World Drug Day – Statement by the Global Commission on Drug Policy

June 26 is a day dedicated to raising awareness about the consequences of repressive drug policies and practices on people across the globe. There is growing recognition around the world that drug prohibition has failed to achieve its goals of promoting the “health and the wellbeing of humanity”.

History has repeatedly demonstrated that punitive drug policies systematically lead to human rights violations and abuses: discriminatory police checks targeting already marginalized communities, disproportionate sentencing, arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, torture, and even the death penalty. Drug prohibition has also restricted access to controlled medicines that are essential for people living with avoidable pain.

Now, seventy-five years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and with just over seven years to go until the date for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is urgent to align laws and policies related to drugs with human rights norms and standards.

This year’s theme for World Drug Day is “people first, stop stigma and discrimination, strengthen prevention”. Since 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy has highlighted how people who use drugs, and people from marginalized communities and minorities, carry the heaviest burden of existing repressive drug policies. Fear of arrest and widespread stigma are inhibiting people who use drugs from accessing harm reduction services and healthcare and social services.

The Global Commission proposes “Five Pathways to Drug Policies that Work”: put health first, guarantee access to controlled medicines, decriminalize the consumption and the possession of drugs for personal use, focus law enforcement on the persons running criminal organizations and, last but not least, legally regulate drug markets in order to disempower organized crime. Legal regulation is both a public health imperative and a necessary step to advance drug policy reform.

More and more governments around the world are taking first steps toward legal regulation. In the Americas, for example, Colombia is working towards legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis to adults. In Europe, Germany, and several other countries in the region, is drafting a law which would provide for the “controlled distribution of cannabis to adults for consumption purposes in licensed shops”. In Asia, in June last year, Thailand, after having legalized cannabis use for medical purposes in 2018, became the first country to decriminalize the growing of cannabis and its consumption in food and drinks. In early 2020, the Government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) became the first Australian jurisdiction to decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of the most common illicit drugs.

Harm reduction and innovative drug dependence treatments are also now broadly recognized as good practices. For example, in Africa, needle and syringe programs (NSPs) are now operating in Benin, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, among others.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy calls for more of such constructive actions in policy and practice by national and local governments. It also calls on the United Nations agencies to implement their Common Position Paper on Drugs (2018) in their programming around the world. The consequences of unjust drug policies are widespread in most aspects of individual and collective life.

It is a common responsibility for all committed to health, social wellbeing, economic integration and development, to overcome discrimination and stigmatization, and uphold human rights for all.