It’s good to see UNODC have now engaged in this issue. However, I hope that they will remain strong in defending and implementing what is a remarkable statement.
I challenge Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of UNODC, to point out if there is anything in their briefing paper that is inaccurate and to explain why (he should be proud of it). The paper spells out in clear terms and based on extensive evidence: there are strong arguments for treating drugs as a health issue and not imprisoning or otherwise criminalising people for personal use or possession of drugs.
As I outlined in this interview with Bloomberg, and the Global Commission on Drug Policy has stated for many years, drugs should be treated as a health issue. My great hope is that today’s actions bring that day a little bit closer to reality, so that the millions who continue to be harmed by current policies can be helped instead.
“Greatness comes in simple trappings,” Richard Nixon once said. It seems appropriate to quote the man who started the failed war on drugs to applaud good efforts to end it.
In an as-yet unreleased statement circulated to the BBC, myself and others, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which has shaped much of global drug policy for decades, call on governments around the world to decriminalise drug use and possession for personal consumption for all drugs. This is a refreshing shift that could go a long way to finally end the needless criminalisation of millions of drug users around the world. The UNODC document was due to be launched at the International Harm reduction conference in Malaysia yesterday.
My colleagues on the Global Commission on Drug Policy and I could not be more delighted, as I have stated in embargoed interviews for the likes of the BBC. Together with countless other tireless advocates, I’ve for years argued that we should treat drug use as a health issue, not as a crime. While the vast majority of recreational drug users never experience any problems, people who struggle with drug addiction deserve access to treatment, not a prison cell.
Yet, in their zeal for chasing the illusion of a drug-free world, governments have poured billions into tough law enforcement that did nothing to reduce drug supply or demand, or take control from the criminal organisations in charge of the global drug trade. In the US alone, over 1.5 million people were arrested in 2014 on non-violent drug charges, 83 per cent of those solely for possession. Globally, more than one in five people sentenced to prison are sentenced for drug offences.
It’s exciting that the UNODC has now unequivocally stated that criminalisation is harmful, unnecessary and disproportionate, echoing concerns about the immense human and economic costs of current drug policies voiced earlier by UNAIDS, the World Health Organisation, UNDP, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Women, Kofi Annan and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.