigmatized, live under constant threat of arrest and are prevented from seeking treatment and support. So I am convinced that current drug policies have to be reformed to ensure that they encourage prevention and treatment based on evidence of what works. Sadly, drug policy has never been an area where evidence and effectiveness of policies have led the way. Obviously, we all want to protect our families from the potential harms of drugs. But if they do develop a drug problem – that is a chronic relapsing illness as the WHO has defined it – they should be viewed as patients in need of treatment and not as criminals. In what other areas of public health do we criminalise patients in need of help? Surely it cannot be the job of the criminal justice system to prescribe remedies to deal with public health concerns. This is the job of public health professionals.

And the UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov has said, “the conventions are not about waging a “war on drugs” but about protecting the “health and welfare of mankind”. We should focus on that objective. The current drug policies are not achieving that goal. So the key question is: what policies would enable governments and health authorities to counter and reduce the social and health harms that drug use can cause?

If I may, I would like to make three suggestions. First, strengthen treatment services, especially in middle and low-income countries. Second, decriminalize drug use. Punitive measures do not work and put lots of people in prison where their drug use may actually get worse. Third, we need to learn how to live with drugs so they cause the least possible harm. Even though we would like a “drug-free world”, this is not a realistic ambition. Tobacco is a good example of how a dangerous and addictive product is being regulated because we know that it cannot simply be outlawed. As a result, the number of people who are addicted to cigarettes and tobacco has gone down in a large number of countries. And this happened without anyone being arrested or put in jail or sent to a “treatment program” by a prosecutor or a judge. It was achieved through higher taxes, restrictions on sale and use, and effective anti-smoking campaigns. It was regulation and education that led to this result. And the smokers in the room are probably working to turn this education into practice.

We need to regulate drugs because they are risky. Drugs are infinitely more dangerous when produced and sold by criminals who do not worry about any safety measures. Legal regulation protects health. Consumers need to be aware of what they are taking and have clear information on health risks and how to minimize them. Governments need to be able to regulate vendors and outlets according to how much harm a drug can cause. The most risky drugs should never be available “over the counter” but only via medical prescription for people registered as dependent users, as is already happening here in Switzerland. Drug policies should be grounded in scientific evidence and a deep concern for health and human rights. That is why we strongly believe the time is right for a smarter, health-based approach to drug policy.

15 December 2016

Global Prison Trends 2018

Penal Reform International published today the fourth edition of the Global Prison Trends 2018 at the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. The Report is prepared in collaboration with the Thailand Institute of Justice. It includes a foreword by the Rt Hon Helen Clark, Member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

The Report explores Trends in the use of imprisonment, Prison populations, Developments and challenges in prison management, The role of technology in criminal justice and prison systems and The expansion of prison alternatives. A Special Focus section looks at the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders in the era of sustainable development.

The Report clearly states that harsh criminal justice responses to drugs are a major contributor to prison overcrowding, and the ‘war on drugs’ persists in some countries with disastrous consequences. According to available UN data, 83 per cent of drug offences recorded by law enforcement and criminal justice systems are possession offences. However, more promisingly, UN bodies and an increasing number of states are rejecting this approach. Reforms include the decriminalisation of cannabis and reducing sentences for minor offences.

Recommendation 8 of the Report, based on the Sustainable Development Goals 3, 5 and 16, proposes that “States should review their drug policies in order to adopt evidence-based policies that include decriminalisation of minor offences, proportionality of sentencing, and non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment. Treatment as an alternative to imprisonment must be voluntary and human-rights compliant. Metrics to measure the outcomes of drug policies should include their impact on human rights, health and development”.

Also, Recommendation 25 proposes that “States should develop and implement alternatives to imprisonment, including restorative justice processes. A focus should be on addressing root causes of crime, including poverty and inequality, to support efforts to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Non-custodial sanctions should replace the use of prison, rather than widening the net of criminal justice control”.

The section on Health indicated that the rates for HIV, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases among prisoners remain much higher than in the general community. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that people in prison are on average five times more likely to be living with HIV compared with adults outside prisons,263 although a higher estimate of 15 per cent is given by the World Health Organization. The Rapport recommends that “Drug prevention and treatment and HIV prevention, treatment and care should be available to people in prison at the same level is that provided in the community. Efforts to recruit sufficient healthcare staff in prisons should be doubled”.

To download the Report click on the photo of the front page>>>

CND opening day

NGO briefing by the Vienna NGO Committee

The briefing was a useful orientation, especially for the newcomers, to what will happen and the annual UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the role and involvement of civil society organisations.

