The Drug Law Reform project organizes a series of expert seminars, drug policy briefings and informal drug policy dialogues. The activities serve to cross-fertilise policy debates between countries and regions, stimulating participants to exchange experiences and learn lessons between policy officials, representatives from international agencies and nongovernmental experts and practitioners. Seminars are held under Chatham House Rule to ensure confidentiality and to allow participants a free exchange of ideas.

In 2004 the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Andreas G. Papandreou Foundation (APF) started an Informal Drug Policy Dialogue. Purpose of the dialogues is to have an open-minded exchange of views on current dilemmas in international drug policy making and discuss strategies on how contradictions might be resolved. The meetings are guided by 'Chatham House Rule' to encourage a free exchange of thoughts and confidentiality. In 2007, TNI and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) started a Latin American Informal Drug Policy Dialogue.

Judges in Latin countries that face the consequences of prohibition in courts and prisons, propose a legislative reform and harmonization of penal responses clearly differentiated by the nature and seriousness of the offense. They ask that the penalties are proportionate and take into account the personal circumstances of the accused, and enable the implementation of alternative sentences.

An overview of legislative reforms in Europe and Latin America that provide lessons learned in practice about less punitive approaches intended to reduce drug-related harm to the individual and society.

Alternative Development programmes, aimed at encouraging peasants to switch from growing illicit drugs-related crops, play an important role in UN drug control strategies. The record of success, however, is a questionable one. Decades of efforts to reduce global drug supply using a combination of developmental and repressive means, managed to shift production from one country to another, but have failed in terms of global impact. TNI argues for delinking alternative development from the threat of forced eradication and law enforcement and guaranteeing peasants the support required for a sustainable alternative future.

The status of cannabis in the UN drug conventions is controversial. It is now scheduled among the most dangerous substances. How and why did cannabis in the conventions? Does it belong there? What are the options to review the status of cannabis according to current scientific data? Is making cannabis subject to a control regime similar to harmful substances like alcohol and tobacco a solution?
For the latest news on cannabis reform worldwide click here

Absolving drug users from arrest and prosecution for drug use and preparatory acts like acquisition, simple possession or cultivation for personal use does not lead to increased drug use, but does significantly lower pressure on law enforcement agencies and on the judicial and penitentiary systems, and it removes barriers for users with problematic patterns of use to approach treatment and harm reduction services.

Studies reveal the ineffectiveness of long prison sentences for nonviolent drug law offenders. The capacity of the judicial system is stretched far beyond its limits, resulting in slow procedures, lengthy pretrial custody and overcrowded prisons. Referral schemes or specialized drug courts are introduced offering offenders a choice between prison and treatment. The main objective is crime reduction by providing nonviolent offenders the chance to escape the vicious drugs-crime-prison cycle.

Harm reduction is a set of strategies that aim to reduce negative consequences of drug use, by mitigating the potential dangers and health risks. UNODC has significantly expanded its HIV/AIDS programme thanks to support from harm reduction-friendly donor countries, despite ambiguities on the issue within UN drug control agencies. There is a need for up-scaling of basic services for HIV/AIDS prevention and the 'frontline' of heroin prescription and drug consumption rooms.

A more refined distinction is required to define appropriate drug control measures according to the specific characteristics of substances, their health risks, the dynamics of their markets and their user groups. The classification schedules of the UN 1961 and 1971 Conventions do not provide sufficient differentiation. The consideration of such diverse substances as coca, cocaine, cannabis, opium and heroin in the same schedule, hampers effective policy responses taking account of the different properties and reasons people use them.

Consensus is growing that the prohibition on production, supply, and use of certain drugs has not only failed to deliver its intended goals but has been counterproductive. Evidence is mounting that this policy has not only exacerbated many public health problems, but has created a much larger set of social harms associated with the criminal market such as violence, corruption, organised crime, and endemic violence related to the drug market.

A paradigm shift is taking place on harm reduction for smoking/inhaling stimulants (crack/paco or coca base paste). When sharing homemade pipes crack users get wounds on lips and gums and are susceptible to diseases such as herpes, tuberculoses, hepatitis and the HIV/AIDS virus. Crack use often implicates risky sexual behaviour in exchange for crack or to buy crack. At the local level in Brazil, Canada and the US ‘safer crack use kits’ are dispensed with condoms, pipes, pipe stems, tissues, vaseline and lip balm to counter infections and sexually transmitted diseases.

The coca leaf has been chewed and brewed for tea for centuries in the Andean region – and does not cause any harm and is probably beneficial to human health. Yet the leaf is treated as if it is comparable to cocaine or heroin. The inclusion of the coca leaf in the list of narcotic drugs raises questions about the logic behind the current system of classification under the UN conventions. Is there space to find a more culturally sensitive approach to plants with psychoactive or mildly stimulant properties, and to distinguish more between problematic, recreational and traditional uses?

