The unintended negative consequences of the 'war on drugs'

Mass criminalisation and punitive sentencing policies
Penal Reform International (PRI)
March 2013

pri-war-on-drugsCriminalisation of drug users, excessive levels of imprisonment, and punitive sentencing practices, including mandatory sentencing, the death penalty and enforced ‘drug detention centres’, are some of the unintended negative consequences of the 50 year ‘war on drugs’, a policy with direct impact on the vulnerable, poor and socially excluded groups, including ethnic minorities and women. This PRI briefing paper discusses these consequences in detail and sets out what parliamentarians can do about it.

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The enforcement of overly punitive laws for drugoffences has not only proven ineffective in curbing the production, trafficking, and consumption of illicit substances, but had many negative consequences, including overloading criminal justice systems, overwhelming the courts, fuelling prison overcrowding and exacerbating health problems. Focusing already limited resources on low-level offenders and drug users has prevented governments from targeting the perpetrators of organised crime who benefit from, and fuel for their financial benefit, the drug addictions of usually poor and marginalised users.