Global: More Countries Decriminalizing Ahead Of UN Debate On Global Drug Policy

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Release, the United Kingdom-based center for expertise on drugs and drug laws, on Monday launched a new report highlighting the enormous benefits that decriminalizing the possession of drugs for personal use brings to individuals, society and governments.

The report, ‘A Quiet Revolution: Drug Decriminalisation Across the Globe,’ analyses over 25 jurisdictions around the world that have decriminalized drugs, finding a surge toward this drug policy model in the past 15 years. Among the positive outcomes identified as a result of decriminalization are:

• Reduced rates of HIV transmission and fewer drug-related deaths (Portugal);

• Improved education, housing and employment opportunities for people who use drugs (Australia);

• Savings to the state of close to $1 billion over 10 years (California).

Furthermore, the report shows that despite critics’ fears that decriminalization will lead to a surge in drug use this has simply not been borne out in the evidence, with drug laws revealed to have a negligible effect on drug use levels.

“Governments can no longer ignore the irrefutable evidence -- ending the needless criminalization of people who use drugs brings tremendously positive outcomes for society as a whole," said Niamh Eastwood, the executive director of Release. "It is high time resources stop being channelled into futile efforts to combat drug use and instead are diverted into harm reduction and public health programmes.”

The report comes one month prior to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, set to be held April 19-21. It will mark the biggest debate on global drug policy in nearly two decades.

As the UNGASS approaches, clear fractures have appeared in the historic consensus on punitive approaches to drug control, both in rhetoric and in practice, as the report underscores.

As it stands, 83 per cent of all drug-related offences globally are low-level, nonviolent possession offences, with governments collectively spending $100 billion annually on tackling drugs. Criminalizing people who use drugs has caused public health crises in the form of HIV and hepatitis C epidemics among vulnerable populations, and resulted in a litany of human rights abuses committed in the name of drug control, including arbitrary detention, restricted access to healthcare services and executions.

In recent years, an increasing number of high-profile figures and organizations have advocated the decriminalization of possession and use of drugs, including several UN agencies such as the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, the United Nations Development Program, and even the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.