Human rights apply to everyone. Drug users, traffickers and growers do not forfeit their human rights, and must be able to enjoy the right to the highest attainable standard of health, as well as to social services, employment, education, freedom from arbitrary detention and so on. The trend has been to toughen drug laws and sentencing guidelines, setting mandatory minimums, disproportionate prison sentences and even death penalties in several countries. Consideration of human rights are becoming essential elements in a growing number of countries’ application of drug legislation.

Could mild herbal stimulants such as the coca leaf, khat, kratom or ephedra offer alternatives to the more concentrated substances that now dominate the market? Could the recreational stimulants market be steered towards a less harmful direction over time through differentiating the control mechanisms between plants and synthesized derivatives? Different legal regimes are currently implemented between countries and vary greatly for the different plants, some of which are erroneously classified as new psychoactive substances (NPS).

The European institutions (European Commission and Council, and the EMCDDA) and member states have broadly been a progressive and civilizing factor in pushing for balanced, evidence based and humane drug policies and programmes. A multiannual EU Drugs Strategy 2013-2020 sets out the objectives and actions for EU countries and the Commission on drugs.

Since its origin in 1989 there is a growing awareness that the international anti-money laundering (AML) regime is not working. After two decades of failed efforts, experts still ponder how to implement a regime that does work. During that time other illicit or unregulated money flows have appeared on the international agenda as well. Today, tax evasion and avoidance, flight capital, transfer pricing and mispricing, and the proceeds of grand corruption are seen as perhaps more detrimental obstacles to good governance and the stability and integrity of the financial system.

Latin America has emerged at the vanguard of efforts to promote debate on drug policy reform. For decades, Latin American governments largely followed the drug control policies and programmes of Washington’s so-called war on drugs. Growing frustration with the failure of the prohibitionist drug control model put forward by the US government has led to a review of policies and a  questioning of the underlining premises of the international drug control paradigm. The call for debate on alternative approaches has had repercussions internationally.

For the latest news on the debate in the Americas click here.

The Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants (GFPPP) is a platform for farmers of coca, cannabis, and opium to discuss the implications and alternatives concerning trends and discourses in today's global drug policies. The GFPPP aims at providing the global debate on drug policy reform in general and the UNGASS 2016 in particular, the perspective from farmers communities involved in the cultivation of coca, opium poppy and cannabis. Their website provides background information, news, articles, and publications relevant to this initiative.

Weaknesses in the UN drug control system have often been identified, related to the functioning of the key organs UNODC, INCB, and the CND; related to collaboration with the wider UN system (WHO, UNAIDS, UNDP, etc.) and related to the outdated character of several treaty provisions. What has been attempted to date to achieve more structural reform? Are existing evaluation mechanisms capable of bringing the need for reform to the table? How could a neutral and evidence-based role of UNODC as a centre of expertise be strengthened? How can these issues be related to the UN call for more ‘system-wide coherence’ and ‘delivery as one’?

The three major international drug control treaties are mutually supportive and complementary. An important purpose of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances codify internationally applicable control measures in order to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes, and to prevent their diversion into illicit channels and include general provisions on trafficking and drug use. The 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances significantly reinforced the obligation of countries to apply criminal sanctions to combat all the aspects of illicit production, possession and trafficking of drugs. (Commentaries on the conventions)

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was established to assist the UN in addressing a response to the interrelated issues of illicit trafficking in and use of drugs, crime prevention and criminal justice, international terrorism, and political corruption. It also functions as the secretariat to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is the annual gathering in Vienna of all United Nations member states to discuss and make decisions on a wide range of issues related to the global drug control system, and the work programme of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). In March 2014, a UN High-Level Segment on Drugs will be held in Vienna.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) was established in 1968 as the monitoring body for the implementation of the United Nations international drug control conventions. Tensions have arisen about the way the INCB performs its duties and about its legal interpretation of the conventions which many feel goes beyond its mandate.

In March 2008, a two-year long 'period of global reflection' on the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem started. What have been the results? What space was there be for civil society to participate in the different stages of the process? What were the key issues on the table? What kind of improvements in the functioning of the UN drug control system have been achieved?
The most recent UNGASS took place in 2016. To follow the preparations and proceedings check the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) special webpage.

The Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies aims to stimulate the debate around legislative reforms by highlighting good practices and lessons learned in areas such as decriminalization, proportionality of sentences, specific harm reduction measures, alternatives to incarceration, and scheduling criteria for different substances. It also aims to encourage a constructive dialogue amongst policy makers, multilateral agencies and civil society in order to shape evidence-based policies that are grounded in the principles of human rights, public health and harm reduction.

These videos feature people who have spent years in prison enduring harsh sentences that are disproportionate to the crimes they committed. The videos are part of a TNI/WOLA study investigating the prison systems of eight countries in Latin America. The people in the videos are featured because they represent the rarely revealed human side of the war on drugs. These personal stories illustrate the unjust impact of current drug laws.