The purpose of The Global Commission on Drug Policy is to bring to the international level an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies.

Drugs are a complex and controversial issue. There is a growing perception that the ‘war on drugs’ approach has failed. Eradication of production and criminalization of consumption has not reduced drug traffic and drug use. In many countries the harm caused by drug prohibition in terms of corruption, violence and violation of human rights largely exceeds the harm caused by drugs.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy builds on the successful experience of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy convened by former presidents Cardoso of Brazil, Gaviria of Colombia and Zedillo of Mexico. Convinced that the association between drug trade, violence and corruption was a threat to democracy in Latin America, the Commission reviewed the current ‘war on drugs’ policies and opened a public debate about an issue that tends to be surrounded by fear and misinformation.

These goals were fulfilled with the publication on February 2009 of the Commission’s statement, Drugs and Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift. This statement received wide coverage by the regional and global media and the ensuing debate led to positive drug policy changes in Mexico and Argentina. Change is imminent in Brazil.

No country has come up with a fully satisfactory set of policies. The polarization between legalization and prohibition blocks the debate. In many countries repressive policies remain firmly in place. Hence the need for engaging many actors – legislators and policymakers, scientists and health professionals, educators, law enforcement officers, parents and the young – in a constructive debate about viable alternatives, both at the national and international level.


» review the basic assumption, effectiveness and consequences of the ‘war on drugs’ approach

» evaluate the risks and benefits of different national responses to the drug problem

» develop actionable, evidence-based recommendations for constructive legal and drug policy reform

Main areas of inquiry

Six background papers were prepared covering the Commission’s main areas of inquiry and substantive engagement:

» The current international drug control regime

The ‘logical framework’ behind drug policy: what objectives it sets out to achieve and what assumptions it makes about how best to meet these objectives. The extent to which these objectives have been achieved over the past 50 years and the problems encountered. Main impediments to the reform of drug policy.

» Global overview of drug policy and laws

Good practices and innovations in drug law reform. Main contested issues: harm reduction and decriminalization by law or in practice of cannabis and other drugs. Opportunities and pathways for improving national drug laws and for changing the UN drug control system.

» Confronting the production and supply chain

Effectiveness of law enforcement activities aimed at production controls, including eradication and interdiction. Changes in production, transportation, retail and wholesale caused by the supply reduction approach. Trends in crimes associated with the production and supply chain, including money laundering, arms trafficking and corruption.

» Criminal justice challenges

The criminalization and incarceration of people involved in retail drug markets and of people charged with possession or use of illicit drugs. Risks and benefits of eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana possession for personal use and other forms of sentencing reform. Risks and benefits of distinguishing trafficking from small-scale dealing and of compulsory drug treatment.

» Demand reduction: prevention, harm reduction and treatment

The effectiveness of drug prevention campaigns: a cultural and educational challenge. Lessons learned from the successful campaigns to reduce tobacco consumption and to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS. Harm reduction and treatment: practices, consequences and results. Recommendations for improving public health and community safety.

» Drug trade and organized crime: economic and political implications

The rising scope and ramifications of the global drug business and market. Drug trade, violence and corruption: the risk to undermine democratic institutions. Drug trade, money laundering and illegal arms smuggling. Drug trade and armed conflict. Transnational drug trade and ‘failed’ or ‘rogue’ states. The evolving and elusive nature of global drug networks.

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