Opening of the sixty-first CND Session

The opening session was held in plenary, with all national delegations and civil society representatives present and transmitted to other rooms. It included welcome messages of the CND 61 Chairperson Alicia Buenrostro Massieu, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, International Narcotics Control Board President Dr Viroj Sumyai, UNODC Executive Director Yuri Fedotov, WHO Director – General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and introductory speeches of country groupings: Group of 77 and China, Africa Group, Asia Pacific Group, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) and European Union Group (including accession countries). The Session then continues with general debate.

It should me mentioned that Deputy Minister of Health of Bulgaria Svetlana Yordanova spoke on behalf of the European Union (Bulgaria holds presidency of the EU). She underlined that current UN Drugs Policy has been an utter failure and that EU expresses deepest regret that the UNGASS Outcome Document does not mention a moratorium on the death penalty. She said that “In 2009, we set 2019 as a target date for ourselves to eliminate cultivation of opium, coca and cannabis plants and social risks, trafficking and money laundering related to illicit drugs. We have not achieved this target: today we have an equally severe and diversified situation. The problems are evolving. We have never seen such a complex set of challenges in the drug area: NPS, the internet, trafficking, new players and increased production. EU supports bringing public health and human rights to the core of the drug policy by balancing law enforcement with equally firm health and social services and evidenced based actions.

Side events

Bringing human rights to the forefront of drug policy: Development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation

The event was organised by the governments of Malta (represented by Ambassador Keith Azzopardi), Germany (Ambassador Friedrich Dauble), Norway, the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe (Jan Malinowski, Executive Secretary). Speakers were also Damon Barrett, Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, University of Essex and Zaved Mahmoud, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This event was an attempt to move beyond highlighting human rights problems by examining the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights and exploring the application of human rights standards and tests as a basis for national and local led initiatives to incorporate human rights into drug policy development, monitoring and evaluation.

In the outcome document of the 2016 UNGASS on the world drug problem, UN member states reiterated a “commitment to respecting, protecting and promoting all human rights fundamental freedoms and the inherent dignity of all individuals and the rule of law in the development and implementation of drug policies”. In drug policy – as in all other policy areas – human rights are not a choice, they are an obligation.

Interesting points from the presentations include:

  • Human rights start in small places, close to home – Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Jan Malinowski: There is no discussion about death penalty and extrajudicial killings. CoE is condemning inhuman treatments. There must be mechanisms in place to bring to light rights issues arising from drug policy
  • Damon Barrett: There is no universal prescription due to diversity in country situations, but we have universal standards! The challenge for policy makers is to resolve the tension between human rights and drug policy in favour of human rights. Health services should be available, accessible, acceptable (by different populations) and of sufficient quality. Consider harm reduction in funding decisions.
  • Zaved Mahmood: Wrong policy decisions influence various segments of life. For instance, punishing legislation leads to overcrowded prisons. Until we address the human dimension of drug policies, those policies will fail.

The world drug perception problem

This event was organized by the Governments of Portugal, Switzerland and Uruguay and the Global Commission on Drug Policy to discuss the current perceptions but also progress already made in some countries to fight negative perceptions, stigma, discrimination and criminalization of people who use drugs, as well as possible further steps.

Speakers included Pavel Bém, Commissioner, Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), Michel Kazatchkine, UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, João Goulão, National Drug Coordinator, Portugal, Martín Rodríguez, Executive Director of the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA), Uruguay, Nora Kronig-Romero, Ambassador for Global Health, Switzerland and Judy Chang, Executive Director, INPUD.

The latest GCDP report on the issue The World Drug Perception Problem: Countering Prejudices About People Who Use Drugs was published in 2017.

Interesting points from the presentations include:

  • Michel Kazatchkine: presented an interesting fact from the report that “UNODC estimates only 11.6% of those who used drugs in 2016 are considered to suffer problematic drug use or addiction. The most common pattern of drug use is episodic and non-problematic.” and that “Legal status of #drugs rarely correspond to potential harms, not based on scientific evidence.”
  • Martín Rodriguez: “There have been no episodes of violence between the people who use or in the surroundings of the sale places” (in Uruguay, who legalised sale of cannabis) and “Before the sale of recreational cannabis in pharmacies started, almost ¾ were against it; 6 months later and due to the positive experiences, this has fallen to 43%”
  • Nora Kronig-Romero: The main factors leading the Swiss population to approve drug policy reform was failure of law enforcement only approach and experiences with small projects of harm reduction. Direct democracy contributed to an informed discussion about drugs, drug perception and drug policy in Switzerland.
  • João Goulão: “Problematic drug use reached all parts of society and that led to a change in the popular view of drug use – changing perceptions about people who use drugs”
  • Judy Chang – We don’t believe in reducing a behaviour to an identity. We prefer the phrase “people who use drugs” to more stigmatising language but emphasise drug dependency is not incompatible with a person living a happy and fulfilled lives

A note from this side event is available at the CND blog.