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Beyond Realisation: Further Action is Required to Actualise Decriminalisation of Drug Use

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

An increase in the realisation that incarceration and criminalization of people who use drugs are no more effective than harm reduction practices like counselling, treatment and rehabilitation, seems common among policy-makers, law enforcement and the general public. This is overly expressed in the contents of statements and legislation put forward by national, regional and international drug control actors. The overwhelming support for evidence-based drug policy reforms by groups of world leaders, intellectuals and civil society across the world also speaks volumes.

Whilst some progress has been recorded in this regard, it has not come as a result of mere realization. It is, therefore, obvious that authorities need to take further actions to ensure that decriminalization of drug use and possession is actualized. Unfortunately, some political authorities continue to shun overwhelming shreds of evidence and opportunities at their disposal to make an informed decision about evidence-based drug control response in the name of compliance with UN conventions and treaties or unavailability of adequate facts to support their decision. This, in turn, continues to pose a serious threat to the health, well being and safety of people who use drugs as we continue to witness dramatic growth in the scale of the illegal drug market, run by organized criminal networks, despite harsh drug law enforcement.

It is hoped that political authorities will understand that this year’s “international day of drug abuse and illicit trafficking” calls for decriminalization of drug use and possession and the promotion of harm reduction practices. Among other reasons, International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern but most importantly to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems like drugs. The concept behind the theme ”(better knowledge for better care) for this year’s occasion suggests that misinformation of many kinds has been a major hindrance to evidence-based drug policy reform.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recognized that key among this misinformation, is people, including policy-makers and service providers’ continued tendency to see drug use as a moral failure or a crime to be punished rather than as a public health concern as agreed by the Member States in the Outcome Document policy-makers of the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem. This is, in no uncertain terms, a strong call for Member States of the United Nations to follow up on their joint commitment at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drug Problem in 2016 to effectively address and counter the world drug problem through a comprehensive, scientific evidence-based demand reduction initiatives. Early intervention, treatment, care, recovery, rehabilitation and social reintegration measures, as well as initiatives and measures aimed at minimizing the adverse public health and social consequences of drug abuse, were also major elements of this commitment.

For political authorities who think decriminalizing drug use and possession or promoting harm reduction practices may compromise their obligations under international drug control treaties and conventions, the UNODC has unequivocally pointed out that people who use drugs should not be blamed for using drugs and, therefore, they don’t deserve punishment but rather care. There can be no better time to consider adopting evidence-based drug policy as an effective drug control response. the “better knowledge…” is getting to know that people don’t need to be punished because the use drugs, therefore, we must reform punitive drug laws and promote harm reduction practices which is “better care” for people who need them.

Prince Bull



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