Organised crime

Paradigm change

In its latest annual report, the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) expresses itself in favour of regulation instead of prohibition and criminalisation. It argues that the war on drugs has failed, and that better policies are needed to protect people from harm.
Regulated cannabis products on display in a shop in Montevideo. Ruben Giménez Viera/picture-alliance/Pacific Press Regulated cannabis products on display in a shop in Montevideo.

More than 250 million people around the world consume illegal drugs, and, according to GCDP, the international approach of prohibition and punishment has not made a dent in their demand. Rather, experience shows that drug users turn to the illegal black market if they cannot satisfy their cravings by legal means. This is one of the messages in this year’s annual report. The commission is independent and chaired by Ruth Dreyfus, the former president of Switzerland. Her predecessor was Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former president of Brazil. The GCDP was launched in 2011 by several prominent persons from politics, business and the arts.

The GCDP declares the restrictive paradigm that has been prevalent for 60 years to be dysfunctional and states that dreams of a drug-free world are counterproductive. Its point is that organised crime benefits from drugs being illegal (see D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2018/10, p. 8). What is needed instead is a responsible approach that conforms with human dignity. According to the GCDP that means regulation.

The crucial question is: who should be in control of dangerous substances – state agencies or crime gangs? The GCDP insists that regulation means responsible management rather than indiscriminate legalisation. It wants governments to assume responsibility the way they do in regard to food, pharmaceuticals, vehicles and many other consumer products. The report’s four sections deal with the following questions:

  • how to control drugs through regulation,
  • what challenges are likely to arise in this context, with an emphasis on developing countries’ drug economy providing livelihoods to masses of people,
  • how organised crime can be disempowered, and
  • what kind of contributions international cooperation should make.

Among other things, the report suggests that UN Secretary-General António Guterres assumes a leading role promoting reforms internationally. Tangible examples of sensible regulatory tools include the following:

  • The most dangerous substances can be distributed as prescription drugs, with medical staff prescribing them to addicts. Switzerland is taking this approach to heroin supply, and as a result, both the crime and the health issues that go along with addiction have been reduced considerably.
  • Licensed specialty stores and pharmacies can sell softer drugs, and the amounts customers are allowed to buy can be limited. Such principles guide the way that Uruguay allows the marketing of cannabis products.
  • Measures like price controls, advice concerning health and safety, and prohibiting the sale to underage persons are meaningful.

Regulations should be introduced step by step, according to the GCDP, and the impacts must be monitored. Public debate is necessary, and the Commission wants to drive it in a direction that pays attention to factual evidence as well as to the people who are directly affected by drug policies.

Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2018: Regulation – the responsible control of drugs.

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