Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work

Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP)
September 2014

CoverReportThe upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) in 2016 is an unprecedented opportunity to review and re-direct national drug control policies and the future of the global drug control regime. As diplomats sit down to rethink international and domestic drug policy, they would do well to recall the mandate of the United Nations, not least to ensure security, human rights and development.

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Health is the thread that runs through all three of these aspirations, and the UN global drug control regime has the ‘health and welfare of mankind’ as its ultimate goal. But overwhelming evidence points to not just the failure of the regime to attain its stated goals but also the horrific unintended consequences of punitive and prohibitionist laws and policies.


  • Putting health and community safety first requires a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions. Read more
  • Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession – and stop imposing “compulsory treatment” on people whose only offense is drug use or possession. Read more
  • Focus on reducing the power of criminal organizations as well as the violence and insecurity that result from their competition with both one another and the state. Read more
  • Ensure equitable access to essential medicines, in particular opiate-based medications for pain. Read more
  • Rely on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers, couriers and others involved in the production, transport and sale of illicit drugs. Read more
  • Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances. Read more 
  • Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the upcoming UNGASS in 2016 to reform the global drug policy regime. Read more



Put people’s health and safety first
Instead of punitive and harmful prohibition, policies should prioritize the safeguarding of people’s health and safety. This means investing in community protection, prevention, harm reduction, and treatment as cornerstones of drug policy.

Ensure access to essential medicines and pain control
The international drug control system is failing to ensure equitable access to essential medicines such as morphine and methadone, leading to unnecessary pain and suffering. The political obstacles that are preventing member states from ensuring an adequate provision of such medicines must be removed.

End the criminalization and incarceration of people who use drugs
Criminalizing people for the possession and use of drugs is wasteful and counterproductive. It increases health harms and stigmatizes vulnerable populations, and contributes to an exploding prison population. Ending criminalization is a prerequisite of any genuinely health-centered drug policy.

Refocus enforcement responses to drug trafficking and organized crime
A more targeted enforcement approach is needed to reduce the harms of the illicit drug markets and ensure peace and security. Governments should deprioritize the pursuit of non-violent and minor participants in the market, instead directing enforcement resources towards the most disruptive and violent elements of the drug trade.

Regulate drug markets to put governments in control
The regulation of drugs should be pursued because they are risky, not because they are safe. Different models of regulation can be applied for different drugs according to the risks they pose. In this way, regulation can reduce social and health harms and disempower organized crime.

On Tuesday, September 9, 2014, the Global Commission on Drug Policy released the new, groundbreaking report at a press conference at MOMA in New York City:


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