The Global Initiative For Drug Policy Reform

Moving Forward

With so many scientists, legal experts, law enforcement officials and former politicians advocating serious drug law reform, what is it that stops things from going forward?

The usual answer given is public perception. Politicians are known to use right-wing popularist press (such as the Daily Mail in the UK and FOX News in the US) as gauges of public opinion. These media outlets are well known for being “anti-drugs,” and do not seem to understand that the best way of reducing the harms done by drugs is by properly controlling and regulating them. They are also frequently opposed to harm reduction treatments, ignoring the fact that they are the most humane way to support drug abusers.

However, what politicians do not realize is that these opinions of the right wing press are not necessarily the opinions of the general populace. A recent Avaaz petition has had over 642,000 people sign a letter to Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, demanding an end to the War on Drugs.[1] As a result of this Ban Ki-Moon pledged to investigate the War on Drugs.

Additionally recent opinion polls in the UK have shown that public opinion is standing in stark contrast to the UK government’s current drug policies. In a recent study by YouGov, 53% of those polled stated that they did not feel that the current government’s approach to illegal drugs was effective. Indeed, only 11% of those asked responded that they thought current drug policies were in any way effective. Also the poll stated that only 8% of those surveyed thought that it would be possible to achieve a drug-free society. 88% stated that they thought there would always be drug use within society, and that the aim of policies should be to reduce the amount of harm instead.[2]

This evidence shows that over half of the British population believes that the Government’s approach to drugs is ineffective and must be rethought. According to CNN and Gallup polls over 40% of Amercians are now also in favour of legalizing marijuana, showing a steady increase in the numbers who support legalization over the last decade. [3][4]

There are also legal restrictions on governments trying new approaches to controlling drugs. Three UN Conventions, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 UN Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, have been passed which prohibit the sale of most illegal drugs. The Canadian Senate’s Report of the Special Select Committee on Illegal Drugs state: “When advocates of [prohibitionist] policy run out of scientific and public health arguments, they can simply fall back on the conventions that Canada has signed. “[5]

Drug reform is not a vote winning and politically popular subject currently. This therefore encourages politicians to avoid it as much as possible, thereby abdicating their policy responsibility. Therefore gaining public support is crucial to ending the War on Drugs and considering alternative approaches, as politicians will only have the courage to change when the public demands it. When the public are better informed about the current situation they will demand that politicians act to review the situation and adopt alternative approaches.


[1] Avaaz petition

[2] You Gov UK Poll

[3] CNN Poll

[4] Gallup Poll

[5] Canadian Senate report