End global war on drugs, bring in decriminalization to protect human rights, says report

© Jorge Duenes
The global war on drugs has failed, eroding public health and human rights, and must be scrapped in favor of decriminalization, a report commissioned by a leading medical journal says.

Anti-narcotics efforts have had little impact on global patterns of supply and demand and cannot be defended on public health or scientific grounds, according to academics who worked on a hard-hitting study jointly commissioned by the Lancet and America’s Johns Hopkins Ivy League University.

The report uncovers compelling evidence that EU states such as the Czech Republic and Portugal have achieved positive results from decriminalizing non-violent, minor drug offenses. Portugal, in particular, decriminalized the personal use of drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, and heroin in 2001.

Benefits reportedly include improved public health, lower rates of imprisonment, money saving and “no significant increase in problematic drug use,” the report’s authors say.

After examining evidence from across the globe, the study concluded that drug laws often discriminate against ethnic and racial minorities and women and have undercut basic human rights. The report also highlights prison terms for those who commit minor drug offenses as the biggest contributor to increased infection rates of HIV and hepatitis C among drug users.

The study's authors are calling on the US and the UK to consider introducing regulated markets for the sale of cannabis similar to those found in Uruguay and the US states of Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska.

Dr Chris Beyrer of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health says prohibition has been the foundation of national drug laws. Beyrer also argued counter-narcotics policies across Europe and America focus on ideas relating to drug use and dependence that have no scientific grounding.

“The global 'war on drugs' has harmed public health, human rights and development,” he said.

“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.”

The report marks yet another drive for changes to UK drug laws, a move which has been put forward by ex-Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and British billionaire, businessman Richard Branson. Experts suggest that legalizing cannabis in Britain could rake in up to £1 billion in taxes.