In the past 50 years, a majority of country states have complied with the UN drug conventions. Those conventions are at the very basis of the anti-drug laws used by most States around the world.
To this day, there are three different UN conventions on drug control in existence:
1961 : The United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
1971 : The United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances
1988 : The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychoactive Substances
Those conventions have been ratified, following the logic that States fighting against drug trafficking would not be able to do so in isolation, hence the need for a comprehensive legal framework to establish an international control system. As stated in the 1961 Single Convention, the ultimate objective of this framework is to better the “health and welfare of mankind”. To be able to do this, those conventions are based on the ideology that a repressive system is the global direction to take in order to better eradicate global drug trafficking.
However, concerns have been raised in recent years, be it at the governmental level, some representatives of the civil society, representatives of the private sector, and even public figures to denounce this repressive approach that has not achieved its target; that is to reduce international drug trafficking. This line of thought is now supported by Kofi Annan; former UN Secretary General and Nobel peace laureate, Richard Branson; British entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Group, many former state leaders: Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter (USA), Ruth Dreifuss (Switzerland) and several former Latin American leaders among many others. These personalities all agree that the question of drugs should be treated with a medical approach rather than a criminal one. Among other things, they have called for users not to be arrested and incarcerated for drug possession and that public health services be made available to people who use drugs. Others have also called for a regulation model to manage the drug market instead of leaving it in the hands of the mafia.
According to recent scientific publications, the repressive approach at the heart of the anti-drug war is doing more harm than good. Thus, according to the 2011 report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, “Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use. Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction.”
The aforementioned Global Commission has also published a report in 2012 to point out how the criminalisation of drug use has aggravated the HIV pandemic. Another report in 2013 has shed light on the negative impact the war on drugs has had on the Hepatitis C epidemic.
The Vienna Declaration was also launched at the International Conference on HIV/AIDS in 2010, asking for drug policies to be based on scientific data and not ideologies because the repressive system has led to disastrous sanitary and social consequences on a global level.
The new approach that has been asked for highlights the fact that current anti-drug war has had a heavy toll on the state expenses and that, without any conclusive results since the existence of international treaties, the consumption of drugs has been on a constant rise, and prices have kept on decreasing while the variety of substances has also risen, particularly with the advent of synthetic drugs. Also the economic, sanitary and social consequences are colossal for people who use drugs, their families, the community and the States. A report of the organisation Count the Cost mentions different types of “costs” incurred due to the anti-drug war: the economy, the security, the environment, criminality, public health, human rights and discrimination.
The major argument going against this approach is that decriminalization or legalization of drugs will encourage drug use. However, a report of the organisation Release has summarised studies on drug consumption in twenty countries where some drugs are regulated, and has come to the conclusion that drug laws have not affected their consumption. This conclusion was also supported by a UNICEF study which, when assessing cannabis use by minors, concluded that drug use was not influenced by drug laws.