What is the Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform?
The Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform is a multifaceted initiative co-ordinated by The Beckley Foundation. Launched at the House of Lords on 17 November 2011, the Initiative promotes health-oriented, cost-effective drug policies based on scientific evidence and human rights. It hopes to achieve this by:
- Bringing together: 1) The Global Commission on Drug Policy; 2) countries who have implemented progressive drug policies; and 3) countries interested in drug policy reform, in order to present new evidence and debate ways forward.
- Informing the public through: 1) this dedicated website, which provides a comprehensive summary of past and present drug policies around the world – and their consequences; 2) a major media and social media campaign lasting two years; 3) a public petition, in association with Avaaz; 4) a series of public polls designed to gauge opinions and attitudes towards drug policy; and 5) the publication of a number of booklets designed to present the subject matter in an accessible and easy to read way.
- Commissioning and publishing two major new documents: 1) the first-ever Cost-benefit Analysis of a Regulated and Taxed Cannabis Market in the UK; and 2) the Rewriting the UN Drug Conventions report.
For more information, or if you would like to link others to a summary of the Global Initiative, please view our flyer.
Who is running the Global Initiative?
The Global Initiative is co-ordinated by the Beckley Foundation. The Foundation was founded by Amanda Feilding in 1998. It is now the leading drug policy think-tank in the UK, with its work and publications disseminated internationally. The Beckley Foundation has become a highly respected brand name for policy research and reports, and is in the unique position of having substantial credibility in both the scientific and political arenas.
Since 2003, the Beckley Foundation has organised a series of seminars entitled Society and Drugs: A Rational Perspective, mainly held at the House of Lords. These events have been influential in presenting cutting-edge, rational overviews of the medical, ethical, and political issues surrounding the use and abuse of drugs, both legal and illegal, and in promoting evidence-based approaches to global drug policy.
Other achievements of the Beckley Foundation include:
The initiation of the ‘Rational Scale of Harm for Drugs’ in 2003 (published in the Lancet in 2007).
Scientific research in collaboration with academic partners such as Imperial College, Johns Hopkins University, Berkeley University, The Institute of Psychiatry, University College London and Oxford University, among others.
The setting up of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy (ISSDP), now both important independent organisations.
Commissioned over 35 much-cited Drug Policy Reports, Briefing Papers and Proceedings Documents.
Convened, in 2006, the Beckley Foundation’s Global Cannabis Commission Report, later co-published with Oxford University Press as “Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate”. This was the first Report to produce an overview of global cannabis and the importance of reforming policy. The Report:
- brought attention to the fact that cannabis was ignored in international drug policy, yet without it the War on Drugs would collapse, as cannabis users represent 80% of the illegal drug trade.
- was disseminated worldwide and provided the blue-print for global cannabis policy reform;
For more information about the Foundation, please visit our website.
Who are the Beckley Foundation?
Who are the Global Commission on Drug Policy?
The Global Commission are a panel of distinguished world leaders, including four former Presidents, George Schultz, and Kofi Annan.
From the website of the Global Commission:
“The purpose of The Global Commission on Drug Policy is to bring to the international level an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies.
Drugs are a complex and controversial issue. There is a growing perception that the ‘war on drugs’ approach has failed. Eradication of production and criminalization of consumption did not reduce drug traffic and drug use. In many countries the harm caused by drug prohibition in terms of corruption, violence and violation of human rights largely exceeds the harm caused by drugs.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy will build on the successful experience of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy convened by former presidents Cardoso of Brazil, Gaviria of Colombia and Zedillo of Mexico. Persuaded that the association between drug trade, violence and corruption was a threat to democracy in Latin America, the Commission reviewed the current ‘war on drugs’ policies and opened a public debate about an issue that tends to be surrounded by fear and misinformation.
These goals were fulfilled with the publication on February 2009 of the Commission’s statement, Drugs and Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift. This statement received wide coverage by the regional and global media and the ensuing debate led to positive drug policy changes in Mexico and Argentina. Change is imminent in Brazil.
No country has come up with a fully satisfactory set of policies. The polarization between legalization and prohibition blocks the debate. In many countries repressive policies remain firmly in place. Hence the need for engaging many actors – legislators and policymakers, scientists and health professionals, educators, law enforcement officers, parents and the young – in a constructive debate about viable alternatives, both at the national and international level.
» review the basic assumption, effectiveness and consequences of the ‘war on drugs’ approach
» evaluate the risks and benefits of different national responses to the drug problem
» develop actionable, evidence-based recommendations for constructive legal and drug policy reform”
What can I do to help?
