Full article published in the Huffington Post, 24th March 2016.
Lancet Report Calling For Drug Decriminalisation Means Reformists Can No Longer Be Branded ‘Crazed Drug Users’
‘Countries are neglecting their legal responsibilities’
While calls for decriminalisation are nothing new, the “huge significance of the report is its provenance”, said Steve Rolles, of drugs reform think-tank Transform. He hopes the report will “shake the medical and public health establishment out of its stupor”.
Rolles said: “Its [the report] in the world’s leading medical journal in conjunction with the world’s leading medical school,” the senior policy analyst said, adding: “Its an astonishingly thorough piece of public health analysis compiled by leading scholars from around the world.”
For those in the drug reform movement, Rolles said, the report is another “huge vote of confidence from the scientific academic community”.
“When these arguments come from respected public figures, academics, parents and professionals its no longer possible to dismiss them as the ravings of crazed drug users, libertarians or extremists,” he said.
“In fact its the advocates of the failed war on drugs who are now looking like anti-science ideologues. The case for reform has always been compelling, but who is making the argument is crucial. This stunning piece of work in such a lofty academic journal can only help accelerate much needed change.”
Rolles said “professional bodies and royal colleges have been incredibly weak on this issue, historically”, but now had a clear “road map” of how to improve drug policy.
He added: “We’ve come to expect this from cynical populist politicians, but medical professionals no longer have any excuse – we are long overdue some meaningful action from them.”
The report published Thursday comes ahead of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on April 19 – the first UNGASS meeting on drugs since 1998.
In the 18 years since the last meeting attitudes to drugs policy have almost completely changed. Cannabis has been legalised in Uruguay and in four US states – Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska – and leading public and political figures have spoken out in favour of reforms.
Last month former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote a blog for the Huffington Post’s US site arguing why it’s time to legalise all drugs, and in October 2015 Sir Richard Branson leaked a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime calling on governments worldwide to decriminalise all drugs. Branson had feared the UNODC would soften its stance before publication.
The last UNGLASS meeting, convened under the theme, ‘A drug-free world—we can do it!’—endorsed drug-control policies with the goal of prohibiting all use, possession, production, and trafficking of illicit drugs which it said were a “grave threat to the health and wellbeing of all mankind”.
The new report said that “compelling evidence” now showed that decriminalisation worked, as proved in the Czech Republic and Portugal, who decriminalised all drugs in 2001. Both countries had experienced “significant health benefits, cost savings, and lower incarceration with no significant increase in problematic drug use”, the study found.
Commissioner Dr Chris Beyrer said that drug laws were based on “ideas about drug use and drug dependence that are not scientifically grounded”.
Beyrer, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, added: “The global ‘war on drugs’ has harmed public health, human rights and development. It’s time for us to rethink our approach to global drug policies, and put scientific evidence and public health at the heart of drug policy discussions.”
Commissioner Dr Joanne Csete said reducing harm was central to public policy in so many areas, from tobacco and alcohol regulation to food or traffic safety, “but when it comes to drugs, standard public health and scientific approaches have been rejected”.
Csete, from the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, added: “Worse still, by dismissing extensive evidence of the health and human rights harms of drug policies, countries are neglecting their legal responsibilities to their citizens.