The Global Initiative For Drug Policy Reform

Cannabis Commission

Cannabis is by far the most widely used illegal drug, (accounting for 80% of all illegal drug users), yet it is rarely mentioned in international drug policy discussions. This is why the Beckley Foundation commissioned a team of the world’s leading drug policy analysts to prepare an overview of the latest scientific evidence surrounding cannabis and the policies that control its use. The Report provides a blueprint of possible alternatives in the development of evidence-based policy regarding cannabis. A summary of the Reports conclusions and recommendations can be found here and the extended summary here.


Why did The Beckley Foundation Convene This Report?

    • The global increase in the prevalence of cannabis use.

    • The fundamental changes in the global situation since cannabis came under the control of the international narcotics treaties in 1961.

    • The lack of interest towards cannabis in international drug policy discussions.

    • To analyse the latest scientific evidence on the potential harms of cannabis use.

    • To investigate the social harms caused by cannabis prohibition.

    • The escalating harms of the ‘War on Drugs’, of which cannabis is the mainstay.

    • The need for a more rational, effective approach to cannabis control.

    • Recognition that different policies whether draconian or liberal have little effect on the prevalence of drug use

    • The identification and analysis of different possible routes forward from depenalisation, to decriminalization to partial legality and finally to a regulated legal market.

    • To identify different ways in which individual countries can seek to reform cannabis policies in order to better suite their individual needs. These include individual countries denouncing the international conventions and re-acceding with a reservation on cannabis, or for a group of like-minded countries to negotiate and adopt a new international convention specifically concerning cannabis.



Robin Room – Peter Reuter – Wayne Hall -Benedikt Fischer – Simon Lenton

Cannabis Use:

Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug, making it the mainstay of the ‘War on Drugs’. The UN has estimated that cannabis is used by 4% of the global adult population. The number of users has risen by 10% since their last estimate in 2005, despite the call for a drug free world. This compares to a figure of 1% for the use of all other illegal drugs combined. However, the focus of international attention has concentrated on that 1% which causes the most harms leading to cannabis being largely ignored in international drug policy discussions.

The book “is based on solid research and it is argued in an imaginative yet realistic fashion…. We need to change our way of thinking and acting on this matter. New policies must be based on empirical data, not on ideological assumptions and dogmas.”
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil.

The Changing World:

The situation has however, been fundamentally transformed over the last half-century since its prohibition, due to cannabis having become firmly established as part of the youth culture, particularly in developed countries. Large illicit markets have emerged to supply the demand. The strenuous efforts to enforce prohibition through policing and quasi-military operations against illicit growing and sale have failed. Meanwhile, the efforts in themselves create substantial anguish and social harms. In the United States, for example, approximately three-quarters of a million citizens are arrested every year for cannabis possession, and in certain producer/transit countries, such as Mexico, the War on Drugs, of which Cannabis is a component, has led to a virtual state of war near the US border.

 International Conventions:

In 1998 the international community agreed to a 10-year programme of activity on the control of illegal drug use and markets at a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) in New York. It was characterised by the slogan: “a drug free world, we can do it”. A commitment was made to review the programs progress in 2008/9. Clearly, the international community will not be able to report unequivocal success, as drugs are purer, cheaper, and more widely available than ever before. The laws themselves are often enforced arbitrarily, leading to discrimination against minorities – and nowhere is this more evident than with Cannabis. There is increasing disagreement between governments on the appropriate policies to adopt. It is therefore essential that the process of review in 2009 be as transparent as possible, and that the experts from the relevant fields have the maximum opportunity to engage with the government officials and politicians who will ultimately decide on the future directions of drug policy.

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs has set up a ‘Ministerial Segment’ meeting for March 2009 to discuss the conclusions drawn from the review of the last 10 years of international drug control. The Beckley Foundation, an ECOSOC accredited NGO, will be presenting the Global Cannabis Commission Report and its findings in the margins of that meeting.

Ways Forward:

Almost fifty years after the adoption of an unequivocal international prohibition on cannabis in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, we face a very different world. The set of international rules and norms which were adopted then have not proven effective in the modern world, and they have adverse consequences for those who get caught up in their provisions.

“Now it is time for change…. The outstanding scientists who composed this report point the way ahead.”
Jan Wiarda, former chairman, European Police Chiefs.

In effect, the Conventions restrict the signatory countries’ ability to adopt new cannabis policies and laws based on the evidence currently available. Furthermore, they restrict the accumulation of new evidence to inform the development of new systems of control which may be more appropriate to the modern world. There is a clear need for change, and yet the international drug control system seems increasingly paralyzed and immobile. There is no doubt that moving forward will be difficult, but it is not impossible. In this Report, the aim has been to draw on the available evidence to offer some possible paths forward to a more realistic and effective global regime for cannabis control.



The Global Cannabis Commission Report is now published as a book in association with Oxford University Press entitled: ‘Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate’. To find out more about the book click on the cover above