Please use this guide to understand how else you can help the Global Initiative.
Do the Beckley Foundation have any job vacancies?
The Beckley Foundation are not looking to hire new employees at this time, but if you feel you have an exceptional portfolio to offer, please email your CV to this address.
Is the legalisation of drugs the only alternative to their prohibition?
Not at all. A number of alternatives are available and some have been enacted by certain states. For example, there is a system of decriminalisation in Belgium, Italy, Australia and Portugal. Decriminalisation differs from legalisation in that the decriminalised act remains against the law, but is punishable by administrative sanctions rather than criminal sanctions. Under a decriminalised system, a heroin addict caught in possession of heroin would be fined and directed into treatment rather than face imprisonment. Other forms of partial prohibition have been enacted in countries such as Spain, France, Brazil and The Netherlands.
Are all drugs the same?
No. There is a wide variety of drugs, and they differ in physical form, ways of consumption, effects, potential harms, potential benefits, etc. It is extremely important for drug policies to respect the individual effects of different drugs and different patterns of use. To visit the page on differentiation, click here.
Doesn’t drug legalisation put our youth at more risk?
Our youth are at great risk under the current system of strict prohibition. It is an undeniable fact that human beings have always wanted to modulate their consciousness, and cannot be dissuaded from doing so. As long as there is a demand for drugs there will always be a black market to supply them. If drugs are heavily prohibited, people will be forced to have to mix into criminal circles in order to provide themselves with what they want. It is commonly accepted that cannabis is a gate-way drug, however, if we really think about the reasons for this we realise that, in order to purchase cannabis, young people are forced to mix with criminals who often deal with harder drugs. In a lot of cases it is these older drug dealers who introduce young people to harder, more dangerous drugs. If we were to set up a domestic market for cannabis, this would seperate the drug from harder drugs which would remain prohibited. Then, users of cannabis would not be exposed to the black market and the more dangerous drugs which they are often exposed to under the prohibitionist system.
There is an argument which claims that when a state establishes a domestic market for a substance, the citizens of that state feel encouraged to use it. However, empirical evidence suggests that this is not the case; the Netherlands is the only country in Europe to have established a domestic market for cannabis, and yet the Dutch have some of the lowest rates of use in the world. This is also the case in countries where drugs have been decriminalised – Portugal decriminalised the use and possession of all illicit drugs in 2001. Whilst many at the time were critical of the law reform, fearing that it would result in a large spike in overall drug use and other related problems, recent evaluations of the Portuguese experience suggest a qualified success. Portugal, even after decriminalisation, still has one of the lowest rates of drug use in the EU.
What is the war on drugs?
The announcement of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was the event which set the stage for the war on drugs. This historic initiative created a strict, prohibitive, zero-tolerance system of drug policy with the aim of eliminating opium, coca and cannabis within 25 years. This convention set in place the criminalising approach to drug control which is used today. This was followed in October 1970 by the American Congress passing the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. This piece of legislation consolidated previous drug laws and strengthened the criminalising approach to drug control, allowing police to conduct “no-knock” searches. Instead of attempting to gain an understanding of the basic reasons for the increasing domestic demand for drugs, the US began a ‘war’ on foreign growers and traffickers.
Richard Nixon coined the phrase “War on Drugs” in June 1971 when announcing that drugs were now “Public Enemy No 1″ in the US. To extend this ‘war’, specifically throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in July 1973 in order to establish a single unified organisation to combat “an all-out global war on the drug menace”.
Why do you say the war on drugs has failed?
A. In the 50 years since the convention came into action, the war on drugs has had minimal impact on either drug use or supply. It has produced massive profits for drug cartels (the illegal drugs trade is worth an estimated $400-$500 billion) and has caused innumerable deaths around the world, countless violations of human rights and massive amounts of violence in countries such as Mexico, whilst opening up possibilities for the corruption of politicians and law enforcement agencies. The flaw with the war on drugs is that it is based around the assumption that it is possible to eliminate drug use, but it has become apparent that this is not a possibility. It is impossible to eliminate demand for drugs, and, so long as there is demand, there will always be a drug trade. We must develop new, more rational policies which are based upon this fact.
Why must we make changes to the UN drug conventions?
UN Conventions are written agreements which are entered into by member states of the United Nations. The UN conventions on drug policy are designed to control international trade of psychoactive substances and domestic drug law; they do this by expressly forbidding states from establishing domestic markets in prohibited substances or allowing people to possess these substances. Because a state cannot act in defiance of a UN Convention, the only way to change drug policy in individual countries is by reforming the Conventions.