What is Open Drug Policy?
Concerns with drug abuse have a long history, and prohibition — the banning of drug production, sale, possession, and use — has been a popular policy response from the start.
The term “war on drugs“ originated in 1971, by U.S. President Richard Nixon during a historic press conference where he identified “drug abuse“ as “public enemy number one.“ In fact, global policy surrounding drugs has primarily been shaped by the United States’ advocacy for an “absolutist prohibition approach“.
After more than 100 years of international prohibition policy, the drug market is alive and well, though underground. The rhetoric calling for the elimination of drugs from society has not been translated into successful policy. Given this, many have argued that the complete removal of drugs from society is simply unachievable.
As a result of classified prohibition as the unified global drug-policy, the ones who end up suffering the most are farmers and consumers, while traffickers and producers actually benefit from more punitive laws. Read more in the report of Human Rights Foundation, “The Human Rights Cost of the War on Drugs”.
Despite decades-long efforts to reduce supply, the power of cartels has grown excessively in the past few decades. In his book Narconomics, journalist Tom Wainwright argues that drug policy would be better understood if we apply basic economic principles to cartels, rather than treating them like some kind of hostile and unknowable enemy.
Lifting prohibition would weaken armed groups and criminals, reduce the amount of profit to be gained through the illegal market, and allow states to reasonably regulate the markets to ensure the safety of consumers. It could also open the way for drug use to be destigmatized, and for health care workers to be able to provide much-needed treatment to victims of drug abuse and addiction.
Few countries offer perspectives on alternatives to prohibition, including the legalization of other drugs in addition to cannabis. Portugal, for example, has seen a sharp decrease in drug overdose deaths and even violent crime since it decriminalized most drugs in 2001. The Netherlands has also experimented with decriminalization of small amounts of drugs, and also with smarter harm reduction policies such as needle exchanges and easily accessible treatment for addiction.
“However, shifts in one market can impact others. The creation of a legal market in destination countries like Portugal may well be responsible for increases in violence in production and transit countries, shifting criminal competition from one market to another. Ultimately, what is needed is a new global consensus around treating drug abuse not as a criminal or security threat, but as a health problem. […] The current consensus, prohibition, has simply failed to produce the desired results, and it is long past time for alternatives to be considered“ — Concludes the Human Rights Foundation’s first-ever drug policy report: “The Cost and Consequences of the War on Drugs”.
Prohibition does not stop people from using drugs or from overdosing on them.
Prohibition actually makes drugs more potent and dangerous.
Black markets for drugs mean that producers are more likely to lie to consumers about what they’re getting.
People are generally less safe.
We can maintain an attitude that drug use is harmful without having to resort to prohibition. Open Drug Policy aims to advance the policies that reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition and promote the autonomy of individuals over their bodies.
Open Drug Policy key concepts: