A Call for a Stronger Voice from Europe in the Drug Policy Debate



Brussels, 27 January 2015

The Global Commission on Drug Policy was established in 2010 by political leaders, cultural figures and globally influential personalities. It aims at advancing drug policy reform and boosting the ongoing world debate. Its objective is to promote science-based, humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies. The self-mandated commission comprises 22 members, including eight former Heads of States and a former United Nations Secretary-General.

The ten European members of the Global Commission call upon the European Union member States and institutions to take the lead in forming and inspiring a shared vision on a new global drug strategy that effectively improves the “health and the welfare of mankind”. It is of utmost importance that Europe plays an active role in the preparation process to and in the debate of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem in 2016. 

The UNGASS provides a unique opportunity to recognize the harms caused by the illusion of the global goal of a drug free world, which would be achieved through prohibition and repression. It also provides an opportunity to recognize the urgent need for an adapted response to drugs, a response designed and implemented with a focus on public health, social and economic development, human rights, protection of youth, fight against stigma and discrimination, while also fighting against organized crime and money laundering.

For the last 30 years, Europe has experienced significant reforms in drug policies. We call on the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission to raise Europe’s voice in the global debate on drug policy, and to share the results of these decades of pragmatic and scientifically monitored efforts.   

Promote approaches that put people’s health first: Confronted with the spread of HIV/AIDS, of a growing number of overdoses and of the social exclusion of drug users, European countries developed prevention programmes, enlarged the spectrum of treatment with respect to the possibilities and the free choice of people in need, and provided broad access to harm reduction services. A comprehensive health policy also implies social integration, jobs and housing facilities. Such experiences should be generalized and resources still largely dedicated to repression shifted towards public health and social investments.

Ensure equitable access to essential medicines that relieve unnecessary pain and suffering: Europe has a history of access to essential medicines for pain relief, palliative care and substitution therapy for opioid dependence. This effort should be scaled-up and maintained through the economic crisis, while Europe should also support developing countries in their effort to make essential medicines available for patients in need. 

Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession and stop imposing “compulsory treatment” on people whose only offence is drug use or possession:  European countries paved the way by applying the principle of proportionality in sentencing, even if they still retain minor consumption or possession of drugs as offences. Others decided to decriminalize them completely, convinced by the evidence that criminalization of drug users has virtually no impact on reducing consumption, but contributes to stigmatization of vulnerable populations and contributes to their social and medical exclusion.

Refocus law enforcement responses to fighting drug trafficking and organized crime:  Enforcement must be directed towards the most violent elements of organized crime and towards its corruption power and its intrusion in the economic system through money laundering. At the same time, alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets are needed. Europe has also had an important role to play by firmly advocating for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty for drug-related offences.

Explore forms of drug regulation to facilitate treatment and put governments in control: Europe has only a few experiences in regulating drug markets, but its regulatory systems for food, medicines, alcohol and tobacco show how to handle products that bear risks for people’s health. Europe should carefully consider pilot projects of regulation that would be assessed scientifically. The publication of the consequences of such pilot projects will allow enlightened national policy reforms and build the foundation for a new international drug control regime.

At the national level, the recommended measures have to be scaled up, in order to make them accessible to all those who need them. Europe should facilitate and coordinate such multidimensional responses including all stakeholders and making them work together. 

The UNGASS 2016 comes at a time when Europe should uphold its standards, maintain its rank and its historical dimension in drug policies. Europe needs to advocate for a change in the global prohibitionist paradigm. The world drug problem is global, calling for shared responsibility and international cooperation. We strongly believe that Europe has an obligation to support other regions of the world that suffer the social, violent or health-related consequences of the prohibitionist approaches. A global approach solely based on demand reduction and supply reduction of drugs does not reduce the harms related to drug use, as illustrated in several of Europe’s neighbouring countries. Europe should stay at the vanguard of efforts to promote debate on drug policy reform and advance regional and international drug policy debates, in particular with a view to ensuring that the UNGASS 2016 will have a strong reform-oriented focus. This is how Europe should lead the way.


Pavel Bém, former Mayor of Prague, Czech Republic

Richard Branson, entrepreneur, advocate for social causes, founder of the Virgin Group, cofounder of The Elders, United Kingdom

Maria Cattaui, former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland

Ruth Dreifuss, former Federal Councillor and former President of the Confederation, Switzerland

Michel Kazatchkine, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, France

Aleksander Kwasniewski, former President of the Republic, Poland

George Papandreou, former Prime Minister, Greece

Jorge Sampaio, former President of the Republic, Portugal

Javier Solana, former European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Spain

Thorvald Stoltenberg, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway