World Health Organization Calls For Broad Drug Decriminalization
The United Nations’ drug treaties form one the central pillars of international drug prohibition, so it is rather surprising to see a branch of the UN - the WHO - issue a report against its own policies. But this is exactly what is happening: The WHO released a report calling for a drastic change in drug policies. The organization demands the decriminalization of all drugs, and replace incarceration with a harm reduction approach, which includes needle exchange and opioid substitution therapy for people who are opioid-dependent. The reports includes the following recommendation:
- Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.
?- Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize the use of clean needles and syringes (and that permit NSPs [needle and syringe programmes]) and that legalize OST [opioid substitution therapy] for people who are opioid-dependent.??- Countries should ban compulsory treatment for people who use and/or inject drugs.
Already in march, working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. “There is simply no good basis in science, health or ethics for bringing someone into the criminal justice system solely for drug possession,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Is this signaling a major shift in UN policy?
Perhaps, a reform of global drug policies is far overdue. If you compare this report to the language from the „United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances“ of 1988, which forms the basis for much of the global prohibition, the UN changed its stance 180 degrees. The 1988 convention demands that „each Party shall adopt such measures as may be necessary to establish as a criminal offence under its domestic law, when committed intentionally, the possession, purchase or cultivation of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances for personal consumption.“ Now, the latest issued report is obviously calling for the exact opposite approach.
In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session on drugs (UNGASS), an initiative proposed in 2012 by the then-president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon. The purpose of the assembly is to conduct a comprehensive review about the successes and failures of the current international drug policies. Hopes are high that the latest WHO reports are shaping the meeting, as opposed to the 1988 rhetoric calling for a „drug-free world“.