Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan who recently made the headlines globally, calling for the legalisation of cannabis has explained his stance in a lengthy post on his linkedIn page.
According to Mr Annan, in his experience, good public policy is best shaped by the dispassionate analysis of what in practice has worked, or not. However, the formulation of global drug policies are too often based on emotions and ideology rather than evidence.
He cited the case of the medical use of cannabis as a perfect example, saying that by looking carefully at the evidence from the United States, we now know that legalizing the use of cannabis for medical purposes has not, as opponents argued, led to an increase in its use by teenagers. By contrast, there has been a near tripling of American deaths from heroin overdoses between 2010 and 2013, even though the law and its severe punishments remain unchanged.
Kofi Annan highlighted that the estimated cost of enforcing global prohibition was at least $100 billion (€90.7 billion) a year, but as many as 300 million people now use drugs worldwide, contributing to a global illicit market with a turnover of $330 billion a year.
He argued that studies have consistently failed to establish the existence of a link between the harshness of a country's drug laws and its levels of drug use. The widespread criminalisation and punishment of people who use drugs, the overcrowded prisons, mean that the war on drugs is, to a significant degree, a war on drug users a war on people.
"I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more. We all want to protect our families from the potential harm of drugs. But if our children do develop a drug problem, surely we will want them cared for as patients in need of treatment and not branded as criminals,"Mr Annan added.
The former UN Secretary General it was rather time to stop stigmatising and start helping. He proposed some critical steps towards that.
First, we must decriminalize personal drug use. The use of drugs is harmful and reducing those harms is a task for the public health system, not the courts. This must be coupled with the strengthening of treatment services, especially in middle and low income countries.
Second, we need to accept that a drugfree world is an illusion. We must focus instead on ensuring that drugs cause the least possible harm. Harm reduction measures, such as needle exchange programs, can make a real difference. Germany adopted such measures early on and the level of HIV infections among injecting drug users is close to 5 percent, compared to over 40 percent in some countries which resist this pragmatic approach.
Third, we have to look at regulation and public education rather than the total suppression of drugs, which we know will not work. The steps taken successfully to reduce tobacco consumption (a very powerful and damaging addiction) show what can be achieved. It is regulation and education, not the threat of prison, which has cut the number of smokers in many countries. Higher taxes, restrictions on sale and effective anti-smoking campaigns have delivered the right results.
Read Kofi Annan's full post on LinkedIn